Magdalena Jackiewicz
Editorial Expert
Magdalena Jackiewicz
Reviewed by a tech expert

Agile team management in a distributed workplace – 13 best practices

Read this articles in:

Agile development, and Scrum especially, was originally envisioned for teams that were physically co-located, meaning they worked together in the same space. The underlying principle was that face-to-face conversation is the most efficient and effective way to convey information within a development team. Therefore, early Agile teams were encouraged to work together in close proximity.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the work environment irreversibly. Most businesses now have a few or several distributed scrum teams, which is in fact a logical choice. Distributed teams can work on projects continuously. Hybrid work environments also allow companies to fill tech talent gaps by accessing talented individuals without requiring them to relocate.

However, managing distributed Agile teams is also marred with a number of challenges. In this article, we outline the most common issues that Agile team management can pose to a remote Scrum Master. We also share a number of Agile best practices we follow when managing distributed teams in Agile, so that you know what to expect from our potential cooperation.

Let’s take a quick look at the challenges of remote Scrum teams now.

Challenges of Agile team management in distributed or hybrid workplaces

Both workplace models became prominent in recent years, with the pandemic as the main cause of this situation. These models are necessary these days to attract a wider range of talent, accommodate different workstyles and adapt to unforeseen disruptions. Some businesses even promote remote work to eliminate some of the costs related to office space lease and maintenance. 

  • A hybrid workplace: refers to a work environment that combines both in-person and remote work options for employees. Typically, this model offers individuals flexibility to to split their work time between working at a physical office and working remotely, often from their homes or other remote locations. It is a great option for teams which require a mix of collaborative and individual work. 
  • A distributed workplace: aka a remote or virtual workplace, refers to a work setup in which employees are geographically dispersed and work from various locations, which are typically outside of a head office (if there is one). In such a workplace, employees rely on communication and collaboration technologies to work together, even though they may be in different time zones or regions.

Agile team management with distributed and hybrid scrum teams may be challenging due to the lack of face-to-face interactions, which are crucial in this project management methodology. Here are some of the most common challenges that Scrum Masters will have to face:

Time zone differences

This is by far the biggest challenge. When team members are spread across different time zones, scheduling meetings and Scrum ceremonies (like daily stand-ups, sprint planning, reviews, and retrospectives) become tricky. Such differences also make real-time collaboration more difficult, which may also slow-down the decision making. It also affects project aspects such as pair programming or code reviews, making them harder to coordinate and execute.

Communication barriers

Without face-to-face interactions, there is a greater likelihood of misunderstandings. Distance also has a significant impact on knowledge sharing and Relying on a number of communication tools can of course make virtual meetings possible, but at the same time, they are likely to create information silos, if different teams use different platforms to communicate nuances can be lost, leading to misunderstandings.

What’s more, onboarding new team members or sharing knowledge between team members can be slower and less efficient than in co-located teams. The same applies to mentoring or providing hands-on guidance. Virtually every aspect of Agile project management that typically involves face-to-face interaction will be impacted by the physical barriers that arise in distributed scrum teams.

Cultural differences

If your team members are dispersed across different geographies and time-zones, variances in work culture, holidays, work ethics, and even the way feedback is  received can impact team dynamics and productivity. It can also impact building trust among the team members as well as making sure the team remains productive without being micromanaged.

Security concerns

Last but not least: managing security risks. Distributed Agile teams most probably access the company's resources from various locations and devices, which may extend the attack surface, making your company assets more vulnerable to cybercrime.

The above list of challenges isn’t exhaustive, but hopefully it gives you an idea of the impact that shifting to remote has on Scrum work practices. Let’s now take a look at how some of these challenges can be countered in an effective way.

13 Agile best practices to better manage distributed and hybrid teams

Undoubtedly, distributed teams create more challenges for Agile team management than colocated ones. Nonetheless, There are a number of practices remote Scrum Masters can apply to foster inclusivity despite distances, ensure effective communication and provide the necessary infrastructure to successfully deliver subsequent projects. These are the practices we rely on in the project we deliver to our clients.

