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The "New Normal" in the development world — the fact that most DevOps and development personnel work from home (WFH) now — is here to stay. What started out as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic is now a way of life. Many experts agree that development teams will not be going back to the office any time soon, even if the public health concerns are abated.
While working remotely from home started out as a necessity, and also offers some advantages, it also presents challenges to development teams around the world. You could call this a revolution in the way we work, and with revolution comes upheaval. Any issues that arise must be dealt with sooner than later, if a company intends to survive the new normal.
The most important question is: How should DevOps adapt to the new normal? And that is the question DEVOPSdigest posed to the development community. In response, DevOps industry experts — from analysts and consultants to community leaders and the top vendors — offered their best recommendations for how development organizations can adapt to this new environment. These recommendations are not just talking points. Many of these tips are thoughtful, insightful, practical and hopefully ultimately helpful to you and your development organization.
This extensive list of ideas will be posted in five parts over the next five days, starting with Part 1, covering communication and collaboration.
Development teams now more than ever need to establish a low-key "notification" system, or text messaging or perhaps a special email to get help. Why? Because you can't go over to a colleague and ask "how do you ... again?" You are alone in a bedroom, study, or attic with nobody. You have Google, maybe a Wiki, and all your emails, but if you can just ask "Susan." If you email Susan, she may not see it till later. You can call her, but she may be in a meeting. Notification systems are a good alternative with a few rules, like some keywords indicating urgency, really are effective to get your colleagues attention in a timely and non-invasive manner.
CEO, Splice Machine
There are ways to cut through the probable increase in meetings: asynchronous written communication. Use tools that provide more context and not more noise. Look to the open source community for different ways to communicate asynchronously. Your attention is at an even higher premium than before, so your ability to prioritize it is even more critical.
Co-Founder and CTO, Rollbar
Communication in our landscape was key before, but in the new working environment, we should invest heavily in communication to make sure nothing gets lost in translation. Documentation, information sharing, data transfer of all sorts and knowledge management becomes extremely important in keeping the teams effective while also enabling easier on-boarding (and off-boarding) of employees.
Chief Delivery Officer, Aqua Security
The new normal for development organizations will certainly include a shift to persistently remote and more geographically distributed teams. Asynchronous communication and a bias toward self-alignment among development teams are critical and necessary capabilities in a world where businesses are increasingly dispersed. Especially for development organizations that depend so vitally on alignment and collaboration to work efficiently and produce quality output. Development teams will need to shed traditional synchronous processes (where people align at the same time) and design asynchronous versions that become built into everyday working modes and cultural norms.
Co-Founder and CEO, Slim.AI
Adopt asynchronous communication. With the flexibility of working remotely long-term, working async doesn't require two schedules to line up in order to pass along important information. Regardless of time zones, collaboration can occur seamlessly to achieve teams desired outcomes.
Co-Founder and CTO, Buildkite
KEEP TEAM UP TO DATE
In the new normal where everyone is remote, the importance of communication and keeping the whole DevOps team up to date with the state of system changes is paramount for teams who need to continue to run fast and make multiple changes per day. With it no longer possible to be in the same physical place, teams now need to prioritize written communication and adopt new methodologies to ensure every team member is effectively kept up to date with the state of changes, especially during and after emergency situations. Team members can not be expected to constantly monitor multiple chat rooms or sift through hours of chat conversations just to keep informed of changes that potentially impact their decisions and work.
CEO and Co-Founder, Chronosphere
Frequent communication is the key to optimum collaboration when working remotely and has the power to prevent teams from falling into silos.
Co-Founder and President, Arkenea
With standups and reviews moving out of offices into virtual rooms, the connective tissue of DevOps team collaboration will become more critical than ever. The companies who are gaining in relative productivity now have not wasted any time this year reaching consensus on shared configuration, change management, documentation and reporting processes, regardless of the underlying development and delivery tool chain.
Principal Analyst & CMO, Intellyx
The key to successful DevOps is greater collaboration between engineering and operations. To keep productivity up and foster this collaboration, DevOps teams need to further invest in tools that help mimic working together in the same room in order to avoid the barrier of separation that comes up in a remote work environment. This can be done through video conferencing platforms and tools like Google Docs, SharePoint, and online whiteboards.
COLLABORATION BEYOND DEVELOPMENT TEAMS
Don't look at the "new normal" or remote work being an impediment to greater collaboration
Successful, globally-distributed teams leverage collaborative platforms that allow for real-time collaboration, tracked changes, version control and governance, while also allowing for collaboration to extend beyond development teams. Today's development teams need to understand the importance of collaboration with testing teams, IT Ops, business analysts, and other non-technical teams who can offer powerful insights throughout the software delivery lifecycle. Lastly, don't look at the "new normal" or remote work being an impediment to greater collaboration; many teams were working within rigid silos even when sharing a single physical location. Instead, use your "remoteness" as another encouragement to remember the importance of staying closely aligned with the rest of your org and your shared dedication to your customers.
