A blog about web development

Paul Sturgess

Stand-up Meetings for a Distributed Team

This global health emergency is horrendous and thus it looks like remote working will be the new normal for some time. I’ve been working remotely for Rail Europe for two and a half years, so I thought i’d reignite my blog to pass on some tips and experience.

Sadly this enforced remote working scenario has the potential to amplify all the difficult parts of remote working. Namely: dealing with isolation, fear that you need to “prove” you really are working, not separating home life from work life, amongst others.

To be clear, the ideas I want to share are not about squeezing out more productivity from your team. It’s about reducing stress and anxiety, trusting people and giving them room and flexibility to breathe. Remote working is great for all these things, but we distributed teams have to act and think differently to the typical co-located norms.

Anyway, I want to focus on one thing in this post…

Daily Stand-ups

These are really common in the tech industry. At Rail Europe we do them asynchronously. But what does that really mean?

  • Everyone writes their stand-up in a dedicated Slack channel
  • They post it (ideally) towards the beginning of their day
  • There’s no expectation that they all have to be posted at the same time
  • A stand-up message should contain 3 things:
    • What you worked on yesterday
    • What you plan to work on today
    • Any blockers
  • You’re encouraged to share how you are feeling or anything else effecting your work

This last point is important because, as a distributed team, you cannot rely on normal body language cues.

In theory this is a relatively simple change, that can have quite a dramatic impact, in a number of positive ways:

  • There’s no requirement for everyone to be online all at the same time:
    • This gives people flexibility to start work when it works for them
    • It’s especially benefitial if your team is in multiple-timezones
  • It’s less disruptive because you don’t need everyone to stop work at the same time.
  • For anyone off sick, or just not able to attend for any reason, they can easily catch-up on what happened while they were off
  • It’s massively more time efficient:
    • In-person stand-ups regularly get side-tracked off into details that are rarely relevant for the entire group
    • If someone outside your team wants a status update from you, they can read your stand-up
    • People can make their own decisions about whether they need to read every single update

If you need to follow up with someone on a specific point. We tend to use Slack threads or respond on the Jira Story/Trello card.

Ultimately the idea behind this approach is part of a wider communication strategy we have: To allow people to structure their working day how it works for them. To maximse and respect the amount of uninterupted time that we all have, so we can focus and stay in the flow.