Remote Work: How COVID-19 Has Impacted Software Development

It goes without saying that we live in a new world. Flashbacks of the “old normal” are still painfully clear and fresh—it has only been a few months. No one knows exactly what the “new normal” will be. Nostalgia for pre-COVID-19 times is something all of us have experienced at one point or another. But, counterintuitively, as stressful as the times we are going through are now, we are witnessing a massive mindset shift in how software development teams can and should collaborate.

Working Remotely: A Matter of Survival

A casual conversation with many seasoned software company executives in pre-coronavirus times would have quickly revealed a healthy level of skepticism about remote work. Yes, some managers were more open to the remote model than others, but the common wisdom used to be that it is harder to control the productivity of remote teams and therefore outcomes. The other side of this coin is well known, too: the same (undoubtedly very skillful and accomplished) managers were having an extremely hard time attracting new capable talent. Over the last several years, hiring has become a massive problem in literally every single developed technology hub worldwide. In simple terms, hiring software engineers has become extremely slow and prohibitively expensive even for companies with truly global footprints and equally global budgets.

This is all widely known to everyone in the software industry and is therefore not the focus of this article. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are witnessing a dramatic attitude change toward remote work. Managers who were understandably cautious to let their software teams work remotely simply had no choice. All of a sudden, they were faced with the challenge of having to find a way to manage their projects remotely. They were forced to find a way!

Now, in July 2020, most industry experts admit that the WFH (work from home) option has worked better than they had expected. Many top-notch software companies are contemplating extending this model to the longer term. Mark Zuckerberg has recently said that he expects about 50% of his staff to be remote over the next decade.

Naturally, we are clearly seeing that the changing attitude to the WFH model is also making companies more open to working with outsourcing vendors. Some companies started experimenting with remote work years and years ago; others preferred a self-contained environment. There is no right or wrong answer here; each company is unique and what is better for one may not be better for the other. However, as every company has been forced to experiment with remote work, it has been proven that with some minor adjustments, the remote model works for every team and every company. And there simply is not much difference between managing your own employees remotely and working with a vendor. Without a doubt, most companies will want some of the mission-critical work to be performed by staffers; however, vendors may possess unique skillsets and expertise that is hard to obtain, isolate companies from HR issues and administrative overhead, and in many cases provide cost savings. Thus, the major post-pandemic challenge for software companies will be finding the right balance between office work and remote work (either from home or with an outsourcing team).

Given this situation, I thought I’d share a few pieces of real-life practical advice that have come in handy for various Auriga teams:

Maintain Team Spirit Through Frequent Communication

Some of this is very well known, but due to its extreme importance, I’ll mention it anyway. Almost every team has switched to having regular sync-up meetings via Skype, Zoom, Webex, etc. Do whatever you can to foster a team environment. Use video during calls. Encourage people to spend some time talking about their lives outside of work: it helps build bonds and team spirit (but don’t insist or overdo it). Overall, we’ve noticed that most developers who were considered high performers in the pre-WFH era continue to be high performers on both the engineering and communication fronts within the remote setup.

Embrace Working with Remote Hardware

One major obstacle we had to overcome at the beginning of the pandemic was the sustainability of our projects requiring accessing hardware. Historically, we have been heavily involved in software projects requiring physical hardware access, including many medical device projects. During our 30 years in the software services field, we have built eight engineering labs that deliver medical software development and testing projects. These labs are equipped with a range of medical devices used for R&D purposes—patient monitoring systems, dialysis systems, ventilators, and infusion pumps—and tailored to the special needs of each particular client. Letting our medical device clients and other customers down was not an option! Thus, we have recently established a VPN channel our clients use to connect to their equipment in Auriga’s labs. Inaccessible before the coronavirus crisis, our medical labs are now open to customers. Both customers’ and Auriga’s teams have access to the same infrastructure, and customer engineers can use it to perform their tests. Now, a few months into working from home, we are more convinced than ever that almost every challenge related to the need to access hardware can be solved remotely by utilizing various techniques and tools. Please see our recent article about working with remote hardware.

Use Simulation Tools

Simulation is another technique that either completely eliminates or significantly reduces the need for physical hardware access. Using various simulation platforms for simulating physical hardware (either not yet in existence or unavailable for various reasons) is something we started doing long before COVID-19. This expertise could not be handier now, in times when physical hardware access can be so tricky. Building hardware models using simulation techniques allows developers to store their personal hardware models locally. More about our world-class expertise in simulation can be found on our website.

To conclude, the rest of 2020 will continue to be challenging (understatement!) for the software development world. Undoubtedly, the companies that find ways to adapt rapidly to working remotely with both their internal teams and external software vendors will come out on top. As rough as 2020 has been, it has also served as striking proof of the “Where there is a will, there is a way” concept. Overwhelmingly, decision makers in the software industry have accepted the remote model and will continue migrating to it for the foreseeable future.