Working hybrid in the (post) Covid world as a Developer

Expertises

With restrictions lifting again regarding Covid, some of us will be going back to the office. This raises a couple of question as:

  • Is the remote work trend a keeper?

  • Are we going back to the office all workdays?

  • What would be a good and workable number of days?

If something we have learned from the past couple of years (even pre Covid), it is that most of us can work from home. This of course depends on various variables such as the sort of work you do. It is very hard to lay bricks from the comfort of home. Or you might work under some sort of security tier that requires you to be physically there (think datacenters). In these cases, it is a different story.

I for one work as a software developer in a project for a big educator. We have been working from home for about 2 years now. Every now and then we went back to the office. This hasn’t been without ups-and-downs, but we created a method that works best for everyone in the team and my employer.

Trust issue(s)?

Pre Covid, many of us probably heard that we were unable (or allowed) to work from home for various reasons: “It just would not work” (yes really), “It is hard to contact each other”, “We have no idea what you are doing”, “The tooling we are using is not sufficient”, “It is better to meet face to face”. Then Covid came and we all had to work from home.

Now with restrictions lifting, some of us don’t want to go back to the office: “I’m scared I’ll get sick”, “We haven’t been to the office in forever, why start now”, “I don’t like to travel the distance”.

While I agree with some, I do not agree with all of them. And some, if you ask me, are related to trust and letting go of control by management and, on the other hand, a form of laxity and ‘comfort’. Covid sure made us all learn fast what we think is most important and what needs priority!

Having a schedule when people are working helps immensely. For our team (we use Slack) we have a weekly pinned thread in which we announce when people are working. When anything changes during the week, we change/add it to the thread. You could also use a shared calendar in MS Teams or Confluence. Also, most of the times we have a call open in the channel for people to join.

Tooling

There are many apps you can use to collaborate with each other. These apps, like Slack, Zoom, Teams or any other collaborating tool, have improved immensely during the last 2 years to keep up with the demand. They are the key to keep in touch and work together in a day-to-day basis. For example, we recently hired a junior developer, and we are using the InteliJ collaborate and Slack ‘share screen’ option quite often.

The Junior

Like I said, we recently hired a new (junior) developer and we found that a huge downside for us is that it is more difficult to bring her up to speed. Also, it is easier to lose ‘track’ of her. This is not good for her development and not good for our velocity. Because in the end it’s harder to get stuff done.

In an attempt to tackle this we came up with having a call open in our back-end slack channel and having all back-enders in it. Together with the ‘share-screen’ option we try to simulate the open office that we had when we were physically working together. Sharing knowledge and guide the junior still works best when you work face to face. But it’s not impossible.

Code quality

In the first months working from home, it seemed our code quality dropped. We seemed to create more bugs then normal. We used the retrospectives to figure out what caused this, and the conclusion was that during the day we all went into our own ‘bubble’ and hacked away.

We changed the setup of our retrospectives and during these sessions we reviewed almost all code with all developers in a joined session. The pull requests owner had to explain what changes had been done.

We tried to use our collaborating tools to our benefits. We have setup multiple plugins in our IDE and that helped us immensely. Our quality gates no longer fail, and we can say with certainty that our code is up to standard.

Stress

I find that during the whole pandemic I felt less stressed during my work. I think this is mainly because I no longer must commute to work and be part of traffic. I have more time for my children and have the time to wave them goodbye at school. When I do feel stressed, I take 5 and do the dishes or some other chore I normally needed to do when getting home.

Opinion

Working from home has benefits but it also has pitfalls. Here are some of them that I personally find most important:

The benefits

  • Not having to stress during commute.

  • Having the proper time to bring my children to school instead of having to rush.

  • Having time at the end of the day for myself (the commute again).

  • Able to do some non-work-related tasks to take your mind of stuff.

The pitfalls

  • At night I find myself still working from time to time, making way longer days than agreed upon.

  • No face-to-face (in person) communication.

  • No social events during the lunch break.

  • Not cooling down during the commute home.

  • Being distracted by the kids when they are around.

Conclusion

That leaves us with some final questions.

Do we need to go back to the office? Yes!
Should we look for a more balanced schedule from where we work? Yes!

For me, I think that the most optimal schedule would be (at least) one day in the office and the others at home.

On the day(s) in the office, we should focus on collaborating physically and have our sprint related  meetings. This has a couple of benefits:

  • A dedicated schedule, this brings focus and cadence.

  • Predictability for the organization you work for. (They know where and when to find you)

  • You can look each other in the eyes during meetings.

  • The social aspect, for some team binding.

o   Team lunch

o   Lunch walks

o   Coffee machine talk

o   Whiteboard architecture collaboration (draw pretty pictures 😉)

  • No sweatpants.

All the other days can be used to work from home. Does this mean that you can just ignore each other for the other days? No, of course not!

All in all, remote work is to grow even bigger than it already was. And to find out what works for you and your team, you should at least start the discussion

Danny de Vlam

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