Under Pressure

Agile Co-Location, is it necessary?

Photo by @yasinyusuf via Unsplash

Extreme Polarity

In my youth I saw most things as either:

  • x or y
  • yes or no
  • black or white

I could fit everything into a neat category. I tended towards the sciences and maths are they fit nicely with this world view. Why write an essay, when the answer is really only a sentence long and the answer is obvious?

Sheldon is Sus

So when it comes to software development teams and co-location, it’s been an easy idea for me to advocate for.

From the principles behind the Agile Manifesto:

  • Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project.
  • The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.

Co-location is best, that’s what everyone should do. It’s nicely put into the big bag of yes.

The problem is that, even before Covid, I’ve never really done it. Currently, the team I’m with are based in the UK, Poland and Bulgaria.

The last time I worked with a purely in house development team was almost 10 years ago. These weren’t Agile teams either. Primarily the developers were working on their own projects etc

So co-location is best in my mind.. just don’t follow my example, as I’ve never really done it.

I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve actually stood up during a stand-up. If I did that for the amount of times I’ve reached for my headphones; well I’d be some weird meta-mega-multihanded daily stand-up beast.


I like to think that working in a distributed nature for so long has taught me how to do it well. When Covid came along, I was fortunate that work didn’t really change for me too much.

We already had Slack, Hangouts and the processes/routines in place to make communication flow.

Instead of sitting in place “a”, I sat in place “b” far more frequently.

Don’t get me wrong, whilst my default location is really distributed, I still fundamentally believe that co-location is best. The sweet spot for me seems to be going into the office around 1 time per week.. oh..

Back to the Future

Even Marty McFly had to go back to the office at some point in his life. It’s the sequal — that quite rightly — was never made. My employers are more on the progressive side of things, so the return to the office post Covid has been phased, with only a couple of days maximum required.

Giving birth to my forth child* has delayed my return to the office as my wife recovers from surgery. My three other children are still at the age where they require input. My 6 year old requires a lot of input, more so than Jonny 5**.

My son has Cerebral Palsy, he’s 20kg, so moving him around is hard.. very hard. Especially, trying to get him into the car as we currently don’t have a wheelchair accessible vehicle. My wife tried to lift him the other day and hurt her back. She’s still recovering from a caesarian section and she’s worried that she’ll no longer be able to safely lift her son :(

That’s maybe getting a bit too heavy for an article on co-location. Let’s say that my return to work has been hampered. AND I FEEL THE PRESSURE OF THAT IMMENSELY.

* should probably credit my wife here ;)
** I would suggest to go and watch Short Circuit if you haven’t seen it, but it’s incredibly p̶r̶o̶b̶l̶e̶m̶a̶t̶i̶c racist. Needs a remake.

Freddie Mercury

The pressure isn’t coming from my employers, they’re great. I’m very lucky in that regard, that I’m treated as a professional.

The pressure comes from myself, as to what I (probably incorrectly) think is best practice. Co-location is key. Every day I’m not in the office riffing off other peoples ideas and absorbing things by osmosis is a day that I’m failing Agile Development. It matters to me that osmosis doesn’t work over the ocean. I need to be sat in an air conditioned office.

My youthful voice is still there, everything is black and white.

All water is muddy

However, as I grown older, I’ve come to view things slightly differently:

  1. As well as x and y, there are other letters of the alphabet
  2. Yes or no or maybe
  3. There is always grey between black and white. In fact as well as the standard achromactic greys, there are also the spicier ones with some colour in

I still hold onto this idea that co-location is key to successful development teams. But that is a complete lie in my experience. I’ve been with many teams, and we’ve all had a lot of success.

Things don’t always go smoothly, but that’s more of a function of life in general. We’re all human after all.

That youthful pressure is still there in me, but the reality check is that I’m writing this at home instead of spending 2 hours travelling on a motorway.

For me personally, the productivity gains of home-working are immense.

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Agile Fan Boy | Developer | Product Owner | Writer | Wantrepreneur

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Chris Sheldon

Agile Fan Boy | Developer | Product Owner | Writer | Wantrepreneur