Can an #Agile team mate #telecommute?

When Yahoo released the memo about employees not being able to work from home any more, there was the expected backlash against something which has become more and more common. It was especially unexpected given that Yahoo’s new CEO recently had a child and might be expected as someone who would find value in being able to work from home.

If you haven’t seen the story. Here is a link to one of the many articles on the subject:

Yahoo Reaction

Individual versus Team

My thoughts on this matter revolve around the concept of individual versus team performance. In fact, the link to the article provides a perfect quote:

“They didn’t lose my productivity,”

As someone who has a 6 and 7-year-old, I can’t see how someone who works from home could be as effective by working the same amount of time. Little questions and requests have context switches inherent in them. We always talk about the impact of task switching at work. We have to be consistent and also recognize the impact of task switching at home. So let’s assume that the person in question puts in the extra time to be as productive at home as they were at work.

OK.

What about the Team?

But what about team productivity? Unless you are working on a solitary project, having a remote member has to affect the team productivity. People work around the missing person. Instead of an immediate in-person discussion they have to make a phone call, instead of white-boarding they either create an electronic diagram or set up a video-conference. Now what happens when the remote person may not be available due to an urgent issue on their side? Technology can help, but the experience isn’t the same and there is an effect on the team.

But what about remote Agile teams?

My opinion, and it is only my opinion, is that I would prefer to not have to deal with a remote team. Now this isn’t possible in some circumstances, but we can’t pretend a remote team will be as efficient as a co-located team. The only question is how bad it will be.

I’d prefer Agile teams to always be co-located in one room. I don’t want to be in a separate room in one building, never mind some people being at home or across the continent.

Summary

I think Yahoo is correct. The company and teams work best when everyone is together. The collaboration and innovation that happens when people are together can’t be replicated.

I understand that are complexities that make everyone co-located a challenge. But if you gave me the choice, I’d choose everyone in same room every single time.

Every quote I had seen on this topic also had the individual aspect as the primary focus. The quotes proposed that “I” was still as productive. No one ever stated that the “team” was still as productive.

Agile Work Schedule, Telecommuting, and Compensation

On the way back from Gimli to celebrate Canada Day, I heard an interesting discussion on the Charles Adler show on telecommuting and whether the current work day really allows for the best contributions from people. This was proposed for both work and school life and the question was asked if we worked from 7:30 AM through 1:00 PM would we accomplish more than the current schedule that works throughout the entire day breaking for lunch. It stated the old argument that the last one or two hours are usually the least efficient anyway.

So why not put in 5.5 solid hours and save the remaining two hours when minimal value is realized. Now obviously the value realized each hour would change for the different types of jobs, but this proposal may hold water for the types of jobs where you are expected to be creative throughout the day.

It also proposed that allowing people to work for home can greatly increase an individual’s productivity as well. It was mentioned that not only does this save on travel time, but also on time potentially wasted due to talking and interacting at work that isn’t directly related to the task at hand.

So that go me thinking about these two things and then that spurred a third idea. Let’s tackle them in order.

Telecommuting

I love telecommuting. And the people on the radio loved it too. To a person they stated it made the individual person much more efficient. I think that is the key. In individual work and activities I think it can be a very effective tool. But we always need to remember that our goal isn’t about making just the individual more efficient, it has to also make the team more efficient. It was never asked, but I wish they would have asked if the individual’s telecommuting made the organization more efficient. Although you can use technology to help to counteract any issues that may be caused by remote team members, I have not heard of one person who preferred team members that were not co-located. I think telecommuting and remote teams have their place and can be used to provide individual flexibility and link specific expertise on projects, but we need to be careful that telecommuting always makes the projects better. (I know in my current project the remote team members absolutely make our project the best that it could be)

Work Schedule

This was an interesting one. I’m not sure a generalization can be made of which work schedule is the most efficient. I really think this depends on the individual and how they like to work as individuals. I think again we need to ensure that the work schedule allows for the most efficient team. Although one team member may view the 30 minutes of talking waste, it may have made the other 4 members of the team much more efficient.  We again need to ensure that we are focusing on making the team better when we discuss these options. I know I became a better Project Manager when I stopped planning my day according to the tasks I needed to complete and focused on the assistance I needed to provide to other team members to help them complete tasks.

Agile Compensation

With my thoughts structured nicely with the first two issues, I noticed some questions started to pop into my mind:

  • Although we propose to our client to focus on the project value delivered, many Software Development departments compensate on a combination of seniority, competencies, and ultimately hours.
  • I’m sure we have all been on projects where one or two people had much more output and value than other team members. How can we recognize those contributions?
  • How can we compensate team members for the true value they provide and not just the potential value? (seniority and competency)

My only thought was that we need to start moving compensation to a balanced compensation model that balances individual competencies with value delivered on a team. In this way we can start aligning how we compensate individuals with how we propose projects focus on the value being delivered. I know this is not an easy journey and I don’t have any easy solutions. I do think that being able to recognize individuals for their team value may provide some needed flexibility to compensate people fairly.

In the end for all three of these concepts it is all about the team and the value the team can provide. Amazing what thoughts creep into your mind when you are driving back from a day the beach with a van full of sleeping kids.