Days-in and Days-out


Hybrid work best practices

by Sagi Smolarski & Yael Rabinovitz, AgileSparks, with guest writer Yael Goldberg Katz from AT&T

As a side effect of the COVID epidemic, people and organizations have discovered working from home can be both productive and more pleasant, especially considering the time wasted on commuting to work and back. 

Workers are now challenging the need to drive to work. At the end of a day in the office, on the way back home, they hit a traffic jam, they ask themselves: “was it really worth it?”… What is your answer to this question?

You probably realize that some office days are beneficial, or maybe mandated by the company, but how will you make it worthwhile for your employees to come to work?

With remote work, it has become harder to keep employees engaged in the organization, as evidenced by an industry-wide rise in employee churn. One underlying reason for this challenge is the breakdown of the social fabric at the workplace. Now you have a chance to rebuild and reinforce that fabric in the office.

Here are some tips to help you make office days worthwhile for the organization, the team, and the individual

Synchronize. Get the whole team in. Do your best to get the full team, and its immediate stakeholders in the office on the same days (i.e. whole group, including PO, Architect, and TA…). Those office days are not nearly as useful if some of the team members decide to stay home, so ideally, shoot for 100% attendance. Of course, once people realize there is value in coming to the office, there will be less need to cajole and convince.

Make future presence visible. Create an invite for office days for all team members. Do this way ahead of time. That way, others in the organization can see when someone is scheduled to be in the office and schedule their meetings accordingly. In addition, this creates more of a commitment and expectation for people to come to the office on these days.

Set core hours. On an office day, you want to maximize the amount of time for common presence, therefore you may want to set core hours during which all team members are expected to be in the office (e.g. 10 AM to 4 PM). You can still provide some flexibility to let people optimize commute time for traffic and personal daily rhythm.

Reorganize the team’s schedule. Reschedule recurring meetings to those presence days (iteration planning, brainstorming, review & retrospective, etc.). This may mean moving the sprint’s schedule to match presence days.

Make time for bonding & fun. Team building / re-building should be a priority. Consider that what people are missing most is face-to-face interaction, so make an intentional effort to make it happen. Schedule it in. Examples: The whole team getting a coffee break together, common lunchtime, celebrations, a short fitness break, or class. Include ice-breakers in meetings. Include at least one fun activity on an office day. Make that day memorable.

Minimize video-conference meetings. The last thing people want is to spend a major chunk of their time in the office in video-conferencing meetings they could have attended equally well from home. If this is the case, see if you need to redesign the presence schedule to match people with others they work with, or reschedule those meetings to remote work days.

Expand your interactions. Think about events/processes that were hard to do effectively using video conferencing, this may be innovation, brainstorming, design, pairing, mobbing, learning, round tables, group meetings, etc. Use the opportunity that you are altogether to hold them face to face.

Go personal. Make time for face-to-face 1×1 meetings. As always in those meetings, take the opportunity to acknowledge people’s contributions, and listen to them deeply and meaningfully.

Give it time. Hold a longer daily meeting and allow more time for off-topic discussions.

Facilitate. Make face-to-face meetings effective – They should be significantly more engaging and effective than video-conferencing meetings, otherwise why bother? Use a variety of facilitation techniques to make it happen, including visual facilitation using a whiteboard.

Do food. Food is the ultimate bonding glue. Here’s your opportunity to use it to its full effect. Spoil people with extraordinary snacks. Although sanitary restrictions impose some constraints, you can still be creative and make it a tasty day.

Make safety a priority. Make sure people are clear on the sanitary rules, and adhere to those. If face masks are required, make some available in key locations so forgetful people have an easy way to comply and save face. At the beginning of each meeting, make sure people are comfortable with the current setting from a sanitary standpoint. Different people have different levels of comfort, and people who exercise extra caution should be accommodated so they don’t feel unsafe and anxious.

Improve. Another day, another opportunity… Toward the end of the day, ask people: “was it worthwhile for you and the team to get to the office today?”. If not, ask for suggestions for improving the ROI. You can also do this using a quick ROTI vote at the end of the team’s last meeting for the day. In addition, you can bring up the effectiveness of the office days in the discussion at your next retrospective.

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