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In the office or WFH: What is better for developers?

As working from home hits the one-year mark, software engineers find no commute is good but always working alone is bad.


Image: iStock/ SeventyFour

The pros and cons of working from home are almost a draw for many software developers after a year of remote work, according to conversations with tech leaders. Even the most introverted professionals are starting to feel the need to see colleagues. The short-term challenge is avoiding burnout, while the next one will be striking the right hybrid work schedule when offices do reopen. 

Bo Lane, vice president of global engineering at Kudelski Security, said that remote work has become a double-edged sword with flexibility and autonomy on one side and isolation from colleagues and Zoom fatigue on the other. 

“Many developers find themselves struggling to strike the right work-life balance, so morale and burnout are definitely signs we look for,” he said. 

Dana L. Wyatt, senior instructor, software development at DevelopIntelligence, said she knows developers who love working remotely and some who prefer the office.

“Some have tossed the commute, spent more time with their kids, and still feel like they are strong contributors to their team,” she said. “Other developers long for a return to a workday with colleagues physically present.

Wyatt said organizations tend to fall into one of three categories when it comes to remote work: 

  1. We love it—let’s close down the offices.
  2. The world is mostly safe—come back to work.
  3. Work from home and come into the office a few days a week.

Here’s a look at the pros and cons of working remotely for software engineers as well as how remote work has influenced the hiring process. 

Benefits of working from home

Gabrielle Hendryx-Parker, CEO of Six Feet Up, said the benefits of remote work appeared once the initial stress of the transition was over. 

“Life without a commute has allowed our team to get more sleep and exercise more, and many people have set up a workstation outside when the weather permitted it, and enjoyed the health benefits that come from getting more sunlight and fresh air,” she said.

SEE: Top 5 programming languages for systems admins to learn (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Nathalie Carruthers, executive vice president and chief HR officer at Blue Yonder, said the shift to remote work has convinced skeptical executives that this arrangement can work.

“It has highlighted to leaders who might not have been open to certain positions working from home that it can be done and that productivity can be just as high, if not higher,” she said.

Disadvantages of remote work

Carruthers said one of the biggest drawbacks of WFH is longer hours.

“The normal rhythms of the work day that might have involved a commute, coffee breaks, lunch with friends, etc., became one prolonged session at the computer intermixed with video calls and online chat sessions,” she said.

Carruthers also said the impact of remote work has been disproportionately challenging for women because women still have a larger responsibility as caregivers for children, partners or parents than men do.

Medhat Galal, senior vice president of engineering at Appian, said that it’s been a challenge to build a virtual community to help team members build relationships that strengthen team performance. He said Appian has used training, community engagement, virtual coffee meet-ups, group lunch sessions, virtual board game competitions, and even talent shows to help colleagues connect with each other.

“Our role as leaders was to be open to these ideas, support them in finding new ways to build connections, and be understanding and flexible with work hours and scheduling,” he said.

Carruthers said that networking has been challenging for developers new to the profession because most in-person events were cancelled. 

“With no in-person meetings, many of these forums shut down and were slow to move online,” she said.

Advantages and disadvantages to the remote hiring process

Just like developers, hiring managers and recruiters have adapted their processes to remote work. Some leaders like the flexibility of virtual interviews while others say it makes a difficult process more challenging. 

Sachin Gupta, CEO and founder of HackerEarth, said that the company’s latest Developer Recruitment Survey found that hiring managers and recruiters see significant benefits in the remote interview process. The survey found that over 30% of recruiters have seen their talent pool increase as a result of remote hiring during COVID-19. More than 50% said that remote interviews gave them greater logistical flexibility, and over 40% say they saved significant time.

Gupta said remote interviews have also unlocked pair programming, which makes it easier for hiring managers to assess developer skills in real-time. 

“Nearly 56% of hiring managers said that a major benefit of pair programming was collaborative code editing, which allows them to simulate a collaborative working environment, giving them a much better sense of fit than a whiteboard would have in an in-person environment,” he said.

The survey found that nearly 30% of hiring managers said aligning recruiters with hiring managers in terms of the skills required for a job is the biggest pain point.

Gupta said that tackling bias is also the main hiring challenge for nearly 17% of recruiters, according to the survey. He expects this to be a priority for recruiters moving forward.

“With remote tools that can hide a candidate’s PII, recruiters are better prepared to limit the impact of unconscious bias than they would be in a purely in-person environment,” he said.

Lane of Kudelski Security said he finds it hard to determine a candidate’s fit with an existing team via video conference.

“In addition to technical acumen, it is important to ascertain how the candidates would mesh with the team’s chemistry,” he said.

Also see

This post was written by and was first posted to TechRepublic

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