New Remote Work Solutions for Software Engineering Teams

The pandemic may be gone, but remote work is here to stay. What tools can we use to foster productivity in the age of the virtual office?
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In a study conducted by VelocityGlobal in 2022, almost 98% of polled workers reported that they wanted to do remote work at least a couple of days a week. And 55% employees said they wanted to work from home at least three days a week, but on the other hand, 43% of polled business executives reported that they wanted to fully return to the office as soon as possible — talk about a disconnect!

The truth of the matter is that remote work is here to stay, and most workers are seeing the option of remote work as a nonnegotiable perk. Companies are poaching talent just by offering them the opportunity to keep working from home. To preserve our top-tier talent, we must make peace with the idea of flexible work schedules.

Ironically, after the dust settled, we have the data to prove that remote work increases productivity. People are more willing to spend extra hours working when doing so from the comfort of their own homes. Maybe your own lived experience was different — maybe you saw a dip in productivity, but why?

Migration Is a Process

When COVID-19 took the world by storm, we weren’t prepared for what was going to happen in the following months. U.S. citizens thought that the pandemic would only last a couple of weeks, not a whole year and a half. For a lot of people it was traumatic: one day you are planning your vacations, and the next you are on lockdown for the next year or so. 

Most companies weren’t ready for what was happening, either. Some managed to migrate successfully to a remote work model, while others never found their rhythm. The point I’m trying to make is that most of us were scared, anxious, and depressed (and that’s not even taking into account catching COVID or developing long COVID) so it makes sense that in the beginning, we would see people drop the ball as they grew accustomed to their new lifestyle.

Those companies who managed to find their balance did so by rethinking their processes and by using technology to build remote bridges across their workforce. Zoom grew to unimaginable heights thanks to the rapid adoption from companies across the globe, and Azure was close to capacity because of all the new customers. When we needed it, the infrastructure was there.

So, what lessons can we learn as we can finally put the COVID pandemic behind us? What did successful companies do to keep their software engineering teams working like a well-oiled machine?

Flexible Schedules and Communication

We can’t stress just how important a flexible policy is to motivate employees. The 9-to-5 was necessary back when we didn’t have cell phones or emails. Nowadays I can have a meeting while buying my groceries or doing the laundry. The technology is there; we just have to put in the effort. 

As a consultant once told us, the trick to flexible schedules is over-communication. About 90% of the time, the problem isn’t that an employee isn’t at the office, it’s that they are unreachable. We have to build better communication channels and motivate people to use the tools at their disposal. 

Foster a culture where people communicate where they are and when they will be available, inform your teams of key critical hours where you need all the staff onboard, clearly state deadlines and goals, and use group chats like Slack and Teams to keep the communication channels open at all times, both synchronous and asynchronous.

Figure Out Your Rhythm

No two software engineers are alike. Some of us like to work with white noise, others put on their headphones and launch Spotify as soon as they turn on their PC, while others like to chat and banter over coffee. Some of us write better code in the morning, and others are night owls that get their engines running at midnight. Understanding the productivity cycles of your team and their ideal environments will help in distributing workloads and building teams whose rhythms align.

For example, I like to work at night. At one point, I noticed that a codeveloper pushed their work at around the same time I did, so I contacted them and we started talking during our “night shifts.” At some point, we realized that we could team up, so we started working on similar tasks and helped each other. 

Build a communal schedule shared with the whole team, so everyone can write down their availability and their peak productivity times. That way you can figure out your team’s productivity schedule

Low Overhead Is Better

Whatever tools you implement for remote work, be it for communication or project management, always aim for whatever is the easiest and simplest solution. You don’t have to make a Zoom call whenever you have to talk with someone; most of the time a Slack message will suffice. 

Take for example FunRetro. It’s just a shared whiteboard with sticky notes, but it’s extremely simple and intuitive, a fantastic tool for reminders or for tagging subjects that need to be discussed. 

By the same token, don’t be afraid to build your custom solution. Yes, there are dozens of software options out there, but every group is different. If you feel like something is missing and it’s not covered by any product, create something that’s customized for you and your team.

Finally, don’t forget about the cloud. One of the first policies we set during the pandemic was “no attachments on emails.” If we wanted to share a document, we would do so over our cloud service, or even something as simple as a Google Doc. Documents on the cloud are easy to track, while an attached file can be buried under a mountain of emails.

Foster a Remote Work Culture

No tool can overcome a group that is reticent about remote work. Promote a work environment that understands and respects everyone’s schedule by explaining the benefits of flexible work environments. As my project manager used to say back in 2020, “The office is not the building, the office is our work relation, the office is the cloud.”

Software engineering is a team effort, one that benefits greatly from flexibility and openness. Just like agile gave us a more flexible way of handling software development and empowering our teams and our clients, remote work is doing the same for our work-life balance. Perhaps one day we will all be working in the metaverse.

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