It’s probably a bit premature to go there, but imagining what Scrum will look like post COVID-19 seems unlikely to do any harm. So here goes – a little glimpse into a very hazy crystal ball.
No Return to Normal
One thing seems certain – there will be no return to the 2019 version of “normal” regardless. COVID-19 has produced massive disruptions in business and patterns of work as well as virtually every other aspect of life. That disruption is almost certainly going to continue through 2021 and well into 2022. The first problem is stopping the spread of the virus through widespread vaccination. Here in the USA, achieving the necessary level of vaccination will be a major challenge, meaning here we could experience virus-induced disruption for several more years. The upshot is, following a prolonged period of disruption, new patterns of life and work will emerge that may bear little resemblance to the patterns of 2019.
The Office is History
Organizations have already begun to scale back their physical workspaces – offices – as the pandemic took on all the characteristics of a long-term issue. Organizations have also invested in infrastructure and software to enhance the effectiveness of the new virtual, dispersed workforce. Those trends are both almost certain to continue after the immediate effects of the pandemic have subsided. Office space emptied and leases lapsed or terminated are indicators of a long-term approach, not a short-term adaptation. So keep that Zoom shirt handy for the long run.
Business Travel Will Never be the Same
And that’s a good thing. So much of business travel under the old paradigm was both unnecessary and frivolous. I once sat on a plane next to a man who was returning to Denver from London where he had been for a one-hour meeting in the airport. Unbelievable. Communication technology has matured under the intense pressure of the pandemic and is now so ingrained in our collective thinking that business travel for anything other than absolutely necessary face-to-face in-person work is difficult to imagine.
There will be other new patterns of life and work as a result of COVID-19. What exactly those new patterns will be and how they will affect us is a big unknown. In a few years, we may look back on 2019 with the same sense of nostalgia and bewilderment that previous generations looked back at the world of 1912 from the perspective of the Cold War. The main thing is to be aware, be adaptable, and give yourself and others a full measure of grace.
As we near then end of 2020, it seems like a good time to explore why Scrum matters more than ever in this year of pandemic-forced changes to our workplaces and work patterns.
Scrum Keeps Us Connected
With its collaborative, team-based structure, Scrum has kept us connected and productive during a time of unprecedented and absolutely vital social isolation. Continuous engagement with teammates ensures that no member of a Scrum Team is left feeling unconnected. Using the array of communication and collaborative work tools available to us, Scrum Teams have, after an initial period of adjustment beginning back in March, continued to work much as before the pandemic struck. While my sample is clearly anecdotal rather than statistical, most of the people I interact with in classes say they prefer the new way of working – no commuting, no office distractions to accommodate, and far fewer extraneous demands on their work time.
Scrum Works for Dispersed Teams
This had been a topic of discussion for many years before the pandemic put to bed any misgivings. It turns out that the previous standard advice – keep dispersion to the same time zone if at all possible and never try to disperse a Scrum Team across more than a two-hour time zone difference – was sound as borne out by the vast experience of essentially all Scrum Teams worldwide suddenly being compelled to work remotely. What has come as a surprise is just how seamlessly the members of Scrum Teams were able to adapt from working physically in-person to working in a virtually connected environment. Most of the people I’ve interacted with this year have stated unequivocally that their team’s work has improved in the new dispersed world. Most people have also stated that their team connections and their individual contributions are now more satisfying than in the pre-COVID-19 world. It turns out Scrum not only works for dispersed teams, it is probably the best way currently known to organize a dispersed workplace.
Scrum Supports a Healthy Work-Life Balance
One of the complaints I read from newly dispersed employees is that their organizations expect them to be online 24/7. Only by violating several Agile Values and Principles as well as a collection of Scrum rules could an organization do this to a Scrum Team. Indeed, again based on my anecdotal sample of conversations with people in training classes, my experience indicates that working from home as a member of a Scrum Team has enhanced further a healthy balance between work and the life that is both made possible by work and makes work worth doing. Work and life are not mutually exclusive – or at least they should not be – but are different aspects of what makes up a full, rich life. Working on a Scrum Team helps us find the right balance between these two major aspects of life. The pandemic has, in many ways, helped us focus on what’s important in life and what we can do without. Excessive work at the expense of other parts of life is inimical both to Agile Values and Principles and the practice of Scrum and is clearly one of those things we can do without.
All for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and Scrum on!