Recently I have be applying this past time to my day job, imagining what might influence what I do and the teams I work in. I have a somewhat quirky, vivid imagination so some of the things I muse on are possibly the stuff of films rather than reality.
At the same time we all know that much of what ends up in films becomes real at some point too, which is the loose premise I am going to stick with for the time being.
Bold statement No. 1 - 'virtual world' development environments will become the mainstream
So what do I mean by this.... basically the VR technology we are using will be used to develop software. The virtual worlds we see in MPRG's will be used for developers to collaborate on software using avatars and systems will be represented as 3 dimensional structures in the virtual development environment, allowing visualisations of architectures. Groups of avatars collaborate by converging on a shared space to allow them to share the same view of the virtual world. People can zoom into a structure to see the code that makes it work.
Part of this thinking was inspired by a talk from Jamie Knight, who works at the BBC. Jamie is non-verbal and described how communication works in his teams. Since he uses tools to type and speak, conversations are limited by technology. To combat this, he has found that if everyone else use's the same technology then it makes the communication easier.
I started to think about the limiting factors for teams in successful companies and realised that the physical location was probably the primary one. Your staff need to be in the same area as you in order to turn up to work everyday, tales of serious competition for candidates are not uncommon as companies tend to group in local areas.
Played out on global scale, this is massively limiting. The best person to work for you might not even be in your country! When we think politically, they may not even be allowed to move to your country - with realisation of Brexit, this could impact the UK in future years.
If anyone has been working with a fast growing company, you will know the massive nightmare that it causes when you need to find (and house) a large work force. The physics becomes the limiting factor - you can't find the people fast enough and if you can, you can't keep adding people to the space you have. And we know how everyone just loves an office move...
On the flipside, anyone who has worked with a remote team or team members knows the associated issues - we see problems with communication, collaboration, ownership and culture. It is such a well know problem that we simply advocate co-location of teams since this basically gives you a massive advantage.
For me, taking the entire development environment into a virtual world actually starts to make sense:
- Everyone would have the same level of communication and visibility, so it is up to the individuals to make this work. By giving people the same tools, we level the communication playing field - the location is no longer a factor
- You would also be free to employ people from where ever you chose - reducing your problems to timezones and language, something which international businesses have previous experience with.
- By allowing people to stay in their native country, businesses have the potential to offer much more competitive wages as it's actually the cost of living that they must meet
- We know this scales massively (look at gaming) - it is only how we organise and communicate that becomes the limiting factor.
So why is a Scrum Master seemingly committing heresy by talking about such a thing?
Teams are key in this world I am describing - it is the whole reason why I have thinking about it. For starters, this would need to operate in a high trust culture - which get's me interested. It is entirely possible you may never meet the person you employ. They may also be protected by local laws that do not match your jurisdiction. That requires a level of trust that is hard to find in most companies.
Many of the interactions I take for granted can't be applied in this world - eye contact and body language would cut down my levels of feedback, meaning I would need to think differently.
All interactions with my team would now be virtual:
- What would interactions between virtual team members look like?
- Would we still use boards (with virtual stickies, obviously) to organise ourselves?
- Would we create entirely new ways of visualising our work, leveraging our virtual world's unlimited flexibility?
- What would stand ups look like? Would we need them?
- How does the communication scale - would we have virtual replacements for messaging and chat or something new?
What about the 'feelings' of our teams? In this world people who are frustrated or annoyed are easy to spot - a virtual world allows people to edit their emotions, even block them entirely:
- How can we create a culture of trust that would encourage people to display their feelings given that this would be optional?
- How would we build lasting relationships? Do our team building techniques travel in a virtual world?
- Would a lack of 'real' human interaction be depressing?
- Would it be hard to get people to work together given that they are not?
There is no doubt this could be massively empowering. Small companies could grow exponentially and we could always hire the best. Having people in multiple timezones could create a naturally longer day maybe having multiple stand ups to coordinate work between them.
People could spend more time with their families and have greater flexibility as we build our businesses in environments that are as flexible as our creativity. Where people need to come together, they could choose to meetup at co-working spaces or any other space they deem appropriate.
Wouldn't these be the real internet companies?