Since March of this year, Americans have been living and working through some very trying and unique circumstances. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered offices across the country and led to many Americans working from home, predominantly. This has resulted in quite a few notable changes to “business as usual,” from a massive increase in Zoom calls, to parents juggling work tasks with child-rearing and teaching responsibilities.
However, there is one group or team within most organizations that was pretty familiar with remote work even before COVID-19 – software developers. A majority of software developers are used to working remotely at least a few days a week, and most remain relatively productive despite that arrangement.
But has the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting organization-wide shift towards remote work impacted the productivity of developers? And have the organizations they worked for embraced any developer remote work best practices to get them through this trying time? A new study from Accelerated Strategies Group (ASG) has the answers.
Recently, we sat down with ASG’s CEO, Mitch Ashley, to get a peek into the survey results, and how working remotely during COVID-19 has impacted software development processes. Here is what Mitch had to say:
GovDevSecOpsHub (GDSOH): ASG recently conducted some research into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on organizations and software developers. What were you looking to find?
Mitch Ashley: Our research explored the impact of moving to a largely remote workforce on an organization’s ability to deliver software. Also, since many software developers and development teams worked remotely prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted to explore how lessons learned from their software teams about remote work were being implemented across the enterprise.
Approximately 87 percent of organizations had some software developers working remotely pre-pandemic. It wasn’t just a subset of organizations – remote work for developers was prevalent. So, we wanted to see what best practices could be leverage from these teams, in addition to how a massive shift to remote work across the enterprise impacted the delivery of software.
GDSOH: Let’s focus on the first part of that. In what ways has the pandemic changed the priorities of development teams? How has it impacted their role within the organization?
Mitch Ashley: The pandemic has actually made the development teams more important – if that’s even possible considering the outsized role of software in the organization these days.
Our research found that 63 percent of the organizations surveyed increased the priority of their investment in digital transformation projects either somewhat or significantly. These are the kind of projects that are shifting manual processes across organizations to software that’s capable of automating tasks and making organizations more efficient.
Also, 60 percent of our respondents said that rapid changes in the expectations of end-users brought the need for contactless services delivery to the forefront. That makes sense during the pandemic since we can’t meet face to face and hand something from one person to another.
This need to increase efficiency, embrace automation, and implement no-contact delivery of products and solutions made developers essential and their programs mission-critical for organizations.
GSSOH: How do you see organizations, as a whole, implementing DevOps and other development team best practices and lessons learned during the pandemic? What impact is it having?
Mitch Ashley: Even outside of software teams, organizations are adopting some of the principles of DevOps and Agile – even though they’re not on software teams themselves. They’ve embraced daily stand-up meetings. They’re forming more cross-functional teams to better coordinate activities. They’re also using asynchronous communications – everything from texting to collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack – to communicate more effectively.
Organizations as a whole are focusing on automation, and they’re also iterating and working in shorter work cycles. They’re creating smaller components of work to deliver work more rapidly, and to more easily adjust to changing conditions. This is similar to the movement towards microservices and rapid releases that we’ve seen in the software development space.
So the larger organization has really started to embrace some of the principles of DevOps and Agile, even if they’re not completely aware they’re doing it.
“We asked our survey respondents what their plans were for the future. Approximately 23 percent said that they expect to permanently work remotely. Only 12.7 percent of the responses indicated that they plan to return to an on-site environment.” – Mitch Ashley
GDSOH: You mentioned that the shift towards remote work across the organization could have impacts on the development teams, in particular. Did the research find any changes in development team performance as a result of wide-spread remote work?
Mitch Ashley: More than 50 percent of the respondents to our survey said they have seen software developer productivity improve across their organizations during the ongoing pandemic. In comparison, only about 12 percent saw a decrease in productivity. And less than 33 percent saw no change.
We saw that there was increased collaboration across the organization with software teams. There’s increased collaboration with product and project management, operations and security teams, as well as with executive leadership. These individuals and teams are more invested in the software development process, and are actively communicating with software teams about what they are working on.
So, other people working more collaboratively in this remote environment has actually helped software developers. But there are other efficiencies and improvements in how people and organizations are working that are directly benefiting development teams.
Coordination and communication is making things like scheduling meetings easier and more efficient. People have more control over their own time and – in some cases – can better eliminate disruptions to their work by other tasks and other people. In fact, our research found that almost 40 percent of respondents said they were more easily managing unproductive distractions.
All combined, these factors led to more than 42 percent of respondents saying that the pandemic and work from home directives had led to an increase in the timely completion of deliverables.
GDSOH: The shift to remote work is obviously an adjustment. Are there any tools out there that can be leveraged by development teams to make them more effective and efficient in this environment?
Mitch Ashley: There are the common remote tools that we use for online meetings, collaboration tools like Slack and Teams, and collaborative document editing solutions like Google Docs that are making communication and collaboration more effective and efficient. But there are other solutions, such as cloud-driven task management and project management software, that are playing a role in the coordination and management of the remote workforce.
Also important are cloud-hosted development tools. This can include cloud-based code management tools, value stream management, hosting collaboration, testing virtual environments, and others. The cloud and cloud-based tools are essential for the collaboration of remote development teams.
GDSOH: What do you think happens post-pandemic? Do developers and development teams continue to work remotely, or are these folks anxious to get back into the office after COVID-19?
Mitch Ashley: Sometimes, when we make changes, those changes stick – especially if we create new habits or new ways of working. We asked our survey respondents what their plans were for the future. Approximately 23 percent said that they expect to permanently work remotely. Only 12.7 percent of the responses indicated that they plan to return to an on-site environment. And 41 percent said they’d like to work remotely three or more days a week.
Combined, you’re looking at more than 60 percent of developers that really prefer the work at home environment. That’s a significant percentage that like the flexibility.
Now, will the organization support that? There may be some disadvantages to having a remote workforce, but if their employees prefer that, and they can work from home effectively – and they’re proving that during this COVID-19 pandemic – then I think we’ll see a large percentage of organizations embrace it.
To learn more from this study on the remote workforce and its impact on software development, click HERE.