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InfoQ Homepage Podcasts Panel: Suddenly Distributed - Effective Agility in the Age of Coronavirus

Panel: Suddenly Distributed - Effective Agility in the Age of Coronavirus


In this special edition of the podcast, made in conjunction with Retrium and the Agile Alliance, we brought together a panel of remote working experts to explore and share experiences around what teams and individuals can do to cope and be effective in the environment where so many people are suddenly forced to work from home and collaborate remotely.

The panel consisted of:

The full video recording of the webinar can be found here.

Key Takeaways

  • Huge numbers of people around the globe are suddenly having to work remotely and figure out how to cope in these turbulent times
  • Part of what makes this environment so stressful for many of us is the fact that life feels out of our control
  • One way to gain back some semblance of control is to come up with 15% solutions, small actions that you can take immediately
  • Remote work can be effective and efficient provided people are supported properly
  • When meeting remotely the experience is far more effective for everybody when you have video cameras on
  • Working agreements with your teams and with your family about how we will support each other to work remotely are important
  • Taking care of yourself and your family is more important than being busy with work

Show Notes

  • 00:00 Shane: Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie for the infoQ Engineering Culture Podcast. In this special edition of the podcast, we recorded a webinar hosted by David Horowitz of Retrium, and we had Mark Kilby, Lisette Sutherland, Judy Rees, Steve McCann, Charles Humble, and myself as the panel. The webinar was titled Suddenly Distributed: effective agility in the age of coronavirus.
  • 00:31 We had a great time and there's some really useful advice in there, so I would encourage you to listen and enjoy. Thanks so much.
  • 00:40 David: Hi everyone, and welcome to this special webinar on Effective Agility in the age of Coronavirus. I'm David Horowitz, the CEO and cofounder at Retrium, a platform for effective distributed retrospectives and I'll be your moderator today.
  • 00:55 First, I want to thank Retrium's co-organizers, the agile Alliance and InfoQ, for helping us put together such a fantastic group of panellists. I also want to thank the hundreds of you who submitted questions for the panel discussion. I've done my best to distil your questions down to the ones that either applied to the widest audience or were submitted the most.
  • 01:14 Before we start, I wanted to say a few words about why we are hosting this webinar today. The world is swirling around us. Much of what made sense yesterday, no longer make sense today and, unfortunately, some of what makes sense today will likely not make sense tomorrow. Volatility and uncertainty are the new normal.  Part of what makes this environment so stressful for many of us is the fact that life feels out of our control.
  • 01:39 A few nights ago, as I was thinking about this webinar, I realized that there's a deep connection between the situation we find ourselves in, and strangely enough, agile retrospectives. One of the biggest challenges teams face when running retrospectives is figuring out how to productively respond to impediments that are out of their control.
  • 01:57 Many times we simply complain about these issues and move on, only to return to the same impediments, the next retro, nothing ever changes and a feeling of powerlessness sets in. One way to gain back some semblance of control is to come up with% solutions, small actions that you can take immediately.
  • 02:14 solutions are not intended to fix the entire problem, just a small part of it. They are intended to encourage you to focus on what you can do rather than waiting around for others to take action for you. 
  • 02:25 For myself, for the Agile Alliance, for InfoQ and for all the panellists here today, our% solution was to organize this webinar.
  • 02:33 The panel we put together for you include some of the world's foremost experts on distributed work and distributed agile, and we hope that the ideas and advice they provide today from their many years of experience working on remote teams will help you adjust to the new world that we all live in.
  • 02:47 This webinar is our% solution. I encourage you to think about what is yours.
  • 02:52 A few housekeeping notes before we jump in. During the panel discussion, many of you will have questions. I encourage you to submit these questions through the zoom Q and a interface. To do so, simply move your mouse over the bottom of the zoom window and click Q & A.
  • 03:06 It is unlikely that we will have the chance to address your questions during the webinar today. But the panellists have graciously agreed to answer your questions in a followup blog post in the near future. Finally, we are recording the webinar and we will make it available to watch online as soon as possible.
  • 03:21 And now I'd like to give each of our expert panellists the opportunity to introduce themselves in no particular order. Let's start with Mark Kilby.
  • 03:28 Mark: Thank you, David. So Mark Kilby, Orlando, Florida. It's:00 AM here and we are safe and secure and glad to have you all with us.  Judy.
  • 03:39 Judy: Hello. I'm Judy. I'm in London, UK, and I'm really into holding events that are highly participative online.
  • 03:47 Who's next? Lisette.
  • 03:48 Lisette: I'm Lisette. I'm located in the Netherlands and I help people work remotely through online workshops and the podcast. Charles.
  • 03:57 Charles: Hi there - so I'm Charles humble. I am InfoQ's Editor in Chief.  C4, which is the company that runs InfoQ, is an entirely remote company. So I've been working this way in this particular job for six years, and about four years before that, and like Judy, I am based in the UK near London.
  • 04:12 Steve.
  • 04:13 Steve: Thanks, Charles. I'm Steve McCann. I'm the McCann of Rees-McCann working with Judy Rees. I don't think they read my CV very closely, I'm the honorary non-techie here, but I have been working in distributed teams and locations for the last 20 years, and I hope to share the human part of my experience with you.
  • 04:29 Shane.
  • 04:30 Shane: I'm Shane Hastie. I'm the Director of Community Development for ICAgile, the International Consortium for Agile, and I'm the host of the InfoQ Engineering Culture Podcast. And I too, have been working completely remotely in both of those roles for the last three years for ICAgile, and the last nearly for InfoQ.
