Working Across Continents

“We don’t have the luxury of co-located teams, so I guess we can’t do agile.”

Wrong!

3D globe with floating continents and gears in the background, in a blue theme

Are agile processes easier when all of the team members, including the business people, are located in the same place? Absolutely! Co-location allows for face to face communication which is richer and easier. It also offers much more. Co-location offers the benefits of ad-hoc interactions, personal relationships, and a common culture. The trick when setting up dispersed teams is to consciously do the things necessary to create those opportunities, even from afar.

It can be very easy to ignore the human side of someone you’ve never met, especially when they work “odd” hours and you rarely see their face. And how comfortable are you likely to be when you need to explain to the group that you’re having a hard time solving something when they don’t know anything about you? And compare that with discussing your work issues with a co-worker who is also a friend. So what are global people supposed to do?

Here are a few tips:

  • Consciously reach out to each other – take the time to talk with or exchange one on one messages with your distant coworkersC

  • Take a technology inventory – what options are available to everyone? Who has headsets and webcams? Who has to pay for phone calls?

  • Understand constraints – some people are required for personal safety reasons to leave their office at a certain time; others follow the train schedule

  • Use technology to your advantage – use video conferencing when it’s an option

  • Combine technology – combine chat and real-time typing in screen sharing with conference call and video chats; accents are not as thick through IM

  • Laugh! Make time to joke around and talk as a group. Ask questions about holidays, festivals, vacations, traditions. Don’t take your own ignorance too seriously and laugh at yourself (but not at others)

  • Brainstorm, experiment, and then review; some ideas don’t work out, but you’ll never find the good ones if you don’t try a few

Doing some of these things will help you create a culture of openness and trust, and that is a good foundation for doing business together, regardless of your methodology.

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