Recently, the CEO of a mid-sized, US-based company approached me to do a deep-dive analysis of his India-based software development team. He was afraid that he was not getting the team’s full potential in managing his IT work, which included developing applications and managing the ERP system. He had a team of 30–40 people in Delhi, India. In short, he felt that his team was not fully productive. It was an exciting project for me, and after a few weeks of assessment of his team in India, I found that the CEO’s fear of loss of productivity was genuine. During the evaluation, I found that 80% of the team wanted a hybrid work environment, and some developers were moonlighting—doing multiple projects with multiple companies. Moonlighting becomes easier if developers work from home. The leader in India could not address these issues directly with the developers, as he was scared that if they left, he would have to spend weeks or even months to get the right skilled people. The shortage of good developers created this hostage situation for small to mid-sized companies, and no one wanted to address productivity concerns. It’s a new elephant in the room that no CEO wants to address.
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of hybrid work environments, as many organizations adopted remote work to ensure the safety and continuity of their operations. For software developers, working remotely or in a hybrid mode can offer benefits such as reduced commute time, increased autonomy, and a better work-life balance. However, it can also lead to communication challenges, collaboration issues, isolation, distraction, and encouraging moonlighting.
Microsoft conducted a six-month case study analyzing data from over 60,000 Microsoft US employees. The findings showed that while short-term productivity may increase with remote work, long-term productivity will likely decrease. Studies show that while a hybrid work model has benefits, its long-term effects on productivity may still be largely adverse.
Despite an evident loss of productivity, most managers want to refrain from discussing this issue openly, fearing they may come off as supportive of the traditional work-from-office model, which has become a rather unpopular choice, especially among the younger workforce. Nonetheless, it’s a matter that needs to be addressed upfront.
Understanding the Productivity Factors
Various factors, such as communication, collaboration, motivation, feedback, tools, processes, etc., influence software developer productivity. These factors can vary in a hybrid work environment compared to a traditional office setting. For example, communication can be more challenging in a hybrid work environment, as developers may use different channels and tools to communicate with their colleagues and clients. Collaboration can also be affected by the lack of face-to-face interaction and the need for coordination across different time zones and locations. Motivation can be influenced by the degree of autonomy, recognition, and support that developers receive from their managers and peers.
The feedback process is also affected. It becomes less frequent in a hybrid work environment, as developers may have fewer opportunities to showcase their work and receive constructive feedback. Meanwhile, the efficiency of collaboration tools like Slack, Asana, Trello, Yammer, and Jira also plays a crucial role in maintaining productivity, as developers must have clear and consistent guidelines and feedback to ensure quality and efficiency.
Debunking Productivity Myths
Several misconceptions about developer productivity in a hybrid environment can be misleading for developers and managers—the most popular one is that developers are more productive when they work from home. This myth assumes that working from home eliminates distractions and interruptions and gives developers greater flexibility and control over their work. However, working from home can also introduce new challenges, such as a lack of interaction with the team, challenges in setting boundaries between work and personal life, and reduced access to resources and support. Moreover, not all developers prefer working from home; some may find it isolating, stressful, or demotivating. Therefore, productivity may vary depending on each developer’s preferences and circumstances and the quality of their remote work environment.
The second popular misconception is that productivity can be measured by hours worked or lines of code written. This relies on simple and quantifiable metrics needed to capture the complexity and quality of the software development process. These metrics do not reflect the value or impact of the software developed, nor the creativity or problem-solving skills involved. Moreover, these metrics can be easily manipulated. Productivity should be measured by more meaningful and multidimensional indicators, such as customer satisfaction, business outcomes, code quality, developer satisfaction, etc.
The third misconception is that productivity is the same for all developers, regardless of their preferences or circumstances. This myth ignores the diversity and heterogeneity of software developers, who come with different skills, experiences, traits, and motivations. Productivity can be influenced by factors specific to each developer, like working and learning styles, communication skills, feedback preferences, career goals, etc. Besides, productivity can also be affected by external factors beyond developers’ control, such as market conditions, customer demands, organizational changes, etc. Productivity should be understood and evaluated in context, considering the individual and situational factors that shape developer performance.
Improving Developer Productivity
Leadership teams/managers need to look at productivity from a fresh perspective. It’s time they broke their silence and addressed the elephant in the room. Productivity in a hybrid setting is different from that in a physical environment. Companies will have to incorporate some best practices to address the challenges and opportunities of this new mode of work. To ensure that, they must:
- Set clear, realistic expectations: Developers need to know what they are expected to deliver, when, and how their work will be evaluated. Managers must communicate the project goals and expectations clearly and frequently and align them with the business objectives and customer needs. These goals should be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances and feedback.
- Provide regular feedback: Developers need to receive feedback on their work, both positive and negative, to improve their performance. Managers must provide timely feedback regularly using various channels and tools, like video conferencing, messaging, collaboration software, etc. They must also take developers’ input on challenges, needs, and suggestions about the work.
- Foster a culture of trust and autonomy: Developers must feel empowered to do their work effectively. Managers should avoid micromanagement and instead focus on the outcomes and value of their work. Managers should encourage developers to take ownership of their work, make decisions, and develop innovative solutions.
- Leverage communication and collaboration tools: Collaboration with colleagues and clients is essential for developers to deliver with precision. Companies must ensure their developers have reliable and secure software and hardware to support their tasks. They must select the best tools and platforms that suit the developers’ evolving project needs.
- Ensure flexibility: Managers should offer developers flexibility in choosing where and when they work if they meet the goals and expectations. Managers should also support developers in creating a comfortable and productive work environment at home or elsewhere.
Ensuring productivity in a hybrid model requires careful and deliberate planning that can address the challenges and leverage the opportunities of this new mode of work. Managers and organizations can ensure software developer productivity and satisfaction in a hybrid work environment by taking a fresh approach to productivity and following best practices.