  • 04:53 David: Fantastic. So let's get started here with question number one for the panel. Everyone here, as you now know, has years of success working in distributed environments. In many ways, you make it look easy, but this is not a normal time. People are scared, lives are at stake, and we want to know how does this end?
  • 05:10 Do we return to normal in a few months or is remote work the new normal? Let's start with you, Lisette.
  • 05:16 Lisette: Well at the moment, so there's a huge push, right? Everybody has to work remotely at the moment, and I feel like some of those people are going to have a really bad experience because I think, as anybody can advise here, you would never want to go remote overnight with your entire company.
  • 05:30 That is not the advice anybody would ever give is just do that. In fact, I think in many talks that you may have heard in the past, I've always said, don't do that, but okay, here we are. People have to go remote. So a certain percentage are going, there's going to be a backlash. They're going to go back to the office and gladly and there's going to be another percentage that are be like, Oh, that wasn't so bad after all, we can totally do this.
  • 05:50 So I feel like overall it's going to give the remote world, an increase, a boost, but I'm also worried about the backlash of people that are going to try this and have a terrible experience and will never try it again. So yeah, I think that's the direction we're headed, but overall, we're going to go, you know, it's going to increase the number of people, but I think the backlash is going to be significant as well.
  • 06:12 David: Steve, you wanted to pipe up?
  • 06:14 Steve: Yeah. Similar but different to that. Yes, yes. To that and different to that. What we're getting is a lot of people saying, look, my conference needs to go online. Can you help?  Answer, yes.
  • 06:23 At the same time, they're saying, look, we were looking at moving in this direction anyway because of the carbon footprint and other issues, this has just given us the jolt to go there.
  • 06:32 So yes to what Lisette said, and there's another subset for whom life will never be the same again. They've been pushed very hard and violently into something that they weren't quite ready for. It's happening;  once you take away some of the legacy thinking about online events and what have you, and re-imagine from a clean sheet what it could be like given the inclusivity that online can provide, the world changes.   And for those people it will stay different.
  • 06:59 David: Mark, Charles, anything to add there?
  • 07:01 Mark: So, as Lisette said, we all entered into this virtual space by choice. So we had the choice of setting up our own space. We had the choice of getting the right equipment in place. Many of these people, I think it was maybe Lisette that said, they were violently kind of moved into this.
  • 07:19 They may not have the right equipment, the right setup. They might have, you know, family kind of running back and forth as they're trying to get some sort of normalcy.
  • 07:28 I would just say breathe as part of that. It's impacting all of us. I mean, that's why I even forgot part of my introduction as I was coming onto this call.   'Cause I'm concerned about all of you that are on this call and we have many great ideas to share with you, but I think the biggest thing is give yourself a chance to pause and just breathe. So take some time to step away from the machines and go out for a walk, keep your social distancing, of course, but you know, just get outside a little bit and don't get tied to the media and the computers and everything for too long.
  • 08:01 It will help you sustain yourself  throughout this.
  • 08:05 David: Charles
  • 08:06 Charles: The only other thing I'd add to that is, is I do think that it is, I mean, things will slowly return to normal. You know what I mean? Eventually a vaccine will be found and the incidence rates will go down and things will slowly, slowly return to normal.
  • 08:19 But I also think it is the case that for people who find that this way of working suits them, it is going to be much easier to find organizations that are willing to let you work remotely in the future.
  • 08:31 So if your company is currently a company that's saying like, well, you know, I want to work remotely, but well, this company doesn't do that. You now have a perfect counter-argument, which is what you did during the coronavirus thing.  So it becomes much harder, I think, for organizations to resist this. I honestly think the remote working is, for many people and for many jobs, a very good way of working.
  • 08:51 I share the concern that Lisette mentioned about, you know, people experiencing it done badly, because it is something that requires a lot of intent to get it right, but I also think this will be something of a change.
  • 09:03 I don't think it's going to be universal, but I think we will get more people working this way and I personally think that will be a good thing. And in some ways, given the environmental pressures that the world is also under, I think longer term, this is probably going to be quite a normal way of working for quite a lot of people.
  • 09:18 David: Part of the transition here, since it's being done in, to use Lisette's words, sort of a violent way. It's just so sudden, the natural response to change like that is to be nervous, to be stressed, to even be frustrated with what's going on in the world and the change to your life.
  • 09:33 So what recommendations, Judy, do you have for people who are feeling this way as a reaction to what's going on in the world?
  • 09:40 Judy: Somebody just said in the chat, "I am absolutely losing my mind at the level of this challenge", and I think the first thing to say is it's okay to feel nervous, stressed, frustrated, all of that.
  • 09:54 This is hard. We need to give ourselves a break. Somebody also just said in the chat, stop watching the news, and I think there's a lot to be said for that, but the one thing I wanted to comment about this is that the nervousness, the stress, the challenge isn't just coming from remote work, don't tar remote work with everything that's happening just now.
  • 10:16 We're all feeling stressed and challenged because of a whole bunch of things, including being cooped up at home. Give yourself a break and be okay with the fact that you're not comfortable right now. Honestly, this too will pass.
  • 10:30 Charles: Absolutely. And actually I've had hundreds and hundreds of emails from people saying, you know, I'm working remotely for the first time and I'm not being very productive, why is that?
  • 10:38 It's like, well, nobody is productive at the moment. People who've been working remotely like me for years and years and years aren't exactly at the top of our productivity at the moment, because this is not normal for any of us. I'd also add to that, I think those of you that are managers or leaders, just being kind, being understanding, giving your people time to speak to you and reach out to you and making it OK for people to be vulnerable, whether that's in public forums or private forums, which basically means being willing to be a bit vulnerable yourself and be honest about saying, I'm finding this hard, and making sure that you're available to the people that you know, that you look after, that you manage is super, super important. Like say this is hard for everybody. No one's at their best and a little bit of kindness, a little bit of understanding, goes a really long way I think.
