By: Sarah Kyo
When planning for 2020, your organization probably didn’t expect to be deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a short period of time, businesses have had to change how they operate. Ones that offer essential services updated their policies to comply with social distancing, health recommendations, and government ordinances. If they had the capabilities, many non-essential businesses switched to 100 percent remote work. Digital work infrastructures, including cybersecurity, are being put to the test, and new software needs to be adopted in some cases.
Effective internal communications have become even more crucial for staying connected – organizations need to create a sense of stability for their employees during this time of uncertainty. They need to accomplish tasks efficiently yet thoughtfully, adjusting to the constant updates in the news. When the unexpected happens, the most successful companies are adaptable in the face of twists and turns if they practice organizational agility.
The Importance of Being Agile
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “agile” applied to software development or project management.
According to software company Atlassian, this iterative approach encourages teams to complete small, meaningful tasks at different stages instead of waiting until the very end to deliver a giant, finished project. Plans, requirements, and results are regularly reviewed, so necessary modifications can be made along the way.
In 2001, 17 experienced software developers cosigned The Manifesto for Agile Software Development, which popularized the agile methodology that we know today. The manifesto highlighted these values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Beyond software development and project management, an agile methodology is useful for a variety of teams. Part of its appeal is an emphasis on organizational efficiency, teamwork, resiliency, and communication. The constant feedback loop and willingness to be nimble and course correct makes this mindset valuable when managing changes.
Agile Communication Tips for Remote Work
Organizations that implement an agile mindset in their communications can forestall surprises, prevent duplication and wastes of time, clarify priorities and objectives, better manage resources, and work together on cross-functional teams. However, how does an agile team handle collaboration when team members are dispersed instead of at the same location? After all, one of the 12 principles behind the Agile Manifesto is “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.”
When the manifesto was signed in 2001, there was a strong preference for having members of a project team working together in the same office. Fast forward almost 20 years later, though, when “face-to-face communication” takes on a different meaning with global offices, remote work, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
When working remotely, you can still leverage agile techniques to stay connected with your team. To help you establish a remote work environment that nurtures agile teams, follow these seven internal communication best practices:
1. Establish clear roles
“Build projects around motivated individuals,” according to the Agile Manifesto’s principles. “Give them the environment and support they need, and trust them to get the job done.” Make sure everyone on your team understands their responsibilities, priorities, and deadlines – this is even more crucial when your workforce is remote. If something is vague or confusing, your team members need to speak up and feel comfortable enough to ask clarifying questions.
2. Identify and prioritize channels
With an agile approach, projects undergo an iterative process. For example, let’s say that you’re launching a new communications strategy for engaging with a remote workforce. Something quick such as a company-wide email, a Slack channel dedicated to general announcements, or scheduling an all-hands meeting over Zoom is an appropriate format for announcing immediate changes or updates. Meanwhile, you and your team can spend more time planning and launching a brand-new channel, such as a special edition of your company email newsletter or a new page on your company intranet, further down the line.
3. Focus on message simplicity
Your team’s mantra can follow this guiding principle from the Agile Manifesto: “Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.” Use conversational, easy-to-understand language when communicating with your team and other employees. Reading your writing aloud is a helpful method for determining whether you need to do some editing. Make sure your message is clear, including any directions and calls to action. Find ways to make the information more digestible such as breaking up your message into a series of bite-size pieces or adding visuals to illustrate your points.
4. Train and offer support information and documents
When communicating with employees, especially a remote audience, sending follow-up pieces of content can help convey your point. For example, you can record a video conferencing meeting to distribute to your team with an email highlighting the main parts of the call. If there will be a slide presentation, let your audience know at the beginning of the meeting that they’ll receive a copy, and then follow up with them. If you’re introducing something new, such as a program or process, make sure there’s documentation available in an accessible place, such as a change communications software.
5. Communicate weekly objectives, priorities, and status reports
One of the Agile Manifesto’s principles is “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” Make sure that you and your team members are staying regularly connected via group and one-on-one face-to-face video conference calls. A weekly basis is common for agile teams, but you can find the frequency that works best for your situation.
6. Keep main goals and objectives in perspective
During times of stress and ambiguity, it’s easy to lose sight of the underlying intentions behind a project. A lot of initiatives may be happening at the same time. Also, your team may be facing plenty of questions. Help keep projects on track by briefly checking in with your team to see if they need any additional support while helping reinforce main goals. If there are certain aspects of your policy or project that need to be adjusted based off consistent feedback, be flexible in making those changes for improvement.
7. Balance self-management and collaboration
Ultimately, being agile is all about self-sufficiency and cooperation. A well-informed, organized team can competently, independently complete their own tasks that are part of a larger project. However, each team member also knows the importance of coming together on cross-functional teams to work towards a common goal, keeping other members updated, and speaking up for help along the way.
An agile organization can adapt to changes while still efficiently delivering results. Instead of being stuck on processes, their teams can move forward while adjusting along the way in order to create the best product, project, or initiative possible. At the end of the day, it’s all about individuals communicating with each other: By putting a strong emphasis on an agile approach for your internal communications, you and your remote workforce can handle the swift changes your company has to make during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.