How does the hybrid agile project management methodology support remote work?

A brief overview of the current situation

Remote work is the new norm in 2020

COVID-19 pandemic was a shocking experience for many businesses around the world and still has huge impact on the daily operations. One of the most significant change is remote work, that had to be set up within a very short timeframe to cover for almost 100% of the total workforce.

Technical enablers of remote work

Although remote access to computer systems is seemed to be a modern approach, remote work has been a growing theme for the last decades and enabling technology is available for quite a long time. It started with Dummy terminals and phone lines in the last century with limited efficiency and security features. The most remarkable milestone was the advent of the broadband internet. Permanent Internet connection with reasonable long-distance connection charges accelerated the transition to the extended enterprise model.

In the last decade the technology for remote access become widely available at reasonable cost and security solutions cover the requirements of most business use cases. This also gave a boost to migration to public or private cloud-based services, which became one of the highest priorities in IT transformations nowadays.

As of today, there are still only limited number of companies with fully implemented digital first strategies and widely used remote workforce concept. Although the technology solutions are available, as always, the mindset change takes much longer. There is resistance to change and the employees and the management must get used to the new ways of working.

Major trends which promoted the use of distributed teams

In the last two decades many international companies changed to Shared Service Centre model. Central Eastern Europe is a major hub for European nearshore services, while South East Asia became the preferred hub for offshore service provisioning. Centralisation of services into Service Centres from the operating countries / local markets was one of the key drivers for using geographically distributed teams based on video conferencing and digital collaboration tools.

Remote work in 2020 - Shared Service Center

Agile workplace without fix allocation of desks and Work From Home options were provided to the workers to improve employee satisfaction and to save Office costs. In the extreme some new companies started using 100% remote work setup without any central office, but this approach is still limited to niche industries/professions. Distributed teams require much more coordination and facilitation to ensure efficient communication between countries, time zones and different cultures.

In project-based organisations the shift towards distributed teams triggered a huge demand for experienced project and programme managers who are able to organise and facilitate the work of the distributed teams and manage the benefit realisation of the new cost-effective operational model.

Co-located versus Distributed teams

Agile project management approach appraises the advantages of co-located, self-organising teams in IT development up to the size of 10-12 practitioners. However even the big IT companies, following Agile practices instead of traditional Waterfall project management approach, have more and more distributed teams than co-located ones due to globalisation, worldwide spread of offices and increasing cost and security restrictions on business travel.

Remote work in 2020 - IT teams

In many cases a hybrid team setup is in place, with most participants on site but some additional participants joining remotely. Based on experience, this model is less efficient. The on-site team members have big advantage using verbal and non-verbal communication and they are not impacted by limitation of technology and collaboration tools. It is a big challenge to keep the dial-in participants engaged and active in this scenario.

Remote work in 2020 - Remote IT Teams

Fully remote teams, where everyone connects remotely, would work in a much more balanced way as all participants must follow the same ways of working without any bias.

Extreme scenario: 100% Work From Home

In early 2020 Remote work was suddenly enforced widely by the COVID-19 pandemic without sufficient notice period and preparation. In the early days there was huge pressure on IT departments to roll out existing remote access and collaboration tools to all member of the workforce with proper IT control environment. After the initial IT challenges, the remote work become the new norm and the organisations started adapting to the new environment.

Remote work in 2020 - Home Office

Managers of ongoing projects and initiatives had to immediately adjust their focus to increase efficient communication with the team members to understand the perception of the pandemic, the impact on well being of the team members, the readiness of home office for sustainable work, the mental pressure due to lockdown and healthcare challenges. This shift required both quantitative and qualitative changes in the work practices. Emotional intelligence become a key success factor to understand, analyse and action the challenges on the new work environment.

Increased need for Agile mindset

Six months after the breakout of the pandemic in Europe, it seems like the new environment is not a short-term temporary measure and many implications will stay with us mid-term and even long-term. The programme and project management profession needs to adjust the whole project lifecycle including planning and project initiation phases. High level of uncertainty and economic decline due to lockdown rules requires more intense use of Agile project management practices and quick adaptation for changing environment. Project onboarding and team set up in remote environment can be only successful based on high level of trust between the partners and frequent review and quality assurance cycles, continuous monitoring and adjustments in each and every project increment.

Remote work in 2020: Turning the unpleasant experiences into long term benefits

On the other hand, the pandemic proved the wide viability of remote work and distributed teams and removed the unconscious blocker from the mindset of traditional leaders. Employees got used to flexible work arrangements and digital tools. Management gained significant experience about the advantages of the remote work and the possible ways to handle the related risks. Many large companies already announced longer term extensive Work From Home policies and provided financial support to employees to make the new work environment healthy and sustainable. Regulators started reviewing and updating national Labour Laws to adjust to the new business environment and turn this unprecedented experience into long term benefits for the employees, the company and the overall community.

Bárány Attila

How does the hybrid agile project management methodology support remote work?

Author: Attila Bárány

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