It’s been a year since we were told we had to work from home, thanks to COVID-19. WFH has always been an option for us, and it can be useful for the odd day or maybe two, but a year of it is way too much if you ask me! (I do appreciate that I’m fortunate to still be working and that my company has been very helpful in making WFH sustainable, but I miss the face to face chats even more than I miss the free snacks!)

Let’s go back to March 2020 and start at the beginning. COVID was hitting the news and there was talk of us doing a few days “test” to see if our various systems could handle hundreds of people working remotely. I remember that was announced on Wednesday, and so my coaching team decided to do a pre-test on the Friday… but before we could start the test it became the real thing, and we’ve been working from home ever since.

Why do I mention this on my agile blog? Because there’s lots to learn from it: agility is the ability to react and change rapidly; working from home requires a lot of adaptation; and of course “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley” or, if you’re not fluent in Robert Burns, no matter how good your plan is something will go wrong 🙂

If we didn’t already have some degree of agility throughout the company then some parts would probably have broken or at least been very taxed to cope with the sudden changes. Our IT teams quickly dealt with issues as they were reported, but then most IT teams are used to reacting to waves of tickets – kanban (or more often some process based on aspects of kanban) supports the flexibility and unpredictability that they face. Dev teams were empowered to experiment and find tools that worked for them; for example, we had a preferred video conferencing tool but teams are used to chatting with the people around them, so some used Discord and others tried Sococo – the emphasis was to focus on the outcomes (e.g. ad hoc conversations).

One adaptation that I had to make was due to the lack of (or at least greatly reduced) visual cues that I observe when sitting in a room with the people that I’m coaching. Combine that with physical interruptions, internet connections that drop every third syllable, the increased possibility of multi-tasking (e.g. having a conversation on Slack in another window) and general fatigue, and unsurprisingly it’s a challenge to have deep conversations. Shorter, more focused discussions followed up by text chats seem to be working, but it does seem to mean slower progress… but at least it’s progress!

I also find that I am using whiteboards even more than I did BC (Before Covid) and after trying a few websites is a firm favourite – it’s simple enough that anyone can contribute with a moment’s introduction, but powerful enough that we can build templates for a variety of purposes (retrospectives, story mapping, roadmaps, popcorn improvement boards, etc.).

What adapting to COVID restrictions has shown me is that flexibility, empowerment, experiments, and adaptation are key – now if only we had a word to encapsulate all that. 😉