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Working from home has become a new normal for many people around the world, especially since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as the deadly disease doesn’t pose much threat any longer, many executives take an attempt to return employees to the dust-covered office desks.

With that, I wanted to talk about some lessons learned from the few years of working from home with mature and new agile delivery teams.

While there are many advantages to working from home, such as increased flexibility and reduced commute time, there are also some downsides that need to be considered. In this post, I will explore both the pros and cons of working from home, with a focus on the productivity of mature agile teams and the challenges associated with building new teams in a remote setting.

As an agile coach, I have had the opportunity to work with both mature agile teams and newly established teams throughout the pandemic. The transition to remote work has been a challenge for both, but in different ways.

As I have highlighted in the first article I’ve released on WFH about 2 years ago, working with mature agile teams during the pandemic, I have noticed a tremendous increase in productivity in some of these teams. As these teams were already operating in the Agile ways and had established processes and practices in place, their transition to remote work went smooth. The increase in productivity can be attributed to several factors, including the ability to eliminate distractions and truly focus on their work, the flexibility to create their own schedule, and ability to productively utilize portion of time that previously was wasted on commute. The use of various collaboration tools has also aided the transition greatly, as the teams did not have to rethink their established collaboration practices, and could simply continue delivery in the “Business as Usual” mode.

For example, one of my teams, was able to increase their output by 25% within the first 3 months of transitioning to remote work. When I asked them what they thought the major contributor to this success was, they highlighted the elimination of such distractions as random unproductive office chats, decreased number of ad-hoc meetings, and improved usage of collaboration tools as teams had to rely on them more.

With lock-downs lifted, team members have also highlighted an improved work-life balance, that ultimately contributed to higher morale and productivity at work. Some were also able to save some money as they kept kids at home with them, instead of using daycare or nanny services. Others were happy about being able to spend lunch time with their family and take care of choirs instead of commuting.

Hence, here are the Pros of working from home:

  1. Better focus on delivery and less distractions
  2. Higher output
  3. Better team morale
  4. Better work-life balance
  5. Reduced overhead costs (Rent, utilities, supplies, etc.)

However, working with newly established teams in a remote setting has been much more challenging. The proven team-building techniques that are based on the face-to-face interactions were no longer applicable. In quite a few teams we found it difficult to even turn the cameras on during the meetings. In extreme cases this led to more extroverted team members admitting that some other team members were no more than a name in a communication tool.

All in all, many of our coaches agreed that the two key things thing that mature teams had: trust and effective communication, were not easily achievable in a remote setting. According to the collective observations, for the newly established teams working in remote setting it took more than twice as long to connect and work effectively together due to the lack of face-to-face interactions. All this can lead to decreased productivity compared to the office setting.

Hence, here are some Cons of working from home:

  1. Increased difficulty for agilists building new teams
  2. Impeded communications – team members “speak different language”
  3. Lack of trust among team members
  4. Lack of human connection and bonding with colleagues, limited ways to have fun together, no joy in being part of the team, too much focus on outputs

Another observation was contradictory to one I’ve mentioned in the beginning of this post. For both the new and mature agile teams, some team members complained about the increased distractions compared to an office setting, such as household chores or family members. This was especially true for the people leaving in the major cities where small apartments do not allow for a convenient office setup for all the family members. Tell me if you haven’t seen your colleague’s kid entering the room during a video call.

So what is the better way of working: co-locate the teams in the office setting or allow for fully remote work? Whereas for mature agile teams, working from home can lead to increased productivity and a better work-life balance, for newly established teams, building trust and communication can be challenging, which lead to decreased productivity.

But truth be told, no matter the maturity level of the team, as social beings we benefit from face-to-face interactions once in a while. This is why, with offices being re-opened, both new and mature agile teams agreed to meet face-to-face for any important discussion or brainstorming, team retrospective, or a demo to personally interact with stakeholders. This hybrid approach allowed the teams to take the best of the two worlds and enjoy focused time working from home, while also getting much needed bonding with their fellow teammates.

I hope this post provides a valuable insight into the pros and cons of working from home and highlights the need for a balanced approach to the new way of working. Whether you are part of a mature agile team or a newly established one, it’s important to stay adaptable and find what works best for you and your team.