  • 11:25 David: Yeah. At Retrium we've been working fully distributed for about five years now so this, in terms of working remotely, is nothing new for us. Of course, this meaning the situation in the world, is brand new, but for teams that are transitioning to remote, if you can think back to when you first started working remotely, Shane, what tips do you have for teams that are just getting started who have never done this before?
  • 11:47 How do they get off on the right foot?
  • 11:49 Shane: First thing I would do is find your virtual space. If we look around us on the screen here, we have a shared space. Judy made this point to me in a podcast we did, where this is now ours. We're used to having that shared space in the physical office, but we actually have it still and using the tools to create the community elements that we do really, really need. That social connection that happens very, very easily in person, when we're remote and when we're suddenly remote, it's going to be really easy to forget about that, to try and just focus on the work in order to maybe shut everything else out.  But we've got that social space. We've got that community.
  • 12:47 Simple things. One of the simplest rules is keep your cameras on unless there's a good reason not to.  Take advantage of the technology because just looking somebody in the eye, being able to see them. I look around and there are a group of people here, most of whom I've met before, but even those I haven't, where we're building a community here and we're amongst friends.
  • 13:11 That makes it safer, easier, more comfortable.
  • 13:15 Think about how you take that community that you had in person and replicate it, now virtually, and then you can use the technology to create other communities.  Your chess club might go online or whatever your social activities are, and that enables us not to lose the social connection at times when we're, we really having to be not in-person as much.
  • 13:42 David: Mark did you want to add to that?
  • 13:44 Mark: Yeah, so I just saw going past in the chat, somebody was saying, but video consumes bandwidth, and it does. So some of you may not have sufficient bandwidth. I would say get pictures of your co-workers, I've been in low bandwidth situations where I've posted pictures around my computer, so I remember, these are the people I'm working with  So when I can't have video and I see over on my chat, I see the names, it's like, okay, now I know who those are. I have a connection. So as Shane said, it's building that community, keeping that connection, even while we're all remote.
  • 14:19 That's what we have all learned for our years of working that way, and you need to keep that now as you're, you've been in this kind of shoved into this situation.
  • 14:30 David: Steven,
  • 14:30 Steve: We've seen, I think everybody's probably seen social connection innovation. It might be new to some or familiar to others, like we've been doing online happy hour for years, what's the big deal? But for the vast number of people, the innovation in social connection is real, and that is really important.
  • 14:48 It's the space between the work. I've seen somebody talking about, yeah, okay, work planning is fine, but what about mentorship? What about leadership? What about team. And people look at online, okay, and they go, right. Oh, it's the meeting we turn for the meeting. We turn up with seconds to go and we leave.
  • 15:02 It's the space between the meetings, that social engagement is going to be so important and learning in a Darwinian way how to connect with people and plan that. So look for social innovation. Look for connection innovation. Look for the space between the meetings and let ingenuity develop new stuff.
  • 15:23 David: Charles?
  • 15:24 Charles: Yeah, just a couple of small things. Things like online coffee meetings and those kinds of things can work really well.
  • 15:30 So literally just post something in a Slack channel or whatever you're using for instant messaging and say, I'm going to be in this room at this time, come to have a coffee. There are plugin apps like, Donut -  is one that we've used at C4, for Slack as well, which will basically randomly pair two people in the organization for a coffee.
  • 15:47 That's quite fun, it gets you talking to people outside of your normal teams. Any of those kind of things. Even, you know, like doing a virtual evening drink or something like that can work. The technology isn't a barrier to not being able to meet. It's just the space and the experience is a bit different.
  • 16:03 Normally, certainly in my experience, what you find is the first few minutes feel a bit awkward, but after people get over that initial, like, this is weird, thing, they kind of forget about the technology and it starts to kind of work and feel quite natural.
  • 16:16 David: So let's move on to the idea that when you are co-located physically together, it's relatively easy to learn through osmosis, you just listen to background noise and what's going on around you. How do you promote this type of group awareness on distributed teams? Shane, should we start with you?
  • 16:34 Shane: It's deliberately creating that space. We joined the call, I was last and I joined minutes before. I was only last thing cause it's four o'clock in the morning here, I didn't mention I'm in New Zealand.
  • 16:51 But we all joined the call and we were having some of that back channel chat. We have a Slack channel that we're using that is sitting in behind us that if something goes out and the technology breaks, we can actually chat to each other there.  At ICagile,  yesterday was one of my colleagues birthdays. We had a virtual birthday party.
  • 17:14 We had virtual cake. Some of us ate real cake. It was great, and it was the deliberate consciousness of putting in the extra time. The meeting isn't the meeting. The meeting starts and ends. Take that time exactly as you would if you were in person, there would have been, let's grab a coffee together. Let's can we have a quiet conversation about that.
  • 17:39 We'll use the tools, have those quiet conversations. Use the technology.
  • 17:45 David: Charles, did you want to add anything to that?
  • 17:47 Charles: Yeah, a couple of things. I would add a check-in rituals at the beginning of the meetings are really helpful. You can use the sort of Core Protocols, the formal version of  that, which basically has a I'm sad/mad/glad/afraid because this...  But it doesn't have to be that formal.
  • 18:01 What you're doing there is you're creating time for people to share things that they wouldn't otherwise share within the meeting time itself. So you don't then have this thing of people not turning up early being a problem. And the other thing I would say is. Have as much of your written documentation and or your other communications channels as open as you possibly can get away with.
