How the 5 values of Scrum can help with a better work-life balance

by Gert van der Walt

Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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More people are working from home and many are claiming higher productivity. There are however new challenges organisations are facing with this new change. One of the challenges is to ensure employees maintain a healthy work-life balance while working from home. Maintaining a healthy balance is not only good for the individuals, but also for the organisation.

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance was challenging before the pandemic. Now there is a fine line between work and home life. If you are anything like me, you will allow work to consume most of your time and you will end up working longer hours, feeling guilty to stop and spend time with your loved ones. According to the Now normal report by IQ Business, 42.1% of people need help maintaining a healthy work-life balance while working from home. It was reported that the biggest concern for organisations is to support their remote working employees with a healthy balance.

Interestingly, but not surprising, organisations that have adopted Agile frameworks (like Scrum or Kanban) reported better outcomes during the lockdown, other than organisations that used other frameworks and methodologies. (Now normal report). 

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Looking at the above stats, Agile companies handled many challenges better than the other companies. I decided to therefore investigate how the Scrum values could have contributed to these stats.  

Courage

Everyone has unique challenges at home. Pets, children and even neighbours can add distractions that you may have had when working from the office. It implies that the typical 8 am-5 pm with a 30min lunch may not work effectively. Draft an appropriate personal daily or weekly schedule and have a conversation with your team about this schedule. This is the hardest part that requires courage. What will others think if I start a conversation about changing the way I want to work? Perhaps they will think that I am not committed or lazy. Just remember that they are humans too and will most likely be struggling with similar challenges. Be courageous and put the topic on the table and see what happens. 

Focus

Being overwhelmed is a result of not having focus. There will always be more work to do than what we can do. The solution is to get a focus on the most important work that needs to be done. In Agile teams, we are encouraged to limit our “work in progress”. By doing that you increase focus and improve productivity. It is important to apply this principle at home too. With all the disruptions, it is important to organise your day so that you can have as much focus as possible. The key to limiting work in progress both at home and work is to communicate and get agreement from everyone involved.  If you have a toddler at home it is never going to be easy, but at least commit and try.

Commitment

I have noticed that many people are prone to overcommitting. Perhaps because we like to think we can do more in a day. Or perhaps we think we need to do more to impress others. Over-commitment will certainly put you under unnecessary stress. The opposite of not delivering on what you committed to, will potentially lead to distrust. If you are constantly running late or not delivering on all your commitments, people will start to question your dependability and ability to deliver. It is not fair, I know, but the key here is to practice committing to just the right amount. 

Respect

In Agile, creating team norms or a team agreement is strongly encouraged. The norms are the rules created for the team, by the team. This is where aspects of work-life balance can feature, such as work times, break times, flexibility and leave. These norms can be different for different teams, but there has to be agreement on the rules. These norms should be reviewed once in a while.  The changes caused by the pandemic would certainly be one of those times. Call a team meeting, collaboratively create or review a team agreement and talk about a healthy work-life balance. Create a few rules that will allow people to spend time with their loved-ones, guilt-free. Include some rules about electronic communication to allow for time to “switch off”. 

Having these rules in place helps with respecting each other. Respect the rules of the team and respect the people in the team. 

Openness

Having diverse people in a team is a good thing. With that comes a situation where everyone’s home-lives can be different. These situations can easily be misunderstood. For instance, expecting everyone to be committed to pulling long hours wouldn’t necessarily be the same for everyone in the team. A 25-year-old, single, female at the height of her career may be quite happy to work long hours enjoying the exhilaration of the achievements. In contrast, a 40-year-old, single father of 2 toddler daughters, may have the most stressful time juggling work and family time. These types of misunderstandings add to the team’s frustrations and ultimately impact the collaboration and overall performance. To avoid them, an openness to understand is needed. An openness to share is just as important. Be transparent about what is happening at home. When working from home, communicate and keep the team and leadership in the loop of what is preventing you from being focused and productive. Manage the expectation to prevent misunderstandings and so maintain healthy relationships based on trust. 


A healthy work-life balance is good for employees and organisations. It can get the benefit of a more loyal and productive workforce by encouraging them to adopt these Scrum values. Finding the perfect balance is probably impossible, but nothing prevents you from striving towards it. Adopt a Kaizen mindset to continuously improve and re-adjust daily to reach a healthy balance.



Sources:

Now normal survey report (IQ Business - 2020): https://iqbusiness.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Now_Normal_Report-1.pdf

How to improve your work-life balance Today: https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/5244-improve-work-life-balance-today.html

Kaizen Mindset: https://youtu.be/vjzycXupydU