Review the status quo

To address the challenges of managing distributed teams, you should first figure out the actual situation you are about to deal with –  this is an important step towards establishing communication and collaboration methods that will actually work. This can be achieved through video conferences with the team and the product owner, where the team's culture, challenges, and strategies are discussed. This is a great starting point towards ensuring everyone is on the same page with regards to the status quo as well as the overall objective.

Instill a common vision

A unified vision that is understood by every team member is the foundation of Agile team management in hybrid workplaces. Everyone on the remote Scrum team should understand the goals and objectives of the project and work toward them. A shared understanding of the desired result fosters a sense of unity and purpose, making every team member feel they are contributing to a common goal, irrespective of their geographical location. Ensure the vision is worked out and everyone is familiar with it at all times (same applies to any potential changes to requirements you may encounter on the product development journey.

Leverage work agreements to strengthen team cohesion

Working agreements are important for distributed Agile teams as they offer guidelines with regards to desired behaviors and offer an accountability mechanism. These agreements should be defined by the team, captured, and made easily accessible. Defining the working agreement for remote teams should be done collaboratively, with the participation and input from every team member. This is the first step to instilling collaboration, which is certainly a challenging exercise when it comes to remote scrum teams.

Use effective communication tools to shift the office environment to online

Effective communication is vital for any team, especially when it’s geographically dispersed. In a Scrum setting, communication must be clear, concise, and transparent. Luckily, remote Scrum Masters have ample choice of project management solutions and advanced tools that enable remote communication through functionalities like video conferencing and instant messaging, file sharing and collaboration. They can be used to ensure team members stay connected and information between them flows smoothly. 

Popular examples of such tools include Slack and Microsoft Teams. Project management tools like Jira, Asana or Trello can be used to track progress, assign tasks, and maintain transparency. Just make sure you pick the tools that work for your team and meet as many needs as possible – avoid using too many tools as that may hamper productivity.

Ensure transparency

Transparency is one of the six principles of Scrum and it’s crucial for effectively managing distributed teams. It’s oriented at ensuring that all team members have access to information on project progress, updates, and changes. Maintaining transparency is critical to keep everyone informed and able to promptly respond to any issues that arise as the project unfolds. For instance, utilizing Jira or a Kanban board on Trello to track task progress in real-time helps to keep everyone involved to stay up-to-date on the status of the project.

Tsedal Neeley PhD points out that honest and transparent communication isn’t always easy to achieve, and it may be even more challenging with Agile remote teams. One way to maximize transparency is to seek anonymous feedback from team members – they may find it easier to submit their comments anonymously and such insights can be used to improve your remote processes even further.

Schedule regular meetings

Regular meetings, such as backlog refinement sessions or technical debt assessment)  and Scrum ceremonies like daily stand-ups, sprint planning, review, and retrospectives, are of great importance to distributed Agile teams – no less than for colocated ones. It is crucial to schedule these meetings at a time that accommodates everyone, taking into account the differences in time zones. By all means, ensure they happen regularly!

Gartner also talks about the importance of maintaining momentum when managing Agile remote teams, highlighting that inclusivity is essential for fostering engagement and a sense of responsibility among the team members, especially when they connect virtually. Take a look at some of the tweaks you can make to ensure nobody feels left out.

Promote cultural sensitivity

Cultural sensitivity becomes even more when managing distributed teams in Agile. As a remote Scrum Master, you will play an instrumental role in fostering an environment that promotes understanding and respect for diverse cultural practices, observed holidays and work styles. If your team operates across locations as diverse as the United States, Poland and India, make sure everyone is mindful of the various national holidays and cultural habits practised in those countries.

Establish clear roles and responsibilities

When managing distributed teams, establishing clear roles and responsibilities is crucial, especially in a Scrum environment. Without absolute clarity, team members may be confused and end up doubling workloads or waste time on inessential tasks. No matter if it’s a developer, a Product Owner or a Scrum Master, ensure each team member has a well-defined role and understands exactly what is expected from them.

