New global changes and challenges meant adapting to a new regimen of work from home, and while we cannot speak in the name of everyone, for us, the experience brought many good changes to our team organization. Indeed, it was not the same and the new setup was hard to grasp at first, yet we looked at the entire context with new eyes and we started taking advantage of the situation we were put in. And this is how it worked for us.
More time, put to better use
Lean thinking aims to remove waste from work processes. Waste is any action or step in a process that does not add value to the customer. In other words, waste is any process that the customer does not want to pay for.
The original seven waste theory was developed by Taiichi Ohno, the Chief Engineer at Toyota, as part of the Toyota Production System. The seven wastes are Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Overproduction, Overprocessing, and Defects. Let’s look, in our case at Motion.
Imagine a normal day in the office, where you need to book meeting rooms, discuss with the team to agree on a time slot, then find the meeting room, do the setup, and the whole 9 yards. All for a meeting that could have been an e-mail.
So we took advantage of the new setup, and we noticed a faster approach to doing the same meetings, faster, and more efficient. For example, in onboarding new colleagues, we use share screening apps to guide them through a task, which is easier than finding a room and aligning with 2-3 people to find the proper time slot and room to do a 30 minutes meeting.
Within the team, we still offer help and advice, however now we contact each other with questions through chat apps, and we can prioritize the messages in order of urgency to reply. This controls interruptions, and keeps us focused more on a task rather than having other stimuli taking our attention away from the problem at hand.
In the same tone of removing fragmentation while still being there for each other, we switched to pair programming using a Visual Studio tool (https://visualstudio.microsoft.com/services/live-share/), and we started doing small calls using Teams for the same goal. These types of sessions are easier to plan and to squeeze into someone schedule rather than having a “join my desk” session that might get interrupted by other colleagues, who might also look for help.
Another important point is the way this new setting helped build a new and better communication channel. We changed the way we did meetings, going from a meeting room with one camera and one screen, to seeing individuals, grasping their reactions and non-verbal communication, which helped us send messages across in a more effective way, especially in the context of a distributed team.
All in all, we noticed an increase in productivity, with people being more focused and with fewer interruptions they can dedicate themselves to a task and accomplish it faster than in a normal office setting. So by identifying and eliminating the causes of time waste in our team, we noticed an increase of velocity and productivity, without losing quality or value.
Together through this
Having video calls with our clients and with the remote teams brought us closer together – let’s face it, there is a certain intimacy that comes from seeing someone’s home. And personal, 1-on-1 communication just got easier after that, as this new level of closeness removed any awkwardness from our interaction. Now it’s easier for us to contact someone directly, without any restraints.
Probably one of the factors that joined us together was the entire pandemic context, within our team and with distributed teams as well. We realized that we all felt equally vulnerable in the face of this new challenge, and we all feel human in the face of something we cannot control. This personal approach enabled an easier professional communication, as it removed barriers that might have existed before, simply from the lack of personal closeness with all the people involved in the process.
The week after work from home was the new normal, we started doing “virtual coffee” meetings, where we discussed things unrelated to work: we shared our hobbies, presented our pets, got to know each other even more and created a relaxing environment that would have been the coffee breaks at the office. We removed the context of projects, of work, we discussed our daily routines and we shared our happy and sad thoughts, supported each other and became even closer. In the context of our virtual coffee, we were just buddies out for our daily cup of chat in our office lunch breaks.
We got to see the personal side in all of our colleagues, and we joined together even stronger than before, with trust and friendship that come from people that have known each other for a while and now they are going through a similar experience together. Like a fellowship.
What we take from this
There is probably no perfect approach, as it might work in different ways for different teams. It depends a lot on logistics and it takes some time to get accustomed to the new setup, yet the results are there. Aside from the mere fact of taking a very unfortunate situation and turning it to our advantage, we cannot clearly declare that it was this entire strategy that led to our increase of productivity. However, it was clearly a huge determiner of the progress, and we are keen on analyzing to determine what we can keep doing, even when the normal changes again, so that we can continue on this upwards trend. It is our Agile nature that will help us asses, put down the good and the bad parts, improve and adapt, so that this entire experience turns into a learning curve for the entire team.