Whether or not you have worked remotely before, you’ve likely never had to share your “home office” with your partner and two children.
Before quarantine, a study showed that engineers preferred working from home and felt more productive than they were in the office. However, over a month into quarantine, many software developers sharing small spaces are starting to look back at those late nights in the office longingly.
By adopting some realistic tips along with help from supportive employers, developers can regain some focus, return a little bit closer to peak productivity, and achieve a state of mental wellness.
My team at Coderbyte surveyed 150+ software developers to better understand how they were coping with social distancing. The results illustrate how many software developers have more time to code and even work on side projects, but many are also struggling to maintain focus and productivity.
We also interviewed a senior software engineer, Geoff Chin, with a wife and two children under the age of four to understand what it really looks like to shelter in place with two full time working parents.
We captured his reactions to the adrenaline-fueled optimism of tips and tricks from other experts below, and then provide recommendations for employers:
How realistic is it for developers coping with distractions to...
Set a schedule?
Sounds reasonable enough, right? Work is scheduled, school is scheduled, why not quarantine too? Here’s what we learned:
“The first week we were excited to be together. We had every hour blocked off with time for Legos, lunch, outdoors time, arts and crafts just waiting for the department of education to start online classes.
After the first week our schedules quickly broke down. The kids were bored easily, our work schedules didn’t align with the kids’ schedules. And then class started. You think Zoom meetings are bad with adults? They are way worse with kids.”
Since rigid schedules are out of the question, maintain a flexible mindset and split up the day so that one parent is fully available at all times.
Signal to kids when you cannot be interrupted, by using physical separation?
As many articles noted, when space is limited this can be difficult. However, even within a 500 square foot apartment, this family has found “tag-teaming” childcare as the best way to make it work.
“We thought we could work and watch the kids at the same time — not a chance. We invested in proper furniture to set up workspaces at home so my wife and I can tag-team watching the kids.”
Stockpile activities that don’t require adult supervision?
“All activities need a certain amount of adult supervision when your kids are under four.
I talked to my employer and let them know early on that my kids are going to be in meetings. I said, ‘I’ll do my best to mute when I can, but I need to be physically with them during the day.’”
Take time for yourself?
“That’s a hard question,” he said, when asked about carving out time for himself. Geoff said he started trying some “meditation and yoga stuff” in the morning, but that is quickly interrupted by the kids running around.
“Time alone is very difficult right now.”
During Covid-19, supportive leaders can...
Now that you have insight into what it’s like to be a software engineer trying to cope with distractions, how can you show up for your employees knowing the stresses they deal with at home?
Reach out to your people and check up on them.
You might not know if your employee is having a rough time and it can be difficult to reach out, especially right now.
Demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence. By being proactive you show that you are available to support them. Be the one to ask “How are you, really?”
Allow periods of focused, uninterrupted time for your team to work
Clearly communicate the expectations for the week and encourage time for focused work. Lead by example and block off hours in your schedule for “heads down work,” encouraging your team to do the same.
Paul Graham refers to this working style as the “Maker’s Schedule.” Unlike business stakeholders, developers are far more productive when they limit the amount of context switching throughout the day. Instead of scheduling meetings throughout the day, block off several hours to accomplish work, uninterrupted.
Remote workers are 20% more likely to say they complete all their daily tasks every or most days.
Continue to develop your company culture, remotely
All of the fun happy hours, sports leagues, and clubs you used to offer in person? Find a way to keep them alive online.
This could mean offering a stipend for takeout where everyone can eat lunch together, or a virtual happy hour with a game.
Oftentimes this is the only connection your employees have with their peers beyond meetings. Create opportunities to keep your team’s spirits high.
Give permission to go offline
This might sound obvious, but with increased workloads and high stress working environments, it is difficult for employees to know when to shut off. Give permission for nights and weekends off and encourage time offline.
People who work from home are 17% more likely to leave work “feeling accomplished about what they set out to do”.
As with everything, there are pros and cons to remote working. While adjusting and re-adjusting to a work from home culture, it is important to understand the impact of quarantine and living through a global pandemic.
Unfortunately no amount of guides and resources is going to be able to help your household adjust quite like trial and error. The good news is that you are not alone.
Continue to try different tricks and tips as the situation evolves and keep the lines of communication open with your manager so you can get the support you need. If you suddenly find yourself with more time, consider practicing your coding skills to level up.
If you are an employer, do not be shy to reach out and check in with your team. They need a steady hand and guidance now more than ever.
Make sure to check our guide to remote software development during Covid-19, bookmark our continuously updated article with software development data, and keep testing out different ways to keep building culture and connection to prioritize the mental and physical health of your company.