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Coronavirus: Managing software engineering during lockdown

  • Publish Date: Posted about 1 month ago
  • Author: Jon Armstrong

With few software engineers classed as key workers, most are forced to work remotely, often alone. Without face-to-face meetings, software engineering teams can lose morale, and some members may become more withdrawn and isolated.

While teams are under increasing pressure to deliver, team leaders and senior decision-makers need to balance the drive to do more – often on a tighter budget – with the fact that software engineers may be juggling remote work with care duties and homeschooling.

For many full-time software engineers, their workspace is a huge factor in their productivity, and most didn’t go into lockdown with a good setup at home: they had a desk or a table to sit at, but it wasn’t comfortable and nor did it have the multiple monitors most engineers prefer. This makes it particularly important to dedicate a slice of the budget to equipping home offices for software engineers.

Another challenge is that in a remote environment some software engineering workflows don’t flow, or don’t work at all. This can lead to upsets and lost productivity. It’s vital to think about how to ease the stress points and to ask team members during 1:1s if there’s anything they need to support them in remote working.

Creative use of classic lockdown tools such as Zoom and Slack can ease the mental effects of remote working, with one company setting up Slack groups for non-work chat about a range of topics from sports to pets. This allows the team to chat about work and life simultaneously, just as they would in the office.

However, Slack and video calls can’t fully replace the creative atmosphere of whiteboard sessions or watercooler conversations, making it harder for software engineers to bounce ideas, especially when working with other business areas. Smaller and more tight-knit teams have an easier time maintaining close relationships across business areas than larger teams where things can be overlooked and taken for granted.

And more than a few software engineers are missing the creature comforts of funky office environments, like soft seating breakout areas, coffee machines, pool tables, and free food. More surprisingly, some are even missing the commute and the headspace it gave them to think about their projects and catch up on social media and emails. 

Engineering teams are getting creative to keep the team spirit up. While team drinking sessions can be a bit sad on Zoom, haunted by the fact that you’re all essentially drinking alone, Zoom-based fancy dress Fridays positively explode with creativity and fun. The safety of the screen frees people from embarrassment and leads to costumes they’d never dare to wear in the office.

Speaking of embarrassment, instead of worrying about unexpected interventions from team members’ pets and dogs, embrace the free mood boost they bring and make it an opportunity for team bonding. Those moments of levity can help the team make it through these challenging times.

Ultimately, though, Zoom and other online tools can’t replace face-to-face meetings for most software engineers. One team leader has been heard to say that she’ll never take having a cup of tea with her colleagues for granted again.