Development teams in the time of Coronavirus
The way most of the world now works has shifted dramatically thanks to the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. At Great State, we are fortunate to be working in an industry that is very much compatible with working remotely.
There’s no doubt we’re missing the office and the camaraderie, but what the pandemic has demonstrated is that working from regularly is not only feasible – and there are many benefits to doing so – but there are also some unique challenges that we’ve had to solve, particularly when it comes to software development.
Software development is very much a team activity. Whether that’s a project with multiple developers working in parallel, a single developer working as part of a multi-disciplinary scrum team, or one of the many other ways we work, the common theme between them all is people working together and collaborating.
Preparation & tools
We were fortunate to find ourselves ahead of the curve when the pandemic really started to take hold – before lockdown, the company decided to send everyone home to test all our systems were able to cope with the strain of the entire business working remotely.
This meant any issues were raised and dealt with before they became urgent, and our IT team were able to deal with them swiftly. When the government formally announced the lockdown, we’d all been productively working from home for a week.
The tools we use to do our jobs are nearly all cloud based:
- Microsoft Teams
- Azure Devops / Azure
Some of our clients have stringent security requirements which mean they don’t use the above cloud-hosted tools – but that problem is easily solved by using a VPN to connect to their on-prem / private cloud equivalents.
The lesson here is to make sure your business continuity plans are up to date and as a team, you’re got tools that can be used anywhere.
Ways of working
As a development team, we’ve had to make adjustments to how we collaborate and support one another. What once might’ve been a chat in the kitchen or a wander over to a desk is now quite different.
Supported by the tools mentioned above, we use Teams channels and private messages for ad-hoc questions – hopping onto video calls if needed. We can share our screens – either via Teams or VS Live Share – and pair programming / collaboration has been working reasonably well, other than the odd interruption from cats / children / internet outages.
We’ve kept our weekly chapter meetings (front-end and back-end) going too – they are an opportunity for chapter members to talk about / demo interesting things they’ve been working on or things that they’ve learnt, and to keep the team members in the loop about any interesting happenings in the wider agency.
They’re a really important, safe space for the team to be able to discuss freely and learn from each other – having the right collaboration tools means we can still make that happen when we’re remote.
We’re also having monthly technical team meetings, where all the chapters get together (front-end, back-end, QA and IT) to share knowledge, discuss any issues, and so on – and that’s been working really well remotely too.
Finally, regular 1 to 1 catch ups with line managers have been continuing to happen as normal – and they’re even more important at the moment, with the amount of uncertainty around the world and stress & anxiety that people are feeling.
The overall lessons we’ve learnt are:
- Make sure your tools work remotely – being ahead of the game on this helped us hugely
- Make sure your business processes & ways of working scale, remotely – constantly reviewing what’s working and what isn’t in this new remote working context
- Keep in touch with people and let them know even though they’re working remotely, they’re not alone and they have support