Software Testing Evangelist and Sr. Manager, Communications, SmartBear
RETHINK CONNECTIONS AND INTEGRATIONS
The new normal demands we rethink connection and integrations, both on a technical level and a human one. DevOps teams bring innovations to life at a company. This has only become more true as businesses pivot quickly during the pandemic. It's key DevOps has the tools and resources at their disposal to continue creating and integrating quickly. It boils down to improved communications and leveraging time saving tools like low code. New ideas can emerge when we're connected. Then we can solve more problems and teams can prevail regardless of the situation.
Head of Product, Boomi, a Dell Technologies business
BUILD REMOTE TEAM CULTURE
The challenges facing many DevOps teams working remotely include maintaining well-being and staying engaged. It's important to increase communication and find creative ways to bring remote employees together. While the crisis has changed our work culture — no more in-office movies or picnics — initiatives such as employee care packages, peer recognition awards and introducing pets on Zoom calls can help bring development teams closer together even while working at home.
It's important that you bring the team together and lead by example so they don't feel isolated. You've got to provide the opportunities to let off steam, laugh and celebrate together. There are some creative ways to do this include:
- BYOB on Friday afternoons, hosted online. NOTE: This is totally social and the only ground rule is: no work discussions.
- Office hours — a regular time where the team can jump on an online call together and either work together or be social, if they want to talk with colleagues or just hang out while they work.
- Coffee breaks — also a time to gather together; should be totally social.
SVP and GM in Product, CloudBees
Engineers, like any other department, rely on culture as the glue that holds them together
Maintaining a commitment to and culture of innovation is one of the biggest challenges of remote work – innovation happens when people meet and interact in the office kitchen or over lunch. We're missing the proverbial water cooler, and the spontaneity that comes with human interaction. As important as any technical know-how is the human behind the work, and DevOps teams need to recreate these serendipitous moments, through ad hoc brainstorms with no fixed agenda or virtual lunches. Bottom line: engineers, like any other department, rely on culture as the glue that holds them together, and more work than ever needs to be done to maintain that culture remotely.
CEO and Co-Founder, Incorta
MORE PRODUCTIVE ONLINE MEETINGS
Focusing on these few things can have a lasting impact: Turn on your video! Facial expressions are important to delivering your message, as well as understanding how your message is being received. Allow 5 minutes at the beginning of your meetings to allow people to catch up. Be prepared so you don't have to interrupt these critical times. Be prepared! Have an agenda and move through the meeting quickly. Extra time at the end of the meeting is valuable.
The most important skill for a leader during these times is empathy. You have to be outcome-focused and let the employee find his or her groove as to how to achieve the goals. You are there to gently guide, be supportive, provide the tools required to do the job. As a leader, you have to step back, let your teams find their way and groove.
SVP and GM in Product, CloudBees
Talk to the people at the bottom of the chain to understand what their pain points are as they work remotely. People will often just suffer with something that the business or organization could easily change, if it knew about it.
DevOps Advocate, Redgate
For DevOps teams, I would recommend investing in empathy and encouraging open conversation. Everyone is different, and working from home — much like the office — brings distractions and challenges. There may not be someone stopping by your workspace asking a question or demanding resolution, so more needs to be done to present ideas and invite conversation around them. If you have an idea, don't be afraid to champion for and implement it. In the new normal, innovation is occurring all around us, and it's critical to retain communication, pushback and thoughtful questioning in a remote environment.
Developer Advocate, Harness
Successful companies will provide a framework of respect for the home situations of their employees and the resources to support them in a remote culture.
THE HUMAN TOUCH
Working on a DevOps team requires new rules for familiar routines: daily stand-up meetings, pair programming, biweekly sprints, and even morning coffee chats that are held remotely, should be done in a way that keeps the "human touch." Having everyone turn on their cameras during conference calls so they can see each other is actually important. A platform for morning coffee meet-and-greet is great to allow everyone to drop into the "coffee room" and chat with each other about whatever is going on in their daily lives. Informal notification channels alongside official "working" ones encourage team spirit through spontaneous chat.
FOCUS ON EMPLOYEE EXPERIENCE
If you are a tech company, it's time to do a thorough assessment about how your organization can best work well with a remote workforce, and to be very honest with your employees about how you will support them. Repeatedly take feedback about how your organizational culture is doing and take actions to improve your employees' experience. This is not only good for your employees, but as remote working increases competition for tech workers, it is also the right thing to do for your business.
DevOps Advocate, Redgate