Tackling the Top 3 Challenges in Remote Sprint Team Collaboration

July 7, 2020
DSA Team

Delivering a remote design sprint is tough work. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that there are many guides, toolkits, and tutorials popping up for the facilitators who plan to run them.

But what about the sprint team? After all, it’s them who face the most daunting learning curve, having to figure out on the fly how to connect, collaborate and build a solution in an entirely new context.

It is therefore critical to the success of any remote exercise that teams and facilitators alike understand the challenges they will face together. With that in mind, here’s 3 challenges to consider — and some bright ideas and quick hacks to help tackle them!

1. Differences in Tech-Savviness and Tool-Savviness

The success of a Remote Sprint hinges heavily on your team’s ability to use digital collaboration tools. It also requires that everyone be able to contribute equally to tasks. However, it’s inevitable that some participants are going to be more skilled and comfortable with these tools than others.

Some Bright Ideas 💡💡💡

Make a list of all the “essential actions” that your team will need to perform during your sprint using your chosen tools and platforms. So, for example, if you’re using Mural, an example of such an action would be something like making a sticky note. Or if you’re using Zoom, knowing how to use a breakout room. Then, conduct one-on-one onboardings with all your team members in which you give them a mini-tutorial on each essential action, with practice exercises to help them get the hang of it. This way, you bring everyone up to the same basic level of competency, and also get to observe who in your team might need more support than others.

The Quick Hack ⚡️⚡️⚡️

Don’t have time to design detailed one-on-one onboarding for your team? Design Sprint Academy has done it for you, in the Remote Sprint Kit. The Kit includes a team onboarding guide, with embedded video tutorials and step-by-step instructions for all “essential actions” your tools require. It even includes an onboarding guide for facilitators, so they can sharpen their skills.

If you’d like hands-on training in how to onboard your team and coach them to success, join our 2-day Remote Design Sprint Courses.

2. Feeling Disconnected

Disconnection and lack of involvement are two of the biggest challenges that remote sprint teams face and can be the hardest to manage. What’s important to keep in mind is that these challenges are not problems in and of themselves. Rather, they are symptoms of other issues and must be fixed at the root cause, such as:

😩 Not understanding the sprint challenge or believing it’s important

😩 Not understanding their role or how they are instrumental to solving the sprint challenge

😩 Lack of trust in the process or the facilitator

😩 Inability to see their progress while in the remote process (as they move through the sessions they do not have a sense of accomplishment)

😩 Feeling overwhelmed

😩 Not having the time to think alone

😩 Not having fun moments or breaks

😩 Off-topic discussions

😩 Confusing conversation flow

😩 Inability to see or read body language over video conferencing

Some Bright Ideas 💡💡💡

To address the above, you are going to need to take a multi-touchpoint approach. It is not enough, for instance, to just have ice-breakers. Instead, you will need both preventative and reactive strategies at every stage of your sprint. For example:

✅ A detailed brief that contextualizes the Sprint Challenge meaningfully

✅ Defining each participant’s role clearly and motivating them individually before the sprint

✅ Having a strict agenda for sprint exercises that guides conversation turn-taking minute by minute

✅ A tool that allows participants to self-document their emotional state after each work session, which they can share with the team and facilitator

✅ A flexible sprint plan with online and offline sessions to allow for “thinking alone”

✅ A “parking lot” space on your digital boards where participants can jot down any ideas, topics or notes that they have during an exercise while still remaining focused on the task at hand

✅ Ice breakers and fun exercises built into your collaboration boards, so that using them is both delightful and functional

✅ Progress trackers built into your digital whiteboards

✅ Daily team communications before and after sessions to detail the previous days' progress, prepare the team for their upcoming tasks and motivate them to do their best

The Quick Hack ⚡️⚡️⚡️

If developing all of the above on your own feels like a daunting task, why not try the Design Sprint Academy’s Remote Sprint Kit? It was designed specifically to address the challenges of remote work and includes everything mentioned in the list, including fully set-up digital whiteboards and a detailed playbook that helps facilitators coach their team step-by-step.

If you’d like to gain a more thorough insight into the root causes of (and solutions to) disconnect, poor communication and loss of focus, join our 2-day Remote Design Sprint Training.

3. Screen Fatigue & Cognitive Fatigue

No surprises with this one! Staring for hours at a screen is mentally and physically exhausting. The backache, the eye-strain, the lapsing concentration… all getting increasingly worse as the sprint days pass. It’s enough to dampen the spirits of even the most motivated sprint teams!

Some Bright Ideas 💡💡💡

Luckily, these challenges are relatively easy to solve. To combat screen fatigue, you’re going to want to make sure your sprint team is comfortable. The best way to do this is with a one-on-one onboard in which you can assess each participant’s set up individually. For example, are they in a room with natural light? Are their monitor and camera positioned in a way that won’t cause them neck strain?

For cognitive fatigue, you’re going to need a variety of preventative and reactive strategies. For example, an adapted sprint plan that splits work sessions into online and offline, and tasks into team-tasks and individual tasks. This way, your team can move between different types of activities that require a variety of different skills, so that they’re not stuck in one continuous online session. This modular approach to your sprint plan will also allow you to conduct your sprint over a period that suits your team.

To reduce cognitive load (which is the mental stress of being exposed to a lot of new information in a short space of time) you’re also going to need to make sure that your team does as much of their learning BEFORE the sprint, as opposed to during the exercises. In an in-person sprint, it's fine for people to learn how to do an exercise while actually doing it. But in a remote session, this can prove exhausting and time-consuming. It’s therefore good to build examples and practice exercises into your onboarding so that when faced with a task, your team knows what’s expected of them.

The Quick Hack ⚡️⚡️⚡️

If you’re looking for a modular sprint plan or daily agendas with a variety of online and offline tasks, you can find all of these in Design Sprint Academy’s Remote Sprint Kit. The Kit also includes a detailed onboarding guide, team communication templates, and digital whiteboards with examples built into them for each exercise.

You can also learn how to prevent and manage fatigue in our 2-day Remote Design Sprint Training.