How to manage remote developers: 3 key tips

Have you updated your management style for the era of remote work? As more developers work remotely, here’s how IT leaders can foster productivity and job satisfaction
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In today’s tight labor market, where employers strive to differentiate their employee experience, more technology companies are offering employees the ability to work remotely in order to retain and attract top talent.

This trend is particularly popular for developers. DigitalOcean decided to take a closer look at what is compelling today’s developers to work remotely, their experiences doing so, and how it impacts their work-life balance.

43 percent of developers cited the ability to work remotely as a must-have in a job offer.

Our report found that in just the past four years, 82 percent of developers have adopted some form of remote work — whether that means working remotely full-time, splitting time in and out of the office, or working remotely for isolated circumstances. Remote work has become so prevalent that 43 percent of developers cited the ability to work remotely as a must-have when considering a job offer. Further, 53 percent said they think less highly of a company that does not offer remote work options and see it as a sign that the organization is behind the times.

[ How can you ensure that your remote workers feel valued? Read 7 tips on how to manage and engage remote employees. ]

This shift is impacting how developers work, both as an individual and as a member of a team. As remote work becomes the new normal — and a necessary offering in today’s talent war — how can IT leaders prepare and adapt their management style to match the needs of developers?

1. Connect the community and encourage involvement

Thanks to various communication channels and the expansion of global workforces, employees working remotely have the ability to interact with coworkers more regularly. The majority of remote workers (71 percent) feel connected to their companies due to frequent communication enabled by advances in mobile technology and business collaboration software that facilitates instant messaging, video chat, and conference calls.

[ Want more meeting ideas? Read also: 9 ways to fix awful virtual meetings. ]

Managers and IT leaders should encourage connections between their employees and teams, both in and outside of the office. Successful companies work to create a culture that is inclusive and supportive of their remote employees. This includes dedicated support channels and programs, best practices such as screen-sharing and whiteboarding tools for meetings, flexible/asynchronous work, and efforts to share and disseminate information. Company-sponsored events such as local meet-ups, periodic team offsites, and conference attendance can also help create and foster stronger bonds with a remote workforce.

Proactively find and present conference opportunities to employees.

Furthermore, the developer community as a whole fosters a sense of unity. In the last 12 months, 77 percent of developers attended at least one industry event or conference. Given the strong sense of community these meet-ups convey, leaders should champion attendance at broader developer events. Proactively find and present conference/event opportunities to employees and offer monetary support to encourage attendance.

2. Implement remote work policies and programs

Despite the growing optimism around remote work, one-third of remote workers still experience issues of isolation. To address this, organizations should focus on connecting their employees and building a collaborative environment.

One area for growth is the lack of formal remote work policies. When polled, 40 percent of respondents stated that their employers did not have specific programs or policies in place to include remote workers. Additionally, 28 percent indicated that they weren’t sure if these types of policies or programs were in place. Even if companies support remote workers, many employees don’t know how to take advantage of the option.

Further, of the respondents who were aware that their company had a remote-employee program, 88 percent stated that the policy has had a positive impact. This disparity highlights an opportunity for companies to deliver more value to their remote employees.

When outlining policies, managers should consider including clear working versus non-working hours, setting protocols for how remote employees can be involved in company-wide meetings, and creating a regular schedule for remote on-the-job training.

3. Be conscious of burnout — and foster balance

For 76 percent of developers, working from home has improved their work-life balance — easing the stress of commuting and increasing flexibility around living options. However, burnout is still a concern, with 66 percent noting that they’ve felt burnt out or experienced work fatigue. Notably, this number is slightly higher than that reported by on-premise workers (64 percent).

While remote work is often seen as a solution, it cannot solve burnout on its own. It is still critical for leaders to keep a close eye on employees’ work-related stress and experience. Managers should be aware of the signs of burnout, monitor and check in with their employees, and offer employer-sponsored stress-reduction and mental health programs.

Leaders should encourage their remote workers to disconnect between certain hours to create separation between their personal and work environments. Companies may also consider offering longer paid leaves to support their employees during significant life transitions and milestones.

At the end of the day, developers are human, and managers should encourage them to pursue hobbies outside of work to alleviate work-related stress. Developers in particular cite spending time with friends and family, being physically active, playing video games, reading, and playing music as their most enjoyable stress relievers. Encouraging employees to bring their full personalities to work every day helps foster a workplace of creativity, positive engagement, and collaboration.

Time to update your management style

As the trend towards remote work continues to grow, it is a pivotal time for leaders to assess their company’s offerings and policies as well as their management styles. While the distance created by remote work calls for an assessment of workplace culture and requires efforts to unify the workforce, the payoff comes in easing employees’ stress level and increasing productivity.

[ Knowing how to attract and retain IT talent has never been more important. Read also: 6 biggest IT talent recruitment mistakes. ]

Al Sene is the VP of Engineering at DigitalOcean. Currents is DigitalOcean’s seasonal report on developer trends created to share knowledge with the developer community.