People and Productivity During A Pandemic

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With the recent mass movement towards remote working, there is a need to take stock of both the positive and negatives of remote working along with the challenges. In this post, I’d like to focus on three potential problems that can arise and propose some simple steps that can be taken to overcome these problems.

1. Loneliness and Isolation

First and foremost, the well-being of your teams always needs to be the top priority. One consequence of enforced remote work is the potential for loneliness and isolation. Co-located teams tend to engage in casual chit-chat during the working day. This helps the team gel and creates an atmosphere more open to discussion and healthy levels of disagreement.

Unfortunately, when everyone is working remotely, it is very easy to fall into the trap of focusing 100% of team communication on work-specific details. Furthermore, prolific eye contact and a sense of comradery are traits associated with high performing teams, but these too can easily fall by the wayside when everyone works remotely.

Given these problems, what can be done to improve the situation?

Virtual Fika

Fika is a Swedish tradition which means to make time for friends and colleagues, to share a cup of coffee or tea and maybe something to eat. A Virtual Fika is essentially the same thing, but with everyone attending remotely.

The idea is to get the team to meet once a day for 15 minutes and talk about whatever they want. That is, anything they want that is non-work related. As with all remote meetings, usage of video cameras improves the experience as it promotes eye contact between all participants.

Ironically, the usage of Virtual Fika may heighten awareness that many teams were not talking to each other much when co-located. It is far too easy for people to spend days, weeks or even months working with people without ever getting to know them. I can’t help but think the usage of remote meetings will encourage us all to chat with each other a little more and perhaps be a bit more human.

In addition to Virtual Fika, it is critically important that Scrum Masters and Managers regularly hold one to one meetings with each team member. As with all remote meetings, usage of video is vitally important.

2. Negative impact upon the visibility of work

Scrum Boards and Kanban boards are essentially the Scrum Framework and Kanban realisation of a Visual Management centre. A visual management centre should be visible to everyone and self-reporting. In other words, both the team and stakeholders should have 24/7 access to the current status of all tickets without the need to ask questions or organize meetings to get a status update. Agile work environments typically have Virtual Scrum/Kanban boards in tools such as JIRA or Trello, in addition to large Physical Scrum/Kanban boards displayed on notice boards or walls. The most effective Physical boards are not only visible to everyone, they’re unavoidable.

To understand the true benefits of Physical boards, imagine Alice or Bob returning to their desk after grabbing a coffee. Without thinking about it, they look at the hopefully very difficult to miss Physical board and make one or more of the following observations.

  • The highest priority ticket is blocked. I didn’t realise that. I’ll talk to the team and figure out what I can do to help.
  • Mary is working on 4 high priority tickets, while John is working on 1 low priority ticket. We need to talk to John and Mary as that doesn’t make sense.
  • The new team member seems to be working on several items in parallel but doesn’t seem to be making progress on any of them. Let’s tell him to work on one item at a time as we want to limit WIP (Work in Progress).
  • We’re in big danger of missing delivery of the highest priority ticket this sprint, but several of the team are working on lower priority items.
  • Etc.…

Virtual Scrum/Kanban boards simply don’t achieve the same level of visibility and transparency as Physical boards. This lack of visibility very easily results in lower team performance and can make stakeholders nervous and lead to a loss of trust.

Good Practice in relation to Scrum/Kanban Board Management

Now that I’ve explained why the loss of a Physical Board has a negative impact, I’d like to explain how teams can overcome or at least limit the impact. Trust can be retained or regained when team members follow a few simple principles:

  • Team members should check the Scrum/Kanban board at least twice daily
  • Team members should focus on the full board, rather than just the tickets assigned to them
  • The Scrum/Kanban board should represent the latest and greatest status of all tickets
  • Team members should update the board and status of each ticket at least daily
  • A comment should be added to all ‘In Progress’ tickets regardless of progress or lack of progress
  • Blocked tickets should be clearly visibility
  • Impediments should be made visible to all

These suggestions would be considered good practice in general but take on an extra degree of importance when everyone is working remotely.

3. Recognition and Gratitude

It is always important to celebrate small gains, but I can’t help but think this is of greater importance with remote working. I would encourage public recognition of both teams and individuals. Recognition of a team can relate to achieving delivery of a feature on time, while recognition of an individual could relate to gaining certification and expanding their knowledge.

Lastly, it’s very easy to miss the good work done by people. When teams are co-located, we tend to notice someone standing at a whiteboard explaining a difficult concept to a group of people or sitting at someone’s desk and helping them overcome a technical obstacle. This can very easily go unnoticed with remote working. For that reason, I would encourage people to publicly express gratitude to others in a more visible way. This can be as simple as a shout out on the team channel.

Read More: How to feel less remote? – Effective communication when working remotely

Author - James Langan - Ammeon

James Langan
Agile Practices Manager | Ammeon

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