Is remote working the future of development?

Sandy-Lee Edwards
Sandy-Lee Edwards
Developer 13 May 20209 minutes read

Has the world of technology evolved enough to allow a more permanent move to remote working for developers? Sandy-Lee Edwards, one of our Cape Town developers, takes a look at the advantages of remote working and whether its a viable option.

Working from home

When I started out in my development career as an excited 19-year-old, with eyes full of wonder for the world of technology some 15 years ago, I never imagined the world would be as it is today.  Sitting down at my first official job to a clunky old desktop that slowly and painfully churned with what little was installed on it.  The concept of working from home was unheard of, unless of course you were management.  Hard work meant a person in a chair, very strict working hours and as few as possible breaks because you would not want to incur the wrath of your manager.

Oh, how times have changed!

With the massive advances in technology and the vast array of productivity apps having been made available, working from home is now no longer a pipe dream, but a very possible reality, as many have figured out with the onset of COVID-19. 

The State of Remote working 2020, undertaken by Buffer and AngelList, surveyed over 3,500 remote workers and found that 98% of them would want to continue remote working in some form for the rest of their careers and 97% of them would recommend it.

What makes remote working so appealing?

But with every good thing, there are the negatives like:

In development particularly, we are an industry that should be pushing the limits to test out the abilities of working in different environments.  There have been instances in the past where we were able to detect a potential complication in our applications simply by suddenly needing to work on the project from a different network, or even a different country.  Allowing us to deliver a better product to our client and their users.

The days of a developer storing a copy of the code on their laptop has long since died with the various version management software like Git and Microsoft DevOps, and physical Kanban(or the likes) boards, have hopefully died and been replaced by online versions.  I say hopefully as by running physical boards not only limits remote capabilities, but it also leads to a lack of visibility for any invested party. 

At one of my previous company’s, we ran a physical board, which meant, if a client wanted to know if the bug they had reported was being looked at, the support agent had to walk over to our office and either look on our board(which was scary and not easy to read unless you were used to it), or find the right person to ask.  Where at Etch, at any point, any person in the company is able to check where development is with all our tasks, and easily track down who is the responsible developer if further information is required.

Standups, I’ve found are also a whole lot less awkward remotely than in person.  I’ve always found standing around in a circle while 1 person speaks at a time just feels awkward, and you can read that awkwardness in everyone’s body language too.  Remote standups allow you to assume a more comfortable position and mostly be less of a distraction if you were to fidget as people tend to.  Standups are also a way to minimize the loneliness, using it as a time to both check in on one another, and have a little lighthearted banter, or as we do, DIY discussion, to break up the day will come as a welcome distraction.

A great addition to the development world has definitely been CI/CD set ups.  Especially when you have a less than stellar internet connection, ensuring that as much of the process in transferring code from a developers computer to the live server, and all the steps between, is done in a solid environment with a stable connection.  It will prevent the frustrations and roll backs spanning from corrupted files or incomplete deploys.

For every step of the development life cycle, there are better ways to do it remotely, even when it comes to demo’s, retro’s and planning sessions, as discovered by our Senior Delivery Manager, Tristan White.  He wrote an article on what it was like the first time he was forced into doing these fully remotely and shares some valuable advice and tools on how to get it done.

One of the biggest advantages of going remote with your development team though, is the opening up of the talent pool.  Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if your company is based in London, but the perfect candidate with just the right skillset is based in a rural village in Portugal.  The possibilities become endless and are really only limited by budget.

And speaking of budget, going remote is a massive cost saver for the company as you no longer will be footing the bill for all the consumables used by an in office worker and large corporate offices, but instead the ability of having a smaller collaboration space as well as allowances available to fund these “home offices”, because we all know it takes a whole lot of coffee to churn out good code!  That frees up finances to be used in other more interesting ways, whether to put that in the pocket of your staff, making them happier, or putting it toward yearly get togethers.  The possibilities are endless.

The secret to a successful remote development team is to hire people you trust and trust the people you hire, and to measure productivity by work completed and not people in seats and hours worked.  Your processes may need tweaking along the way to fit your team, but it will be well worth it in the end when you have a happy, well rested, less stressed development team outputting only their finest code.  It’s not a straightforward easy route, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

To be completely honest, I was always afraid of remote working, but that was due to years of habit forming, thinking that you couldn't possibly be productive at home or out of sight of your manager.  Till I had a nasty run in with my mental health, and by chance found Etch, who allowed me to work remotely when I needed it.  It changes you, it changes the way you look at work and the world around you.  It’s given me more time with my kids and challenged me to find new solutions to old problems.  I'm glad so many people are being forced to experience this now.  The world is changing and I'm so excited to see what happens when we adapt!

If you’d like to keep up with our thoughts and insight during this time make sure to check out the weekly Business Briefing from Etch's own Harri Nicholson.

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