Snap! And just like that, COVID-19 has made telecommuting the new (if temporary) norm for software developers - and almost everyone else. For many software developers, telecommuting regularly is not a new concept. But remote work to this extent is still an exception to the rule. Some companies take pride in offering flexible work arrangements and conditions. It’s never been allowed, or mandated, for everyone all at once. Extra attention to a few things can help cut the disruption working from home has on your workflow.
How COVID-19 is accelerating the era of the “Virtual Office”
We’re not experts on COVID-19 or diseases… But, we do know how important events, like 911, set precedents. Precedents often lead to long-term changes in law, lifestyles and how we commute to work. Many experts believe COVID-19 is worse than 911, for its effect on lives, travel, economy, and psycho-social impact. The highest levels of government were stuck between risking millions of lives or serious economic turmoil.
Please: If you have questions regarding COVID-19, please check the Center for Disease Control’s website.
Add issues like fake news, deep fakes, and conspiracy theories. Trust becomes an increasingly precious commodity. Worse, trust can actually exacerbate the fight against an invisible enemy.
If Joe coughs, does that mean he has the virus? With its so-called stealth transmission, it can be passed along by people showing no symptoms whatsoever. Health experts have acknowledged we’re past the point for containment. The goal now appears to fast track a vaccine, while mitigating the virus’s course.
And so, overnight, “social distancing” became a household term. COVID-19 is likely to be with us a while. The longer it lasts, the more likely it is to significantly influence the new norm. It’s surreal and the heavens forbid that what we have now should become permanent. Though COVID-19 will pass, the impact it leaves probably won’t. Now, we’re being “forced” to work from home. What happens IF people like working from home better? What IF companies also see that a “virtual office” environment can save them lots of money?
We’re being forced to try something different. We might actually like it. Maybe not at first, but…
Advantages of working remotely in a virtual office
Though not epidemiologists, we’ve had plenty of experience with remote working and outsourcing software development. Most of those who have experience telecommuting actually love it. They’re more productive, more likely to keep their job long, love the extra time, and other benefits. Telecommuting saves them, and their employer, money.
There actually are quite a few advantages to working remotely:
- An hour a day less commuting to and from work.
- Less vehicle wear and tear, lower gas costs, less risk to vehicular accidents.
- Eating from home is less expensive and can be a lot healthier than fast food.
- More time with your family, save on daycare expenses.
- Your very own coffee maker, bathroom, and no one to steal your lunches.
- You can work in your pajamas, underwear or even let it all hang loose…
So, it’s not all bad - except that last one might be a little more than anyone needs to know. Some of our telecommute friends love working from home so much they refuse regular office jobs. The transition does take some acclimatizing and can be harder for people who really like the social element at the office. However, there are a lot of options to help with that.
There are clear advantages for businesses, too:
- Smaller office space requirements - in San Francisco, figure ~$80 per square foot and an average of 150 square feet per employee.
- Reduced office size reduces utility bills, property insurance, need for parking space.
- Increased productivity, higher morale, better retention.
- Access to a wider pool of talent.
With many more people being exposed to telecommuting, many of them will like a lot. When the crisis is over, it may be difficult for them to adjust or want to adjust to the way things used to be. Whether we like it or not, we all have some time to think about it. There may be some bumps along the way - and probably enough time to iron out small adjustments to our work processes.
Software developer must-haves for remote working
The COVID-19 virus has thrown the world into unchartered territory in many regards. But, telecommuting is not one of them. Companies often outsource work to other software development agencies and freelancers. Many let devs work from home or on the road. Telecommuting is a standard practice.
Many of today’s jobs don’t require one’s physical presence in an office. Indeed, entire companies can be managed from anywhere - at home, on the subway, even at the beach. It’s not limited to software developers by any stretch of the imagination. Telecommuting is viable for sales, marketing, customer service, and online technical support. It also works for managers of all these teams, and for executives, too.
Maybe awkward at first, telecommuting requires extra attention to three things:
- Hardware and software requirements
- Communication and scheduling
- Performance metrics.
Traditionally, everything is centralized in an office. Telecommuting requires making sure everything is available wherever team members choose to work.
Ensure hardware and software requirements: a “Work from Home” (WFH) Checklist
Situations like COVID-19 have put entire countries into lockdown. This warrants having a checklist to make sure all team members have the hardware and software they need. In a manner of speaking, your team will be working in a field environment. This can hinder getting needed hardware and software to developers. Enterprise Holdings has a Work from Home Checklist to provide a starting point for your own WFH Checklist.
