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Sandy-Lee Edwards
Sandy-Lee Edwards

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?

  • Lack of commute: this will save hours each day, the average UK worker commutes 1 hour 38 minutes twice a day, that equates to an average of 816 hours per year, or 34 days.
  • More family/free time: with those 34 days of your year suddenly freed up, you’ll be able to spend more time doing the things you love outside of work, be it an extra snuggle with your children, learning to cook something new or even just binge watch a little more Netflix.
  • Saving money: not only will you be saving money on your commute, be it for fuel or public transport, do you know how much most of us spend on lunches? A quick meal deal, a splurge take out, a snack to make it through the day, and not even to mention the Starbucks!
  • Being creative when creativity strikes: now this one depends on the agreement you have with your company, but it allows people who are more productive at “non-standard” hours to make the most of it.
  • Less distraction: yes, I know this isn’t one you’re getting to experience now under lockdown, but when you’re not sitting in the same room(or even next room) from someone, they take a moment to decide if they really need you, which leads to far fewer distractions and the ability to just get on with what you’re doing. You can even switch off communication platforms to completely isolate and focus on the task at hand.
  • Freedom to do what you do best: for me this was the big one, suddenly, you no longer feel monitored and you are able to just do what is needed without the added stresses.

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

  • Isolation: at the end of the day, we are all human and need to interact with other humans. The loneliness, especially if you are living on your own can be debilitating.
  • Not being close to help: I know help is just a Slack message away, but, I know I for one struggle with this, I don’t want to be bugging others with my questions, I second guess my need to disturb others, which leads to me struggling on my own for a much more than is appropriate amount of time.

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.

Hero image by Allie

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