  • 18:24 So for example, if you have Slack channels, don't lock them to teams. There's no need to, most of the time, you'll probably have one or two that you do need to keep private. But most of your Slack channels can be open. And then if he wants to know what the team X are talking about, you can go and have a look in their channel and see what they're talking about, and that really helps.
  • 18:41 Having shared documentation in Google docs or something like that, that everyone has access to, again, really helps. I think the more general points about background noise and being aware of your surroundings, I actually think that's a bit of a double edged sword, to be honest. I think it's quite distracting for a lot of people and in some, certainly for me it is, and I think in some ways being more intentional about how information is shared and made available to people is actually a plus point of this way of working, but it does require some adaptation to make it work well.
  • 19:11 David: A few minutes ago, Shane mentioned how ideally everyone on the team should keep their video on in conversations, but I noticed in the comments that there are some people who said, but my team pushes back on that.
  • 19:22 Lisette, how do you overcome that? Should teams have their video on and how do you tell them what the working agreements are? Should you tell them.
  • 19:29 Lisette: No, I never force anybody. Well, yeah, it's sort of against my nature to force anybody to do anything really. But with video cameras, yes. I feel like people need to have the cameras on.
  • 19:37 It's not going to be0% of the time appropriate for every single team, of course, but the idea that we can see each other, it binds us closer immediately. Also for people that are not speaking the language, it's helps to be able to read their lips instead of just listening to what they're saying. It helps to be able to see what they're saying.
  • 19:56 So what I encourage people to do is for teams that don't like it, just try it for the first five minutes of the call. Say hello, you can turn it off. And then the last. Five minutes of the call just to say goodbye. I mean, that's like a baby steps of getting there or the extroverts, usually they're the ones turning the videos on. Just have them turn it on. Others will slowly follow suit and yeah, it should be in part of your team agreements, like discussing what are our protocols for these kinds of meetings. But yeah, I do really think that feel like the video is helpful. And I have to say in my talks, I've given presentations about this for years now and every talk I put in a poll and ask people why they don't turn the video on. And by and large, the number one reason across all countries for the last few years has been because people are multitasking and they don't want others to know it. And one of the things that I've learned from Judy and doing workshops with Judy has this awesome quote, which is "the quality of your attention affects the quality of other people's thinking". And so when we have the videos on, we can see if we're multitasking, but we can see that people are engaged and listening. So I'm a huge proponent of video. I know there's pushback, but I think one of the main reasons is people are multitasking. And then you have to question why are they in this meeting?
  • 21:05 David: Steve
  • 21:06 Steve: To follow on from that, and that's Nancy Kline's quote, and I feel extremely strongly about this. You get, because remote stuff is so easy to say yes to and turn up to, you get this downward spiral of rubbishness if people don't pay attention and it becomes bad because it's bad.
  • 21:22 And that's what scares me the most.  The downward spiral because you can, Oh, I'll just tune in while I'm doing my shopping, doing my email, walking the dogs feeding the kids.  NO be present. It makes a massive difference. Otherwise you will get the downward spiral and then you'll blame the remoteness. And it wasn't the remoteness, it was the lack of attention that you paid your fellow human beings.
  • 21:40 David: Charles, did you want to add something?
  • 21:42 Charles: I just want to add one thing to that, which is I also think it's a really good practice to have a mechanism by which people can effectively excuse themselves from a meeting temporarily. If you are not able to be present for some reason, then - thank you Lisette like that, yes. If you are not able to be in a meeting, excuse yourself from the meeting and then come back in rather than being in the meeting, but actually I'm doing email or dealing with a crying child or whatever it is.  Be present or don't be there, I think is generally good advice. And giving people a mechanism by which they can leave and rejoin is very helpful for that.
  • 22:15 David::15 So, in an ideal case, I think we can all agree that makes a lot of sense, but for many of us right now who are being forced to work from home, they have their children home. They might live in a smaller apartment where they don't have a separate workspace. So, how do we manage that situation and how do we try to reduce interruptions in this crazy time?
  • 22:33 Mark, do you want to start.
  • 22:34 Mark: So it's a combination of a working agreement with your co-workers as well as with your family or whoever you are with. So, some people are concerned about what's behind them, and they don't want to show that context. However, that gives important information to your teammates.
  • 22:55 You know, there's books on the shelves. Actually, when we were getting ready, somebody was saying, Oh, I'm trying to look at Charles's books there and see what he's got on the shelf, which I do the same thing. It's like, well, what has he got? You know? And so, don't get too concerned about a messy desk or something, you know?
  • 23:09 For instance, if I were to, you know, unplug my camera and just start walking around. You can see my messy desk here, but you can also see it's got a set up here with a separate office and a warning light for my kids. But you know, you, you can go anywhere around in the house and be able to talk to people and stay focused.
  • 23:33 And the key thing is where's the best place in your house that you can focus? It may not be here in the kitchen, for instance. Don't camp out in your kitchen if you can.  Instead, try to find a separate place where you've got some quiet, you can get some focus, like Charles and some of the other panellists were discussing, and yes, my wife doesn't know I'm walking around the house right now, so, so I'm safe there, but you've got to find that place to focus.
  • 23:57 So, with my family, they know that when I'm working, I've got the door closed. Maybe you don't have a door. Okay. Great. So can you go to a part of the house and put a sign on the wall or something?  Just taping something on the wall and say, you know, I'm in an important meeting right now. So, the key is you've got to find your place to focus as well as mentally focus.
