CAST 2011: Working on a virtual team

At CAST 2011 Karen Johnson presented on working on a virtual team as a tester.

Karen explained that she couldn’t remember when she started to work remotely. Being an introvert made her prefer to work remotely. Karen explained that she works in a remotely team. She created a mind map with considerations for working remotely. One factor there are timezone considerations, space, audio-based collaboration rather than seeing the other people’s face, and Agile teams working remotely. One point coming up pretty fast when working remotely in her opinion is trust, which I also found challenging at times in the past with remote team members.

On time zone differences Karen said that you have to adjust for differences. I remember once working with a team in Brasil with five hours differences. We shifted our working times into the late afternoon, and our Brasilian colleagues turned in earlier, so that we had more overlap in working hours. This worked great during two weeks of that struggling and demanding project. Karen had several similar stories to tell from working with teams in India, Indiana, basically all around the world. Karen said that thinking in the other person’s timezone can help you cope with the gaps. This might become a struggle if you work with a lot of different teams, of course. This involves to keep each other person’s timezone in mind when scheduling meetings. Also rotating inconvenient team calls like calling team members in the night will set equal expectations of both parties involved. Karen also mentioned holidays when other countries might have religious days and not turn in. Especially when you’re traveling around different timezones, you should make sure that your calendar is updated.

Karen explained that there are several office tools which she missed in the beginning in her working space at home, like a copier, flip charts, and other useful tools which you don’t necessarily have at home. KAren referred to coffee supplies in your home office. Another consideration are pet animals which might distract phone calls. I can resonate from my own experience with a small child at home from that. I also remember a Skype call between two of my colleagues recently, where the one in the home office had birds. The fun set in once my colleague in the office with me started to talk to the bird.

Karen continued with her experiences as being a remote team member on an Agile team. She told several stories about working in a virtual team, and struggling on an Agile team with taking a bio-break remotely for one example. Being online on Google Chat, Yahoo chat or Skype and being sure about setting the right status message is one thing she is now aware of. Karen said that physical documents like story cards become a struggle when you’re no in the room. The stories reminded me about Lisa Crispin’s stories working remotely with a team in 2009/2010. She had her own laptop which the on-site team members moved around the office. She also had remote control for the camera on that laptop. Especially on Agile teams visual communication while working remotely can become a struggle, Karen said. International collaboration also is a different set of thoughts in Agile development as you may be faced with different cultural aspects and preferences in working together.

Karen said a different struggle sets in when you get to know remote team members through audio only. I remembered working on a team when we had a different collaboration mode entered when we conducted the first meeting using video conferencing with a team in Malaysia. Karen said that she had a team member known as intense that she could say while on the phone when the other team member was upset, and what their current constitution was. To do that you need to get to know people very deeply before starting working together. Karen also raised the point that you shouldn’t be what she called faceless on a remote team. You need to know each other also to some degree more in person. When working together locally, you go have a coffee together, and maybe exchange some more private thoughts. You don’t necessarily do that when you’re just communicating over phone or Skype. If you leave the keys, let the remote team members know that you might be not available for the next two hours. They’ll be cool with that once they know. If you don’t tell them, it will cost a bunch of trust the next time.

Karen continued on the topic of trust on a remote team. In order to build trust, you should build rapport, maybe having a virtual coffee break together from time to time. Whatever forms of online communication you use, you should be consistent with all forms of communication. Karen said that she didn’t use Twitter, Skype, Facebook while doing client work.

Karen also brought up the topic of politics on a remote team. This involves email etiquette for one example, but also how to work over online chats, and phone. I found especially the politics topic interesting for me, as I realized that I had not been aware of these in the past.

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4 thoughts on “CAST 2011: Working on a virtual team”

    1. Hi Christian,

      Karen didn’t cover too much of politics if I remember correctly. She meant with it politics around working together, probably. You might have to drop her a line to get more about that. I think she was running out of time in the end.

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