Most companies provide their developers with laptops loaded with software that they can use from home. Software and subscriptions are usually controlled through a single company account, often Finance. But this is not always the case, particularly with startups and smaller companies. Make a checklist of the software your developers and engineers will need. Verify they have it on their system. Prioritize exceptions, it may not be necessary for everyone to have a copy of everything. Work can be structured according to those who do. Think of it as a game like Loadout, EVE Online, or even WOW. Everyone’s got their own kit - some of it’s common (and free). Some of it is EPIC (and expensive).
Take a few minutes to chat with the person who controls the budget for your department. Work out arrangements on how to handle any hardware and software purchases for team members lacking them. Nearly 80% of Americans live from paycheck to paycheck. Software is often a non-trivial expense.
Keep a communication standard while working remotely
A telecommute environment doesn’t negate schedules or the need for communication. It may allow for some extra flexibility.
- Try to hold any meetings at the same time as held in the office. It should be a habit that you don’t want to break when (or if) things return to normal.
- Keep meetings scheduled in the calendar of any software suite your team uses. Do your best to provide as much advance notice for ad hoc meetings requiring multiple team members. This helps maximize participation and ensure that everyone has all relevant information ready.
- Define which software or platform you will use for meetings and on-the-fly messaging. Slack, Skype, Zoom, or Google Chat are common options if you aren’t uniformly set up already.
- Maintain a daily schedule. When everyone’s telecommuting, you can keep the same or more flexible “office hours.” Structure mandatory time around meetings. Make sure all team members have overlap-time to address questions and cover handoffs.
It would also be wise to have a directory for all team members and their communication channels. Managers should have everyone’s mobile numbers, emergency contact, and physical address, too. Someone who has contracted COVID-19 can go from “healthy” to “very sick” overnight. They may not be able to notify you that they’re ill, assisting a family member who has taken ill, or another emergency.
This isn’t intended to cause any more alarm than there is. These are measures that should exist anyway. Some companies seem to dismiss or have forgotten them. This isn’t also about everyone else who keeps the electricity and the Internet running. Their people could get sick, or their services and events get disrupted. Emergency disruptions can impact everyone.
Trust your remote team, performance metrics can help
There’s always some risk of unsupervised team members to slack off. It could be purely unintentional. Working from home is subject to more distractions than in the office. Children home from school still need parental attention. A short glance at the television can lead to hours. On the flip side, with nothing better to do, some team members may end up working longer than if they were at the office.
Working from home and the isolation it brings can take getting used to. It may induce depression in some team members. It could be exactly what the doctor ordered for others. Software development managers need to be sensitive to this and find ways to help those having a hard time cope with the disruption.
At the same time, you still have a customer depending upon you more than ever to deliver their software on schedule. You only have a few ways to remotely monitor your team’s performance and progress.
- Trust that everyone will do what they’re supposed to do. This is impractical for reasons only half-related to time-tracking and trust. It’s also a question of efficiency and productivity.
- Creepy time-tracking software. Not to name names. And not to insinuate someone watches everything people do and type on their computers. This option provides very little useful data while being very intrusive.
- Automated software development analytics. At a glance, you can see everyone’s time on task, productivity, and interactions - and compare it over time. Git analytics ties into many reports for software developer performance metrics.
We are biased about the value of automated software development analytics. Our goal is to provide software engineers with valuable insights to increase their team’s productivity and efficiency. Gitential also provides insight that can help identify if team members are struggling. So informed, you can proactively engage them to find out why and reach a solution.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the reports Gitential generates. If you’d like, you can follow along or explore the Demo on your own.
At a glance, you can see the coding time of all team members. Exact numbers displayed for each team member on mouse-over. Time on task is only part of the equation though.
Obviously, productivity isn’t synonymous with efficiency, nor does it identify code complexity. Our software development analytics provides additional reports for:
- Developer efficiency vs. utilization
- Work deviation
- Implementation vs test volume
- Code complexity
- And many others!
Knowing your team members, assignments, hours, and productivity enables you to identify irregularities.
The Teamwork report shows team member interactions. Reports like this can identify where silos are forming. This may identify where skills and knowledge aren’t being shared. In turn, you might use this to pair up different team members for code reviews.
We welcome you to give Gitential a try - you can sign up for a free trial without a credit card. Automated software development analytics provides much of the same depth of insight as Google Analytics does for website performance.
Hope for a swift return to normal
The Internet’s been around long enough for many of today’s developers to not remember how life was without it. In bygone years, we had the limitations like 56 baud modems that would’ve made it impossible for any business to remain operational. The devices, software, and tools we have available today make it possible for us to do almost anything from anywhere. For software developers today, the isolation efforts are a mere inconvenience even though the impact of the crisis is global and far-reaching.
The impact on everyone’s lives, however, is heart-wrenching. We are deeply saddened by the impact of lives lost to COVID-19, and other diseases, too - Heart Disease, Cancer, AIDS, and so many others. We truly wish everyone suffering from the virus a rapid recovery to full health. Keep safe and be well!