  • 24:19 David::19 Lisette, there's been a lot of activity in response to you changing your background. Do you want to talk about what you did?
  • 24:24 Lisette: I just use Zoom virtual backgrounds and I just had to compete with Shane and Charles and Judy's books collections. I just have to win. So yeah, I'm just using Zoom virtual backgrounds and I have a green screen that connects to the back of the chair that really helps make the background's really beautiful and I can send the link in the chat.
  • 24:40 So it's just fun because what I like is it sets a mood and one of the things that you can change the mood of how you're feeling, you know, like you can easily like go to the beach and all of a sudden it's a totally different mood and really bright and sunny, you know? Or if I, you know, if I'm just settling down at the end of the day, I go back to my like quiet coworking space.
  • 24:57 I just think it's a lovely feature.
  • 24:59 David: So a lot of us are working from home for the first time and there's a lot of distractions at home. How do you maintain productivity working from home, and maybe we can go around and just get kind of everyone's number one tip there. What do you do personally to maintain productivity while working from home?
  • 25:15 Let's start with Charles and then we can just go around the audience.
  • 25:18 Charles: So two things. One of them I think is quite counter intuitive, which is to take regular breaks. You know, you go for a walk in the morning, assuming you're able to get out at the moment, and take regular bags during the day. It's not reasonable to assume you're going to be able to sit in an office on your own for 8 hours of work, so don't even try. You know, go and make yourself a cup of tea. Take a break every minutes or an hour or whatever rhythm works for you. All of those things work really well and I think also, just other small personal sort of productivity things, things like Pomodoro, I find quite helpful for certain tasks as well.
  • 25:51 David: Can you explain
  • 25:52 Charles: Pomodoro, you basically set a timer for say minutes and say, I'm going to work on this task until the Pomodoro rings. So I use that for email a lot. So I set the timer, start working on the email when the Pomodoro rings stand up, stretch, have a bit of a move around and then rinse and repeat.
  • 26:08 And then after you've done four of those, take a longer break. So that's the point where you go and make a cup of tea or whatever it is that you do to break your day up. But I think that's probably the most important thing. There are lots of other methods that you can use, but being reasonable to yourself and accepting that, you know, it's up to you to make time for yourself in the day and trying to do this for any kind of length of time, that's super, super important.
  • 26:32 David: I think we can self organize here. Anyone else have anything to say on that one?
  • 26:36 Mark: So, I'll jump in. So, going back to what I was saying before about working agreements with your team, you can set up a simple shared document and say, you know, I have small kids... At these certain hours there's just no way... they're going to be bouncing around ... I can't work during this block of hours, but I could work six to and then I've got to take them out of the house and let them burn some energy for a while, and then from two to whenever I can jump back in, or maybe later.
  • 27:05 So having everyone kind of map out, because of this situation, map out when they can collaborate and when it's going to be challenging and just set some expectations that way and just kind of write it up in some shared document.
  • 27:19 Lisette: I'll go next. Mine is, I do two things. One, people will be surprised 'cause I'm a tool junkie and everybody knows I'm a tool junkie, but I actually use a physical book for all my to do's and lists and just talking, because I found that I used to just write things down on sticky notes and say, Oh, I'll put it in my virtual tool.
  • 27:35 And then I just ended up with a big pile of sticky notes. So I just gave into my own natural habit, which is I am a tactile person. I need to write things down. So that's what I use. And the other thing that, it's really important as I put boundaries on my time, so at nine o'clock at night, my phone goes off and I don't look at my phone because I need the rest for my brain.
  • 27:52 Like I may really want to do something, but on the weekends also, I really, I take my weekends one because my husband makes me. But on the other hand, I also know that on Monday I feel a lot better after I've had a weekend and it's easier said than done. 
  • 28:05 Shane: I'll jump in there because the temptation, because the office is now at the home, I'm fortunate, I actually physically go out of the house and into the office.
  • 28:15 My commute is 12 steps, so I've got the space that is separate and that feeling of I'm going to the office and I'm leaving the office is really important. If you are sitting at the kitchen table, no, that's a whole lot harder. Try and move towards and for those that have been thrown into it immediately, right now you're dealing with all of the chaos, but as things start to become more normal-ish, you can then start to maybe have conversations with the family, have conversations with the office, and come up with what are the working times? Productivity is not linked to hours of the day. You be kind to yourself about the hours that you need for yourself, that you need for your family and other things and that are available to the office?
  • 29:07 My style tends to be, because of my global collaboration, I'm busy in New Zealand mornings and then I take most afternoons off. And that's been great because, too much information maybe, my wife has had health troubles, we have been able to go and deal with doctor's appointments and that sort of stuff without it being disruptive.
  • 29:29 And then in the evenings I come back on and work with colleagues in Europe. So I've got that flexibility. And so for me, that family break time happens to be the afternoon, which is actually the time when the weather is best and we can get out and do things as well.
  • 29:46 Steve: I'd say I'm noticing two antithetical things.
  • 29:49 There's the, how do I concentrate? And then there's the burnout. And I'm finding that interesting that they're both happening from the same cohort. And my take on this, yes to what my fellow panelists have said and physical activity.
  • 30:01 And I know in certain places you can't go out running on the streets at the moment. There are different ways of doing it. So, my background is triathlon, competing for iron man. I can't do that anymore, but I can do something. And that something, that physical activity for me is a cure both for being productive and not burning out. It's a bit of a double hit. Whatever you can do and you enjoy doing and you're willing to do, it's a really good part of your day to avoid both burnout and give you that buzz to get focused.
