In this new COVID-19 focused world, you’ll never guess what the latest TROLL is…!

This blog post is part of our Working with Virtual Teams series. You can find all of the content here.

Updated April 7, 2020 with additional useful information.

COVID-19 has forced pretty much the entire world into a form of semi-isolation. Streets and airports, normally packed, are quiet for the first time in years. Workplaces sit unusually quiet as we have packed up our laptops, moved home, and established a home office where we work for the foreseeable future.

In this new reality, we must continue to collaborate. For me, I’ve been coaching customers and teams and providing some training. I’ve also been connecting with my grown children who live on the other side of the country from me and connecting with friends whether down the block or across the globe. In this very uncertain time, in our time of isolation, we are also fortunate enough to be connected in a way we never could before.

For my work AND my personal connectivity, I’ve been using the Zoom product. It has scaled nicely, is easy to use, and provides a lot of features that I’m really happy with. I’d like to give you a few tips on using a product like Zoom to your best benefit when working with virtual teams:

  1. Make sure everyone has the invitation the online event well in advance. Ask them to download the Zoom app if you plan to use any advanced features. Use Outlook or Gmail calendaring and pay attention to the TIME ZONE!!!! If you ensure that you schedule the meeting at the right time on your timezone AND that the timezone is reflected in the scheduling, everyone will get the same invitation, but in their local TZ.
  2. Record the meeting. Most of the major video conferencing platforms support this. It’ll allow you to keep a record of your meetings and will let those who missed the meeting replay the meeting and get caught up without having to ask a bunch of questions.
  3. Send any documentation you want attendees to have in the invitation AND load them into the chat window when the meeting begins. Having the files in the chat window during the event is handy, but not everyone will be able to easily download them and view them from there, so do both (email AND download through the chat window). Of course, if you have other ways to store and share files (Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox) just share the links.
  4. Breakout Rooms (supported in Zoom, but easily created in other contexts and tools) are a great way to break your event participants into smaller groups to privately discuss ideas. You can close the breakout rooms after a certain amount of time and even reopen them to allow the sub-groups to talk some more.
  5. Set an agenda so that you are clear what you want to accomplish — and don’t try to accomplish too much in one event. People are working from home and aren’t really adapted yet to the new environment. Use your agenda to provide quick updates and make quick decisions. Let people work in smaller breakout groups to have longer conversations. In my virtual training events, I’m working toward more and more class exercises to ensure that everyone stays engaged.
  6. Use a timer to keep your event on time. It’s really hard to stay focused during a virtual event. Let people know when there’s five minutes left on a topic and encourage wrapping up the decision.
  7. Encourage each participant to keep their video active, but their audio muted unless they need to talk. It’s always good to be able to see everyone that is on the video and know that they are paying attention; it isn’t always necessary to hear every noise going on in their house. However, if the connection quality is poor, go ahead and have people stop their video. Encourage the “Raise Hand” capability if people have something they want to say and then make it your job to facilitate getting to everyone’s questions.
  8. If you’re using Zoom, enjoy the virtual background feature! I purchased a green screen from Amazon and have been using it to create either some normalcy in the training event (by showing myself in an office environment) or some fancy (by wearing a Hawaiian shirt and putting myself on a beach).
  9. Go ahead and use the waiting room feature if you are moving from meeting and meeting and don’t want to be dealing with early arrivals until you’re ready to start the meeting. Just be sure not to leave people waiting in the room once the meeting begins.
  10. The NEW TROLLS are out there! They crash your virtual events and work to embarrass you by displaying pornography! Believe it or not, it didn’t take long for the dregs of society to find a way to be an obstacle in difficult times. So, SET A PASSWORD on your events AND ensure that only the host can share his or her screen. Also, keep your participants window open so you can MUTE ALL in case a troll joins to cause problems (or someone forgets they aren’t muted and starts making noise that interferes with everyone else).
  11. Don’t try to have a detailed, complex conversation with more than six people. If you’re doing Sprint Planning and its time for the developers to work on a solution for a PBI, let them split into breakout rooms for 20 minutes, come back and report on progress, and then back into the breakout rooms. Repeat until the team members are comfortable with the work that’s been done.
  12. If you want to get feedback, opinions, or other thoughts from the attendees, remember that you’ll probably want to call on them one at a time. Feel free to use a RoundRobin technique — and poll your attendees one at a time (special note: in Zoom, the participants view changes order as people speak, so be careful using the list to poll your team). If they will be coming back from a breakout session, ask them to identify who will be speaking for the team. YOU will need to play traffic cop, guiding the conversation.
  13. Video conferencing is prone to lags and drop-offs in connectivity. Speak slowly and keep an eye on your participants list. People may drop off unexpectedly. Give them an opportunity to get reconnected if they were playing a major role in the conversation. If someone can’t hear you, patiently repeat yourself. Remember, it may be annoying to you, but there was nothing they could do about the internet lags that caused the problem.
  14. BE PATIENT. In a virtual meeting, you’re missing important elements of the conversation that you would normally see when face-to-face (aka body language). Don’t jump to conclusions if someone says something that sounds mean, argumentative, or unprofessional. Assume a positive intent and ask leading questions to understand what you just heard.
  15. Remember that, no matter what the event is, meetings aren’t inherently bad. It’s how you run them that makes all the difference in the world — virtually OR face-to-face. Learn some facilitation skills if you haven’t yet (we teach them in the Artisan’s Advanced CSM program – which you can also complete online if you wish)!

With your Scrum team, we also recommend the following steps:

  1. Turn your daily Scrum into an opportunity for everyone to catch up. Yes, the fundamental purpose of the daily Scrum is to keep everyone in sync and ensure that everything forecast for the Sprint is getting done, but you can also add a couple minutes and give everyone a chance to share what happened during the previous day, what they’ve learned about working from home, and calling out someone on the team for something they did to help them out. Remember, your team is not physically face-to-face anymore – if you don’t take steps to bolster their “team-ness” they may forget their team responsibilities.
  2. The more work your team is doing at the same time, the less they will get done. Set up a Zoom meeting for the one or two backlog items your team should be working on at the same time and encourage finishing a backlog item before starting a new one. The first question every team member should ask when they run out of work is, “who needs help?”
  3. Feel free to add a second daily Scrum (do one in the morning and one in the afternoon) to help your team continue to collaborate, or if you believe that they are starting to go “every developer for him or herself.” You can stop the second session if the team is working well throughout the day. Monitor the Zoom sessions (join them every now and then) to gauge activity.
  4. Ask your team, every day, what they need to be more productive and, specifically, what they need from you. Ask them what they are doing to cope with the situation. Thank them for their feedback and let them know that you and company leadership trusts them to do their best under the circumstances.
  5. Check in with everyone on the team, independently, every day. See what’s going on in their world. What challenges do they have in their homes? What can you do to help them? Make yourself, as the ScrumMaster, a daily fixture in everyone’s day. Remember, your team isn’t physically face-to-face anymore — if you aren’t there every day, you don’t exist. Thank them for any feedback.
  6. Every Sprint, don’t just add work to the Sprint. Add a performance goal from the retrospective. What can the team do to get better at what they are doing? Get everyone to own a piece of the decision and then follow-up to make sure they are doing what they said they would — ask if you can help them if necessary.

We at Artisan hope all of you, your family, friends, and coworkers are healthy and safe and wish for you, in these times, serenity and happiness. Be well!

You’ll find our entire library of Working with Virtual Teams content here.

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