Motivation in a telecommute environment


Alright I’m struggling with a big change at my company. When I first hired in as ScrumMaster the development teams I worked with were completely co-located with a one maybe two developers a day working from home. In the last 3-4 months the company has been transforming and moving to a more telecommute workplace. With this we have been encouraged to work more from home / remote. Therefore the majority of the team I work with is working remotely more than in the office. Further the company is moving and pushing the telecommute thing even move in that when you come to the office it’s ‘free for all’ seating. Team is stating they will be working from home even more.

The question I have is how can I as a ScrumMaster stay motivated and really be on topic of things happening within the team when everyone is now scattered and remote? I used to overhear conversations and get involved being immersed with the team in the office and I’m not sure how I do that being remote or even in the office with the team being scattered to the winds in the new office. Anyone go through or have a similar environment they can share they experiences on?

I’ve dealt with remote teams before but it was different in that the teams I deal with remote were all co-located. I’ve never dealt with EVERYONE being remote the majority of the time.

Thanks in advance for any insights or thoughts here. Or if you have more questions about what I’m feeling fire away. Just feeling very defeated at the moment as I took this job a year ago with one of the primary reasons being the team was all co-located as I work better that way personally. :slight_smile:



ITodd - it’s really hard to give a simple answer since this is a hyper complex situation and in spite of the well-written post - we would all be making assumptions. Some advice i have from personal experience:

Motivating distributed teams is hard - but not impossible. Try to establish 5-7 team working agreements that you keep fresh and visible. Review at every retrospective to ensure they are still current.

NEVER skip a retrospective. Period. ( is a great distributed retro tool)

Establish some form of virtual space that allows you to openly communicate. While Slack has its detractors, I have yet to find a tool that opens distributed communication channels as well.

Find a tool to anonymously poll on happiness and engagement. I use OfficeVibe but there are plenty of others.

Try to introduce an intrinsic motivation reward system like the Kudos Box from Management 3.0

Finally, check out Lisette and that team are making huge strides in demystifying the science of distributed teams. It is becoming more the norm and they have been studying practices to improve working in that context.


Hi Todd. I work for Envato, as a Delivery (Agile) Coach, which has a very strong culture of remote working.

The interesting thing I find is that those who are permanently working remotely are very engaged whilst those who sometimes work from home and sometimes come into the office tend to go into a more focused mode when they are not in the office.

I concur with a lot of the suggestions that Ryan makes. I’d also recommend that you participate in the working remotely experience so you can understand the point of view.

Tools do become critical to making it work. This can seem counterintuitive to Agile philosophies. To that end at Envato we do not insist on any particular tools however there are always ones that rise to the top.

Our workplace predominantly relies on Slack for communication and I find culture builds up around the tool. It gives me the opportunity to play anthropologist as I work with several teams and each of them has their own norms around how they work together. I now have excellent skills in skim reading many channels in Slack to look for those ‘conversations’ where I can jump in for a coaching moment or to make note of it and refer back to it in a retrospective.

My suggestion would be to explore it as a new challenge, an experience you can learn about and it will give you great insight into a way more and more companies seem to be moving towards. Even if you ultimately decide it’s not for you what a great thing to have in your toolkit :wink:

Happy to chat further if you want more tips, etc.


Hi Todd,

very soon, Humanmade, is hosting an online conference on crowdcast.
Headline: Out of Office - the remote work conference
You can post questions before or just ask them there if you attend.
Cheers, Arne


Thank you all for the feedback so far. This team worked so long together in the office that moving from that to more distributed is a real challenge. They really dislike using tools and communicate almost exclusively via email. So it’s a challenge and I’ll take your advice and treat it like a new challenge to explore and make improvements upon!

Thank you for your suggestions, I’ve tried a few of these already with limited success such as Scatterspoke. Scatterspoke is great but the team as I noted doesn’t like tools and rarely put anything into Scatterspoke. I think the whole team is in a bit of a funk as their were workforce reductions a couple months back that significantly impacted the teams so moral and motivation is still recovering.

Well off to think about these suggestions and see if I can use them!

Thank you!


Todd - Choice is a key reason I find that teams are successful. That’s why I wrote this post a while ago

So if the team did not have the choice of going remote, what choices can you provide them as scrummaster?

You also mentioned a prior workforce reduction. This can leave a team feeling even more without choice.

A good retrospective exercise to explore this is Circles and Soup by Diana Larsen. There is an online version at but you can also play this in Google docs or notepad apps that are easy to use and gets them away from thinking about the tool. is another good one. You might want to google “Circles and Soup” and search for additional guidance from Diana on running that exercise.

Hope this helps.


In my experience, having everybody remote is easier than having a split across say 2 collaborated offices. With everyone remote, you can use the power of a tool like WebEx, real-time board or retrium. At times when I was SM and had two offices, it was hard to see the video of everyone in a room or get participation from all in the room because they could stay out of sight. I liked the comment too of team agreements, that is a big one to consider up front.


To add to the point above, having a mixture of remote and co-located causes lots of problems.

One tip for this situation is to have a ‘Meeting Etiquette’ list and a key point of insisting everyone is always on their own device for video calls, in a quiet location. It’s bad practice to let people share laptops, mics, cameras or hold a co-located meeting with most of the team and putting the one or two people (who are remote), in the corner on a laptop, where they can’t see of hear everyone properly.


Good feedback, thank you for your input @mkilby! I seem to remember Circles and Soup but I’ll need to go refresh myself here as I prep for the teams first retrospective since our office move and a higher level of working remote.


Thanks @paul.cutting for your additional input. Team has been working remote the last few days (everyone) but now with the new office again we will have some in the office and some out of the office. I’m hoping to use our retro this week to talk about the experience and really start setting up some ‘Meeting Etiquette’.

Thank again to everyone for their thoughts as well. Good stuff to use, research, experiment with etc!


Hello everyone just wanted to give an update here. Ran a distributed retro with the team today. It went very well and I think team spirit is high and the team is happier than they have been in awhile via their happiness index score that we’ve been using for a year now (highest since workforce reduction 4 sprints ago). Team gave high feedback on the session itself which we ran using Scatterspoke and LeanCoffeeTable.

Another outcome was the team agreeing on the use of the Kudos box as well.

Oh yeah I also forgot we reviewed all our team agreements and reenforced those and got rid of a couple that didn’t apply and added a couple new ones for our new way of working.

So I wanted to say “Thank you” again to my wonderful community there for providing good suggestions that got me motivated and allowed the team to have a good retro got the team motivated again going today.


That is Awesome feedback!!! @Colleen will be thrilled to hear the team adopted Scatterspoke :slight_smile: :thumbsup:

Keep us posted as things continue to improve! I love this thread!


Another tool suggestion: I’ve seen really good results with Sococo, an online workspace. It removes the feeling of “getting on a call” and makes everyone feel like they are actually in an office together. It creates transparency and camaraderie. (Note: I have no vested interest, but have just really enjoyed using it for the last few years)

We also use Slack, and some of the other retro tools. My team is fully remote, scattered across the globe. Always here if you want to chat further!


Thank you for the suggestion. I’ll take a look at it. Unfortunately I will no longer be working with this particular team as I’m going to be changing jobs early Dec. New teams, new challenges to work with to overcome together!