  • 30:29 David: So one trap that a lot of teams, in my experience, fall into when they work remotely is that they have meetings only when they are related to the task at hand, and otherwise they fall into their black hole and get the job done on their own. But it's important to come together to celebrate also, and to have a bit of fun.
  • 30:45 So Shane, let's go back to you. How do you celebrate wins with remote teams in particular? Do you have any stories that you can share. About remote celebrations that have worked great for you.
  • 30:55 Shane: We make regular opportunities to celebrate the small wins, the ongoing success, and we will, for instance, have, let's have a hat party
  • 31:05 Lisette: He looks suddenly familiar, right everybody suddenly, I know that guy.
  • 31:11 Shane: Choose your hat and come and tell us about it. Or we all have pets - take a photograph of your pet, or if the pet's in the room bring the photograph, tell a story of the pet. We got a turtle as a pet in November last year and I have been amazed at how fun this little turtle is.
  • 31:31 I was sort of expecting something that's just going to sit in a tank and be boring, but you walk up to the tank and he recognizes that you're likely to be bringing food. So there's lots of excitement and I've actually brought videos of the turtle splashing around and shared it with my colleagues. So look for the fun, interesting, exciting things.
  • 31:53 It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to be fancy. I mentioned the birthday cake and we deliberately all tried to find something to eat at about the same time, and it was, well, we are spread over time zones, so it was different times of day. Share a cup of coffee or perhaps a stronger drink depending on the time of day.
  • 32:14 David: I want to interject here and then I'll turn back to Judy. I know you were raising your hand about celebrations, but there's a lot of activity in the chat at the moment about Lisette's cards. Can you talk about that?
  • 32:22 Lisette: I'm sorry about all the, you guys all, I'm distracting the whole conversation with all my gimmicks. I really apologize, but I do feel like they're fun.
  • 32:29 This is because of the green screen. It has wierd effects. So I do have a whole set of cards just to express myself visually during meetings. Like I really like to be able to say like, Oh, I really love that idea or you're on mute, and you can find them on the website of  the Collaboration Super Powers, but you could just use sticky notes.
  • 32:45 Like just draw. I have plenty of people just drawing things on sticky notes, so it's like, yes, I would love if you buy the cards, of course. But the sticky notes are totally great. So I'm being ELMO'd, I'm done.
  • 32:58 And I'm coming out with an adult version of the cards soon too, that has like more expletives and things.
  • 33:07 David: Judy, let's go back to celebrations.
  • 33:10 Judy: Celebrations in the social side. Some of the stories that have been coming out in the last couple of days have been quite amazing of groups of people, whether work groups or others, who have been getting together over Zoom or similar systems to have digital drinks.
  • 33:25 Somebody on a call I was on earlier had dinner with a group of three friends, three or four friends, and they were all separate, but they all cooked themselves the same meal and sat down to eat dinner together. A team I was working with who are all based in Florence, in Italy. They actually, one of the people there is single living alone and thought, Oh, it'll be fun to organize digital drinks.
  • 33:50 And initially she only invited the singletons, but then other people heard about it and she extended the invitation to the whole team and they got 85% turnout for digital drinks and you wouldn't get that for an in the room event.
  • 34:07 David: Steve,
  • 34:08 Steve: I'm just reminded of, we're all living in communities and we're looking in on ourselves here and our work and our everything, but we are part of economic communities that are basically dying, literally and figuratively, economically, because nobody's going to these clubs and pubs anymore.
  • 34:21 An idea I gave to my local pub was that they're going to a take away menu. Tell everybody right Friday, here's the menu. Come buy takeaway from us, take it home with the matching beer, the matching wine, buy from us. Go on home, go online and do that. So this is not really on the menu, but I want this to remember we're part of communities that economically are struggling as well, and we can take this out with as well as just within our stuff.
  • 34:43 David: So there's been a bunch of activity in the chat around remote facilitation. How do you facilitate meetings that are remote? So I want to move into that. And by the way, I myself am not monitoring the chat. The way this is working is that we have a back channel conversation, which happens to be in a private Slack group so that we can talk to each other in the background to alert each other to what's going on.
  • 35:01 So that's another tip that I learned from Mark actually about how to make sure that teams are communicating effectively. But let's turn to remote facilitation. Let's start with big groups. Suppose you have a big room planning meeting. Maybe there's or 50 people even in the meeting. How in the world do you facilitate that in a remote context, Judy?
  • 35:19 Judy: Well, one of the things to be aware of is when you bring a big group together in a room together, the stuff that is happening when you're all listening to one person speaking is a tiny part of the meeting. Most of the meeting still happens in twos and threes around the edges, the conversations while you're sitting down or while you're standing in the coffee queue or standing around a whiteboard.
  • 35:48 Those small conversations are where the action is. The big plenary session is trivial in its importance, and yet because of the technological legacy of online events, people imagine that one person talking over slides for an hour is a reasonable thing to do. It's not! People's attention span online is much, much shorter, even with really good video of human beings people mostly find it quite challenging to keep paying attention to an online meeting.
  • 36:24 So the trick with big events, I'm helping to facilitate an event with a hundred plus people over three days tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday. And we've divided the event up into smaller chunks. Yes, there are plenary sessions with speakers and questions through the chair and all that stuff.
  • 36:44 But mostly we're going to be breaking the group into small groups and getting the small groups to do highly interactive activities and writing up their results on some kind of shared document, a Google doc or whatever it is before coming back into plenary and sharing the top things that need to be shared, so that that's sort of the quick fix.
  • 37:04 David: Does anyone else have anything to add in the panel? Yes, Shane, go ahead
  • 37:08 Shane: There's a great story of what happened with the Business Agility Conference seven days ago in New York. Right at the beginning of this, a lot of their speakers started dropping out and then a lot of the participants started dropping out, so they pivoted.
