Working from home: Top 10 tips to balance teamwork online.


As a product delivery team applying an agile way of working,  our team had a great sprint retro this week reviewing what we did well, not so well and what we’d do differently this next sprint.  What made it so strong this time around was answering the same questions from our own individual perspective as we continue the transition to working 100% remotely.

Our team is no stranger to working remotely, or in a distributed way.  When we first established, our CTO was working from France, our Data Science team operated from Wellington New Zealand, our core software development team was located in Sydney Australia and we leverage the services of a front-end development agency in Hanoi Vietnam.

Experiences like this have prepared Umano well to empower team members to keep going, wherever they are.  So here are our top 10 tips to make working remotely easier for you and your team.

Balancing the art of teamwork online

1. Create space for the non-work chat

We humans are social beings at the best of times.  We need time to connect and interact without an agenda and to discuss topics unrelated to our work. Be sure to schedule some virtual morning or afternoon tea breaks or some ‘wine-time’ on a Friday afternoon to close out the week with your peers.  This also helps team members avoid receding into the shadows that can come from feeling more isolated.

2. Don’t drop the routines, ceremonies…or your load for that matter

I’ll never forget the first time I heard a US Navy Seal Admiral’s advice, “if you wanna change the world, start off by making your bed”. Get up, dress up and show up. As individuals, we know what offline rituals we need to maintain that feeling of being unstoppable.  When we come together as a team, we also know what helps us kick-butt (and what drags us back into old habits that don’t serve us). The cadence of agile teams is often best supported through the regularity of Sprint Retrospectives, Planning and daily Stand-up ceremonies. Don’t drop them now. If you’re keeping your own rituals moving, you’ll be much less likely to drop your load when faced by the challenges of what can sometimes feel like a more isolated way of working.

3. Plan tomorrow, today

I love the adage ‘plan tomorrow, today’.  It forces me to get clear on the two to three projects that are moving me closer to my team’s sprint goals and what I’ll be presenting at Showcase at the end of the Sprint. It helps me to stay focussed when the temptation of distractions (ummm, Netflix, the neighbour’s barking dog, or my own!) arise. It also sets my working day’s start-time and end-time so I can knowingly shut the laptop at the end of the day feeling great about what I’ve achieved, and can phone a friend, check-in with a house mate or get cosy with my partner guilt free.  This opportunity to wrap up my day through a review-preview is especially valuable when I don’t have a commute acting as a natural mote to protect my home life from work.

4. Keep focussed with ‘Block Time’

As you plan tomorrow today, get your virtual list of tasks from Trello or Jira or wherever and place them into your calendar as 50-minute blocks of task time that help advance your major projects. In other words, lock in your ‘purpose work’ and lock out the things that just make you busy.  This also ensures you get a 5-10 minute break before commencing your next block by closing out the hour.  Use this regular break to move, stretch, get oxygen back into the blood and get focussed on the next 50-minute block.  It’s like a mini-sprint during the day that helps build momentum, make sure the things that maintain balance outside of work are also considered (even better when scheduled) and that you finish the day feeling proud of what’s been achieved.

5. Factor in making lunch

When the team isn’t running off to buy their lunch at the local food court as is often the case when co-located, honour the time it takes to prepare a meal at home. It might be a small thing, but it’s real.  Create the space for one another to enjoy meal time and remove the expectation that lunchtime is ‘on’-time.

6. No back to back video conferencing please!

Let’s face it: virtual meetings are more like driving in a simulated version of the real thing.  Same, same, but very different.  Without the physical walk or commute to your next meeting, make sure to stick to your 50-minute block time when you can so you can transition with a clear and focussed mind.  If it’s not your meeting, set the expectation that you’ll need to drop off the call with 10 minutes to spare. This helps to consolidate actions and notes form the last meeting and take your virtual commute. This is critical time to refocus and get on top of your game before dialling in again.  There actually is something more draining than a day filled with back to back meetings; it’s when they’re virtual.

7. Pass the Stand-up baton

One of the easiest tips to avoid team members talking over the top of one another in your virtual stand-up is to pass the baton by nominating the next team member to give their update.  This practice works just as well off-line and ensures everyone has time to contribute uninterrupted.

8. Level-up on your energy

Balance is as much about what happens ‘off game’ as what happens ‘on game’.  Make sure you and your teammates all name and commit to what you’re doing to keep your energy flowing strong, consistently and that you’re not flaming out. Schedule your minimum of 30 minutes for a walk, run or whatever it is that raises a heart beat. Time to fire up is non-negotiable, as is refuelling with the foods that nourish and love you back! These breaks also make sure you don’t disappear into an endless vortex of screen time.

9. Stay connected to your purpose

After all, it’s why we’re here isn’t it? Get clear on it, name it, ritualise it and do whatever works to hold it front and centre as you fly the flag from your corner of the world each and every day.

10. Track your Sprint Success Factors

It’s like taking your bloods and reading your vitals when you visit your doctor for a check-up.  The question is, how often?

Fostering healthy teamwork is no different.  This principle lies at the heart of Umano’s purposes and why we’re here to serve. We provide automated real-time feedback to empower self-managed delivery teams so they know where they’re at and can make data-driven decisions to take control and continuously improve. These data-driven insights also help teams better align supporter and peer expectations on where you need help or a simple pat on the back for a job well done.  What are your team’s vitals? Are you tracking them every sprint? If you’re not yet in this habit, use Umano to help build your practice. We’ll baseline your team’s communication, agile workflow and review quality practices for you. Get your free insights and get started now!

Restoring balance for high performing teams, wherever you are.

When flexing your team’s remote working muscle, we at Umano believe it’s one in – all in.  That’s why it’s so important for individual team members to share their secrets to remote-working success. It’s also why we believe balance can best be achieved and sustained when online and offline practices are named and honoured. Through this type of sharing, our teammates can be role models and inspire all of us on the road to our best collective selves.


Umano is on a mission to help self-directed teams succeed by providing real-time feedback with data-driven insights that help agile teams to continually improve and stay ahead.

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Photo by Allie on Unsplash