DevOps Deeper Dive: Teams Adjust to New WFH Normal

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic the level of software development activity has remained relatively constant, but developers—who, like everyone else—are now largely working from home, are putting in more hours. Organizations are now grappling with whether working remotely on software development projects now represents the “new normal.”

A report published this week by GitHub shows that while there was a slight dip in activity in various regions of the world as the pandemic spread, activity on the public GitHub repository quickly recovered. Whether developers are spending more time working on projects is difficult to conclude given all the potential distractions at home, but according to the GitHub report, the amount of time spent on the platform per developer has increased. This could be due to various factors including the fact that developers are not commuting to work or are managing multiple tasks—some of which are directly related to work—across an extended working day. Others simply may be taking more breaks between activities.

Despite working in isolation, it would appear developers are remaining productive, said Kelly Stirman, vice president of product strategy and marketing for GitHub. “More time to code increases productivity.”

Providers of other DevOps platforms have observed similar increases in activity during the pandemic. Moritz Plassnig, senior vice president and general manager for software delivery management and software delivery automation cloud at CloudBees, said many organizations have been launching custom application development projects to drive digital business transformation initiatives. Now those projects are becoming core to the organization’s business continuity strategy.

“The current situation has only accelerated that trend,” said Plassnig.

The biggest challenge in managing a highly distributed workforce is ensuring the right code is being worked on at the right time, said Fred Simon, chief data scientist of JFrog. “Everyone needs feedback.”

To provide that feedback, managers have employed collaboration tools such as Zoom and, when necessary, shifted work to DevOps platforms made available as a cloud service, added Simon.

At the same time, the level of communications tooling baked into a DevOps platform matters more than ever, said Emrah Samdan, vice president of product at Thundra, a provider of a platform for securing and observing cloud-native microservices. Developers can collaborate with each other much more effectively using asynchronous communications tools to, for example, share code.

“A lot of productivity is being lost setting up Zoom calls,” said Samdan.

The issue now is whether working on software development projects remotely represents the new normal. A recent survey of chief financial officers published by PwC finds that nearly half of the respondents (49%) plan to make remote work a permanent option for roles within their organizations that allow for it.

How employees will respond to that change will vary. According to results from a recent survey of workers conducted by GitLab, 52% of employees say they are more productive working remotely, while 48% are more efficient. Of course, those results also suggest half of employees don’t share that same level of appreciation for working from home.

It’s worth noting that many software development teams were already heading in the direction of working remotely more often prior to the pandemic, said Brendan O’Leary, senior developer evangelist at GitLab. In fact, he noted, resources such as the GitLab Remote Playbook have been downloaded more frequently over the last few months.

“I think it is a time that will see a real separation of bosses and leaders,” O’Leary said, noting leaders will go beyond simply tracking metrics to enable organizations to continue to launch innovative software development projects.

Obviously, DevOps teams that were working in a distributed fashion prior to the pandemic have a distinct advantage over those that have worked primarily in the same central location. However, given all the current uncertainties organizations now face, it’s probable every member of a DevOps team going forward is going to be working from home a lot more often.

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