  • 37:25 They were inherently agile and set up a set of basically virtual rooms, Zoom lines. They were nine zoom lines active. One of them was the plenary session that was like this, the sort of webinar broadcast, no interaction. And they just used basically a Google presenter document that you could click on to basically open the zoom line, and then they had these eight other rooms, virtual rooms.
  • 37:59 Some of them had facilitation, some of them were just open and people could move between doing deep dive discussions on topics, and this was set up in four days, five days before the event, and it was an amazingly successful remote collaborative experience. So the people got to watch the plenary sessions, but also to engage in those deep dive conversations in groups of up to and with the facilitation across those those people were then put into small groups using the zoom breakout room functionality to have conversations and bring back to the bigger group as well.
  • 38:38 David: Steve,
  • 38:39 Steve: A mini point - sound.  For big groups it's about encouraging people to use headsets and manage the sound because everybody brings a bit of their room into the big room and that really makes a difference. I've heard some people say, everybody mute, and I'm like, okay, if you've got background noise, I understand that, but there's something about connectivity of noise. If I move this chair, I want you to know I've moved the chair. I don't want to see it and hear nothing. It's disengaging. So management and thoughtfulness about sound in big groups.
  • 39:12 David: Lisette, you mentioned that you're into tools. I know you're kind of a tool junkie. You like exploring them, you like seeing what they are seeing new ones.
  • 39:19 So what tools do you use? What do you recommend for facilitating remote meetings?
  • 39:25 Lisette: For me, Zoom is by far the best tool for facilitating remote meetings, and I would say that actually any tool will work for you, except - this is  going to be a dangerous thing to say, I'm going to get hate messages - except Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams.
  • 39:38 Those are both junk tools that should just be tossed into some recycle bin, and I don't say this lightly. I've used it a lot. I hate them, and anything else is better, but for me personally, Zoom is my very favourite. Okay - end rant. Some people agree. I'm seeing some people agree. Here's the thing is that
  • 39:56 Steve: You can get a Zoom plugin for  Microsoft Teams now.
  • 39:59 Lisette: Yes, you can. And you should, because so many companies are saying, Hey, we need you to work remotely and really be productive. And then you give them Microsoft Teams to communicate with. And I just think, well, you might as well just give them some tin cans. I mean, it's just, you know, you're not, you're not much better.
  • 40:13 Okay. So I rant about this, but I think it's really important because most big companies are being forced to use Microsoft Teams to communicate and it's getting in the way of communication. And yes, I know some people like it and it works in some situations, but I've just heard nothing but complaints.
  • 40:27 So I would say use any tool that your team will use.  It doesn't really matter. The right tool for you is the tool that your team uses. And it's not about the tool, as much as I love them, it's about the behaviour that the tool enables. And so what you're trying to do is figure out what is the behaviour you're looking for, and then what tool will match that behaviour.
  • 40:45 And the name of the game is experimentation. Just trying and seeing what works. Cause sometimes the most irrational tool works.
  • 40:53 David: Mark did you want to add to that?
  • 40:54 Mark: I was going to just riff on what Lisette said about experimentation. So I didn't warn you all about my little experiment ,about unplugging my laptop and roaming around, but I knew that I could pull that off with Zoom because of its stability on my laptop.
  • 41:10 So it's experimenting with the tools to also get to know what can you do with it and when can you rely on it, especially with everyone at home and hitting the internet together. I'm sure we're testing out the Zoom infrastructure and a few other infrastructures. So you might want to think about, you know, if your current meeting platform is having issues, is there another way for you to connect?
  • 41:33 David: Yes. Lisette,
  • 41:34 Lisette: just one more thing, I promise I won't say more about Microsoft Teams, but what I'm seeing is that when companies give employees bad tools, employees are going around and finding their own ways of communicating, already.
  • 41:46 So I know a lot of people are saying like, Oh, there's all kinds of security issues but what I would say is if your team does not like the tools, if they're being forced, they're going to find some sort of back channel, anyway. So I've given workshops at a whole bunch of banks, and I know that they're using WhatsApp and not Teams, because WhatsApp helps them communicate better, and yes, it's a security breach, but they're desperate to communicate.
  • 42:08 David: So regardless of what tool we pick, the next step, of course, is actually engaging people in the conversation. So how do you encourage the entire team to speak up in these distributed meetings? Things like retrospectives or sprint planning meetings, or any meeting that you're holding in a remote context?
  • 42:22 Judy, maybe we'll start with you.
  • 42:24 Judy: Lots of ways. One is to make it really easy. So apparently the product manager for Microsoft Teams is on the call. So one of the things that makes it really easy for people to participate in calls is making it natural and comfortable to do so. Things like being able to see everybody who's on the call and not having the experience of invisible lurkers, will encourage people to participate, particularly if the calls are not too large. And also that whole thing about breakout rooms, again, using small group activities, which is easy to do in Zoom, makes it much, much easier for quiet people to engage. So if we're going to an in the room meeting, we don't start by strolling in and going, "Hello, it's me - I'm here" to the whole room. You start by saying hello to whoever's near the door, or you go over to the bar or the coffee and you say hello to someone, and then gradually you increased the number of people in your conversational circle.
  • 43:27 Well, by using breakout rooms cleverly, you can do that in online meetings, even big ones.  You can use processes that are specifically designed to increase participation, like Liberating Structures, if people have come across that, nearly all the Liberating Structures will work online  as long as you've got decent video, you've got decent audio, everybody can see everybody and you've got breakout rooms.
