4 realities IT leaders should know about remote developers now

What do your developers really need to make progress on digital transformation goals? When they hit limits with laptops, containerized development environments and in-browser IDEs can help.
204 readers like this.

The pandemic brought a lot of change in the way teams interact with each other. Along with many workers being forced into home office setups came new challenges – with communication, remote workstation access, and cybersecurity (now of heightened importance). Hopefully, by now your organization has figured out a way to support remote work. But this isn’t temporary; a more distributed and remote-capable workforce is where things are headed.

As IT leaders think about remote and hybrid models of work for teams, and adopt tools for virtual meetings and file sharing, it’s vital to consider the individual needs of a valuable team role - the developer. Here are a four factors to consider:

1. Remote developers need to collaborate in unique ways

Video calls, screen sharing, and shared drives won’t be enough.

It’s obvious and still worth stating: Collaboration is most effective when the tools you use are tailored for your collaboration job. For example, you’re likely familiar with project management tools like Jira and Trello. Those are great tools for requirements and task collaboration.

For developers, design and code are the primary work output. Most teams are already using some source control tools (GitHub and GitLab are two popular choices) and that is a great start on code collaboration. However, now that folks are remote, we should all ask “is this enough?”

While devs are iterating on features and fixing bugs how do they effectively collaborate? Video calls, screen sharing, and shared drives won’t be enough. A true collaborative coding experience should also allow for things like virtual whiteboards, shared IDEs, task automation, and ensured consistency across developers’ environments.

2. Remote developers need access to shared resources for building and testing software

When I talk with developers, a common complaint is “my laptop isn’t powerful enough.” Maybe that’s OK when they also have a workstation at the office or access to a VM in a datacenter; but at home, they don’t. Things don’t behave the same way at home as in the office. Being remote means a slower connection back to hardware at the office and new security requirements to protect sensitive data.

There are a growing number of options for this and even cloud-native, hybrid-capable choices.

In those cases having developer IDEs that can run with the power of the datacenter (or cloud) and within approved security boundaries will help remove otherwise frustrating developer experiences. There are a growing number of options for this and even cloud-native, hybrid-capable choices.

What does this look like in action? As I recently wrote on the Red Hat Developer blog: You “can serve up workspaces through an in-browser IDE like CodeReady Workspaces. Centralizing workspace management to an underlying platform like Red Hat’s OpenShift results in workspaces that are powerful and tool-ready enough that all you need on your laptop is a modern browser. This strategy offers better performance over virtual machines because the connection is powered by a web socket, which has lower bandwidth requirements than a remote desktop client. It’s also snappier in that the containers’ shared kernel enables faster start times than virtual machines.”

[ Want to learn more about the in-browser IDE option? Try it out using the Developer Sandbox for Red Hat OpenShift, a free shared OpenShift cluster with CodeReady Workspaces pre-configured. ]

3. Create a culture that’s honest about daily interruptions

Daily individual performance is going to have ups and downs. This was true in the office, but being at home brings new distractions. Let this be something that’s OK: Setting realistic expectations leads to better individual engagement.

Many managers still think performance is showing up early and leaving late. Instead, track results, track accomplishments, and celebrate them. Make the flow of work visible versus measuring an individual’s daily hours spent working.

A good culture can lead to better productivity, bad culture can lead to burnout and other issues. Every organization has a unique culture but belonging and inclusion should be a common culture goal. It’s an important factor in increasing both individual and team performance. Creating a collaborative remote culture starting with openness and trust can be a powerful change that organizations can implement right now.

4. DevOps practices can bring teams together

DevOps is probably already in use or in the plans if you are undergoing a digital transformation. Getting development teams and operations teams to communicate frequently, automate their activities, and create feedback loops is even more important now to mitigate the potentially negative aspects of remote work.

One key part of making meaningful improvements is measuring organizational performance. Note that measuring classic software metrics can actually pit teams against each other and lead focusing on the wrong things.

Alternatively, experts recommend measuring software delivery performance and operational reliability. Bring the whole team together and agree upon dashboards that provide visual indicators of performance that are actionable. These dashboards could include things like system stoplights, customer feedback, open bugs, DevOps flow, and even OKRs.

Finding a new remote normal for developers

It’s widely expected that working remotely will become the new normal for at least some of the work week (almost no one wants that everyday commute again). And coincidentally, many organizations and government agencies are currently undergoing digital transformation and modernization efforts. Now is the time to consider changes that can be made today that will trace a path and shape how best to operate in the future.

In summary, as you evolve into more remote capable operating models, it’s important for leaders to think about the unique needs of all the different roles in their teams, including developers. Ask people what kind of challenges they are having: Their responses will be essential for leaders who want to get it right.

[ Want more detail on tooling options for remote developer teams? Read the related blog: Tools and practices for remote development teams. ]

Jason Dudash
Jason Dudash is a Chief Architect at Red Hat, where he helps organizations understand and strategize around open source emerging technology. In this role, his current focus is on digital modernization, microservices, and cloud-native applications. Prior to joining Red Hat, he was a lead for R&D and innovation efforts at Raytheon and was a Chief Engineer.