Set expectations for response times

Remote Agile teams with members in different time zones and distinct geographic locations should establish agreed-upon response times to ensure continuous progress while considering individual schedules. For instance, if you decide to offshore software development to Poland and you’re based in the US, agreeing on a 24-hour response time to accommodate the significant time difference will be beneficial for the performance of your dev teams.

Enable autonomous decision making

Empowering remote scrum teams to autonomously make decisions, without seeking approval in non-critical matters is a fundamental principle of the Agile methodology. Make sure your team has sufficient autonomy in making these decisions – it’s essential for productivity and efficiency.

Invest in collaborative infrastructure

Building strong relationships among team members is essential for fostering collaboration and enhancing team cohesion. This means that team building activities play an important role in Agile team management as well, so don’t hesitate to encourage people to connect virtually during coffee breaks and make pair programming a regular practice.

Shared environments play an important role in fostering collaboration among distributed scrum teams. GitHub, a widely-used tool for code collaboration, allows developers to collaborate on projects, share code repositories, and track changes made by other team members. You could also use Visual Studio Code with Live Share extension, or a general collaboration tool that allows sharing and collaboration on code snippets, such as Slack.

Also, keep in mind that a Gallup study (Clifton’s Strengths Finder assessment we implement in our workplace) found that the presence of close work friendships can significantly increase employee satisfaction by over 30%, so don’t underestimate the power of casual, virtual interactions among your team members!

Continuously improve

Continuous improvement comes with regular retrospectives – they help to learn and improve processes during each sprint. This approach is critical for enhancing the effectiveness of distributed Scrum teams: it provides space to reflect on previous work, identify areas for improvement, and implement changes that lead to greater efficiency and productivity.

Use overlapping work hours

Finding a time slot where all team members' can join meetings. If you work across timezones that are so dispersed this is impossible, you may want to record crucial meetings so that everyone can refer to them to stay updated, or find two different time slots when you can schedule meetings and fill everyone in. Otherwise, you won’t be able to work efficiently and it will be difficult for you to solve problems.

Agile team management at RST

Scrum remote teams are certainly more challenging to manage due to the lack of face-to-face interactions and disruptions to processes that were originally envisioned to work for colocated teams. Nonetheless, the abundance of various project management software, videoconferencing tools and collaboration mechanisms can make Agile for distributed teams work to your advantage.

RST has been present on the market for over 20 years, managing Agile teams in a variety of projects. With the shift to remote, we’ve adapted the Agile best practices to work for our remote scrum teams. If you’re interested in outsourcing your software development project to us, you can be sure we’ll do whatever is necessary to make the collaboration efficient, pleasant and successful.

Our specialists are available for flexible hire and, apart from product workshops, SaaS, web and mobile development services, they contribute unique domain expertise in matters related to:

If you have any questins about our work practices, or would like to ask about our potential cooperation, contact us directy and we'll get back to you in 24 hours.

People also ask

What is Agile project management?

Agile project management is an iterative and incremental approach to software development and other types of projects that prioritize flexibility, collaboration, and customer feedback. It stands in contrast to traditional, or “waterfall” methodologies, which tend to be linear and phase-based. Agile methodologies emphasize delivering small, functional bits of the application as soon as they are ready, rather than delivering the entire application at the end of the project.

Here are some core principles and characteristics of Agile project management:

  • Iterative Development: work is broken down into smaller chunks, often referred to as iterations or sprints. Each iteration usually lasts a set period, often two to four weeks.
  • Incremental Delivery: after each sprint, a potentially shippable product increment is delivered. This allows stakeholders to see progress early on and often.
  • Flexibility and Adaptability: requirements can be revisited and reprioritized at the beginning of each sprint based on stakeholder feedback and market changes.
  • Collaboration: there's an emphasis on regular communication among all team members, stakeholders, and, when possible, end-users. This collaborative approach ensures that the team understands and aligns with the project's goals and stakeholder needs.
  • Feedback Loops: regular reviews and retrospectives are held to evaluate the product and processes. This feedback is then used to make necessary adjustments in the subsequent sprints.
  • Customer-Centric: Agile methodologies prioritize customer feedback and ensure that the product being developed aligns with customer needs and expectations.
  • Minimal Viable Product (MVP): Agile teams aim to develop an MVP and release it as soon as possible to gather user feedback, which will guide future development.
  • Self-organizing Teams: Agile teams are empowered to make decisions. This self-organization fosters accountability and often leads to better, faster decision-making.
  • Continuous Improvement: teams are encouraged to regularly reflect on their performance and adjust accordingly. This ethos of continuous improvement extends to both the product and the processes used to build it.