  • 43:57 If you haven't got those basic tools, it becomes harder. It doesn't become impossible, but it does become harder. And as soon as it's harder, as soon as there are barriers in place, the people who are less enthusiastic about speaking will back off. And at that point you need to start using things like text-based tools, like David's fantastic  Retrium, where you're inputting comments and things that are then voted on.
  • 44:25 Those kinds of tools will make it much easier for the quiet people to at least participate, even if they don't actually speak out loud. Their views would be being acknowledged.
  • 44:40 Charles: The only thing I would add to that is that, I agree  we've talked a lot about tools, and I do think tooling is important, but I also think the other part of this is fundamentally just in making sure that everyone in the room is given the space to speak is no different from in-room facilitation at the end of the day. 
  • 44:55 It's just, if you are facilitating the meeting, that's your job and the tooling honestly doesn't make that much difference to how well you do that. A lot of it is about just making sure that everyone is heard, giving people the chance to speak and all of that kind of thing;  the tools are secondary to that. That was all I wanted to say.
  • 45:10 David: Go ahead, Shane.
  • 45:12 Shane: Just, we've come back to the social contract, have those conversations among the team and say, this is what we're facing, how do we agree that we will participate, and what do those of us who are maybe uncomfortable need from the rest of us to make that safe.
  • 45:32 Mark: And so I was going to say, and you've seen some of us use sort of implicit agreements around hand signals. You saw Lisette do jazz hands to kind of applaud. We've done thumbs up; so you don't need fancy cards.  You might have noticed, I've been looking off to the side too as we're trying to pull Steve back in, because he seems to be frozen for some of us right now.  
  • 45:53 Yeah, he is frozen.
  • 45:55 Lisette: He knows,
  • 45:57 Mark: but he's frozen with a smile though, that's good.
  • 46:00 Going back to what Charles said, it's really how we use those tools that's important. So here we've got the focus. I'm coordinating with some of our folks backstage because that's what I'm used to doing as a facilitator. So going back to what we were saying before about dealing with the big room, you would probably want a collection of facilitators so that somebody could help with people having technical issues. Somebody could help with the main facilitation. Somebody could help with the side rooms, the breakout rooms, for instance, because there's a lot going on. And in order for people to understand how they can move in that space; you might need a little bit more support.
  • 46:40 David: So I think the group here could talk for hours about this, and there's a lot more questions I'd like to cover. But we are almost out of time. We have only five minutes left. So I want to close with one final question for everyone, which is: what one piece of advice would you like to give everyone on the call?
  • 46:56 The one thing that you'd say is most important to be effective working remotely in the wild, volatile times that we find ourselves in. I'll give you all a minute to think and then whoever would like to go first, go ahead.
  • 47:09 Shane: I'm going to say be kind to yourself and be kind to others and think of that in every aspect - your  life at home with your family, your online work with your colleagues and the society that you're a part of. Approach this time of chaos with kindness at heart.
  • 47:31 Lisette::31 Love it. I'll go next. I would say we've talked a lot about working agreements and team agreements, but I'm really a big fan of creating team agreements and I would add to that, review them, especially if you're going remote for the first time, review your agreements like every week.
  • 47:46 Do like a mini retrospective of, is this still how we're working? Is this still working for everybody? And go from there. So really small steps. Take it slow. We're all unproductive right now. It's totally freaky what's happening in our world, like nobody knows. So. Slow steps, kindness, and yeah, create an agreement on how to work together.
  • 48:04 David: Judy,
  • 48:05 Judy: Make it fun. Add some joy to it.
  • 48:08 David: Charles, you had your hand up.
  • 48:09 Charles: Yeah, I was just going to say, make yourself available for one on one time as well and give people time to come and talk to you about what's top of mind for them.  Particularly and especially things that are not work at the moment. Other things are more important sometimes, and again, just to echo Shane's point, I think if ever there was a time to be kind it is now
  • 48:28 Mark: I'm going to build on what Charles  and shane said:  keep the communication lines open. If you're not sharing video, you may not know what each of your colleagues are going through. So yes, you should be open for one on ones, but you might reach out if you're not hearing from colleagues and have a few different ways to reach out to them, not just through the computer, just to check in and say, how are you doing in this time? Do you need a little time to chat and talk through this?
  • 48:54 David: Steve, are you with us?
  • 48:56 Steve: Yes, I am. Okay.
  • 48:58 Can you hear me?
  • 49:01 Lisette: And see you
  • 49:02 Steve: And see me, well, that's maybe not such a great thing.
  • 49:04 I love what I've heard. I love my standing desk. I'm going to be very practical. I love my standing desk is good for me, but I would say, look for the space between the work. That's where life happens.
  • 49:15 Yes, the work matters, but the space between the work, the corridors, the physical and mental corridors, and you know, if you're no longer commuting, now, obviously some countries you can't go outside at the moment, but a friend of mine in Bristol, instead of commuting, he does a community litter pick once a week in the community.
  • 49:31 So instead of the commuting time, not talking to people on buses and trains, they're doing something else together once a week, and that could change everything, that kind of thing.
  • 49:39 David: And I'll add one final tip here, which is we've talked a lot about working agreements and that we need to build those from the ground up, everything has changed.  But also those aren't stuck in stone once they've been created. Challenge those every week because what you think might be true today, it will be not true in a month. Everything is changing too fast. So take the time out of your work to inspect and adapt, reflect and retrospect, and we'll all figure this out together.
  • 50:03 Thank you everybody. Thank you panelists. Thank you attendees. This has been fantastic and I hope you got some value from the conversation and the tips these experts have given you. Thank you everybody.


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