Very few people enjoy meetings, and many will agree that constantly being pulled into huddles and stand-ups just takes valuable time away from actually getting stuff done.
The coronavirus pandemic has added another layer to this issue. While video-conferencing tools have created a means for us to stay in touch with our colleagues, organizations are still struggling to find a balance, leading to the rise of a new phenomenon informally dubbed “Zoom fatigue.”
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Software company Haystack recently found itself experiencing this first-hand. At the beginning of March, the company appeared to be cruising along smoothly, successfully tackling issues, bugs and launching new features at top speed. However, things began to change quickly in mid-April, when productivity took a nosedive and a pattern of inactivity during the morning hours and early afternoon began to emerge.
After assessing the data, a few things came to light – not only was monotonous work like bug-hunting and catching up on large chunks of technical debt causing burnout amongst the team, but regular stand-up meetings were also taking time away from valuable – and productive – work.
“We’re remote so we take advantage of the time we have to be together,” Julian Colina, CEO &amp; co-founder of Haystack, explained in a blog post.
“Our stand-ups are growing and [we] spend a lot of time on stand-ups chatting/designing new features. This is beginning to take away time from the team’s deep work.”
Burnout has become a very real issue amongst the home-based workforce in recent months, with recent research by FlexJobs suggesting that employees are now three times as likely to report poor mental health now than before the coronavirus pandemic.
Research suggests that developers and other tech professionals have had a particularly tough time of the pandemic – not least due to the fact that many companies have been forced to rapidly accelerate their digital ambitions amid the new remote-working landscape.
Haystack subsequently launched an experiment to find out what might pull the team out of its rut. After putting it to a vote, the company opted to cancel stand-ups and encouraged staff to spend time working on fun projects only, with the ethos being, “if you’re not excited to work on it, then don’t”.
The result? The experiment went even better than the company could had hoped for, reported Colina. Not only did work throughput improve dramatically, but product cycle time plummeted. Meanwhile, “deep work” performed between the morning and early afternoon hours also recovered, and employees reported much higher levels of mental wellbeing.
“By removing stand-ups and letting the team work on new, exciting projects, we were able to get out of the funk we found ourselves in,” wrote Colina.
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“Without skipping a beat our team is refreshed, recovered, and excited.”
While stand-ups have since been reinstated – though now limited to just a couple of times per week – Colina told TechRepublic that Haystack was continuing to experiment on striking the right balance.
He also suggested that one of the main causes for the company’s improved performance was largely spurred by the team feeling more empowered to make decisions and improve their own performance, rather than being specifically tied to whether or not they participated in stand-up meetings.
“We’re still testing the long-term effects but so far we’ve been able to maintain our performance over time,” Colina told TechRepublic.
“Every Monday we walk through Haystack to check-in on performance and see if further changes are needed. Since then, we’ve made a few adjustments and are currently doing a Google Meet stand-up every two-to-three days and asynchronous Slack stand-ups on the other days.”
He added: “We continue to iterate and get better, so we’re always excited for our Monday check-ins to see what changes we want to test out next.”