Popular Agile methodologies:

  • Scrum: a framework in which teams work in sprints to produce a product increment. It uses roles like Scrum Master and Product Owner, and ceremonies like Daily Stand-ups, Sprint Planning, and Sprint Retrospectives.
  • Kanban: a flow-based approach that focuses on visualizing tasks and optimizing the flow of those tasks from idea to completion.
  • Extreme Programming (XP): focuses on engineering practices and emphasizes pair programming, continuous integration, and test-driven development.
  • Lean: draws inspiration from lean manufacturing principles, emphasizing efficiency, eliminating waste, and creating value for the end-user.
  • Feature-Driven Development (FDD): breaks the project into individual features or functions which are developed and built incrementally.

While Agile methodologies originated in the software development world (with the Agile Manifesto in 2001), the principles of Agile project management have been adopted by teams in various industries, from marketing to manufacturing.

What is the Agile Manifesto?

The Agile Manifesto is a brief document that sets out the guiding principles for Agile development teams. The manifesto was published in 2001 by seventeen software developers who felt the traditional project management principles were too rigid for the evolving world of IT development. They proposed a more flexible, customer-focused approach that led to the emergence of Agile as a mainstream methodology.

The Agile Manifesto has four core values:

  • Individuals and Interactions over processes and tools: The Agile Manifesto emphasizes the importance of people and the way they work together. While processes and tools are important, the Agile methodology places a higher value on the capacity of a motivated, self-organizing team to deliver a working product.
  • Working Software over comprehensive documentation: Agile prioritizes the delivery of functional software over comprehensive but theoretical documentation. While documentation is important, Agile teams aim to spend more time creating working software.
  • Customer Collaboration over contract negotiation: Agile teams prefer to have an ongoing relationship with their customers, collaborating with them throughout the development process, rather than negotiating a fixed set of requirements at the start of a project.
  • Responding to change over following a plan: Agile teams understand that requirements can change throughout a project, and they are set up to accommodate those changes rather than strictly adhering to an initial plan.

It's important to note that while the Agile Manifesto values the items on the left more, it doesn't mean that the items on the right are unimportant. It's about creating a balance that allows Scrum remote teams to deliver value as efficiently and effectively as possible.

And, the Agile Manifesto also includes 12 principles, which provide further details on how these values can be implemented in practice:

  • Customer satisfaction through early and continuous software delivery
  • Welcome changing requirements, even late in development
  • Deliver working software frequently
  • Collaborate with customers regularly throughout the project
  • Build projects around motivated individuals and trust them
  • Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication
  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Maintain a constant pace of development
  • Technical excellence and good design enhances agility
  • Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential
  • Self-organizing teams create the best architectures, requirements, and designs
  • Regularly reflect on how to become more effective and adjust accordingly

It's important to note that the “over” in the values does not mean that the concepts on the right side are unimportant; instead, it means that those on the left side should be given more priority.

The Agile Manifesto laid the foundation for various Agile methodologies that exist today, such as Scrum, Kanban, Lean, and Extreme Programming (XP).

Want more posts from the author?
Read more

Want to read more?

Project Management

Agile health metrics: how to know when your project is doomed?

Learn how Agile health metrics can signal project risks and identify potential pitfalls. Ensure project success with proactive insights.
Project Management

How to effectively manage risk in Scrum projects? Proven tools and strategies

Master risk management in Scrum projects with proven tools and strategies. Ensure project success through informed decisions.
Project Management

Agile roles and responsibilities explained: Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development Team

Gain insights into Agile roles - Scrum Master, Product Owner, and Development Team. Optimize collaboration for Agile success.
No results found.
There are no results with this criteria. Try changing your search.