Scrum Teams Working from Home
Today, I read that new CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, has decided to curtail the number of employees who work remotely beginning in June. You can read the story here and some interesting commentary from NPR’s blog, All Tech Considered. I excerpted this part from the memo which I think is key to understanding Yahoo’s! decision to take this step.
“To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.”
I like many things I read in this memo. I like that Yahoo! is focusing on improving communication, collaboration and quality. If Yahoo! follows through on its promise to “become the absolute best place to work”, then this could work. People actually have to be in the work environment and invested in making it better in order for things to change. How do you know if what you are doing to change your corporate culture is working, if people are not sitting in that culture and participating in the change? I can also understand why many employees are skeptical. I know from my own personal experience, big companies waste people’s time and many people see working from home as a way to retain their sanity. Again, if Yahoo! follows through, this will be great. If not, then the skeptics were right all along.
IME, when Team member work from home, it diminishes a Scrum Team. Scrum expects Teams to be collocated as much as possible in order to facilitate collaboration with one another. Proximity encourages Team members to share information, insights, innovation and ingenuity. It is no surprise that when projects or programs are in trouble, many businesses revert to a war room style of development (like these rocket scientists from NASA) by placing all the key personnel in the same room to facilitate rapid decision making and sharing of crucial information real time. Yes, we have technology to assist with collaboration, it is getting better AND nothing is better than pure face-to-face communication.
Scrum is especially sensitive to missing Team members because it relies more on face-to-face communication and less on documentation. Since we simply do not write as much down with Scrum, when Team members are distributed or work from home, it diminishes information sharing and the quality of the end product. Details, context and subtle understanding of the technology, product and customer that can quickly be communicated in a five minute conversation could take an hour to describe effectively in an email or written document. Or if a member of the Team is not present, you may not even think to include this person in the follow-up of an ad hoc session about product design or requirements and possibly miss their crucial insights.
Now, I am not saying people cannot have flextime in Scrum (Scrum is silent on this and I personally think flextime is a good thing) or that people can never work from home (again Scrum is silent on working from home). Sure people can work from home to take care of sick kid, tend to an elderly parent or take care of things in their personal life. If your personal life is not in order, then there is no point coming to work. What I am saying is that in Scrum the Team comes first. When the Team needs people to be present, in their seats to do the work of the Team, then you need to be there for your Team members.