Like many of you, our Web and Online Project teams have had to come to grips with working from home for the foreseeable future.
Thankfully, much of what we do can be done from home, and many of us have worked from home before. While we are not experts in this field by any means, we thought we could share some of the things we are doing and consider effective over this period of disruption.
Stand-ups with more structure
Our Agile approach to working means each day starts with a daily stand-up (a short ten minute meeting for the team to update each other).
Every morning we get together for project team members to say:
- what they did yesterday
- what they’re doing today
- any “blockers” (problems preventing them from moving forward)
We are still “standing up”, although now it’s more likely to be sitting down in our respective kitchens. We use Teams for our stand-ups. To keep us organised in a meeting that can have up to 15 people, we have added a simple running order that we follow so we know who’s speaking when. It takes a bit of practise to avoid talking over each other, and making sure your background is presentable, but we’re getting there. Getting to see everyone’s pets is also a perk!
And we’re thinking of the environment. In a Teams meeting, having video constantly on uses more energy than just audio. So, after our start of the day greetings and hellos, we turn video off when we’re not speaking or don’t need it – following up on a tip from usability guru Gerry McGovern.
Green tip for video conferencing: Go video for first few minutes so everyone gets to greet. Then say something like "let's save a tree" and go audio-only, if possible. You will be saving from 10-35 times energy, and creating 10-35 times less CO2 pollution— Gerry McGovern (@gerrymcgovern) March 19, 2020
Additional afternoon stand-up
We’ve also introduced a second stand-up in early afternoon. This gives anyone with blockers an opportunity to speak to the team and get them resolved.
We’ve also found this a useful session just to get everyone together and have 5 minutes of social interaction. Well-being is really important at this time. We know that people approach change differently so we need to make sure we are looking out for those who have difficulty with the new reality. Having a chance to check in with each other has been a big help as we adjust to life out of the office.
Digital tools, collaboration and comms
Having a meeting online is different to gathering in person. We are not having long meetings with lots of participants. Our meetings are more task orientated and structured and, where possible, we share approaches in advance. Meetings are then more about discussing and agreeing an approach than starting with a blank sheet of paper.
We are also keeping in touch over instant messaging. We use a combination of Slack, Microsoft Teams, Sharepoint and Visual Studio to say in touch and collaborate throughout the day. There are a lot of tools available, so it’s about finding what works for you and your team.
There’s an upside to virtual meetings – there is always plenty of room!
Face to face?
One of the important things in our work is building relationships with stakeholders. We work collaboratively to create our content, making sure that we are talking regularly to the people involved.
It’s harder to build a relationship with someone when you can’t get together and have a coffee and a chat. However, we’re finding that we can bond over the new, strange circumstances we’re all sharing. People are tending towards cooperation and understanding just now, and we’ve found they are going the extra mile to make things work. All of which is helping us all to collaborate better.
What’s coming next
In the office, we have Kanban boards that show what we are working on and what stage each piece of work is at. We use it to structure our workload. Without a physical board in the office, we have created a digital version in Microsoft Teams. We’ve not made this part of our daily stand-up yet, but we will try and build it into our meetings next week.
And then, like many of you, we will have the challenge of those team members with children at home. We are talking to those team members affected and working out a way to allow them to work in the most productive way possible.
It is an uncertain time and we cannot see what is immediately round the corner. We just have to accept change is coming and deal with the challenges as best we can.
Being as normal as we can and continuing to deliver
In moving to home working we’ve tried to forecast some issues but also not adjust too much – because we have some good working practice that we don’t want to lose.
So we move forward this month and next looking to release our first version of the new committee sites on beta. In April we aim to make our beta site the only place to access new legislation (bills) that are passing through the parliamentary process.
At the end of the day, it’s important that we focus on what we can do, be flexible, and continue to deliver product where we can.
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