COVID-19, lockdown is a time for reflection

By Anujah Bosman, CEO of Chillisoft

Johannesburg, 06 Apr 2020
Read time 5min 00sec
Anujah Bosman, CEO of Chillisoft
Anujah Bosman, CEO of Chillisoft

These are challenging times for all of us, individuals, families, business and society. The start of the lockdown was marked by surges of adrenaline, healthy doses of South African humour and a mad scramble to get people offsite and working remotely. Now that lockdown is under way, we are settling in or have settled into a cadence of working remotely. We are beginning to notice ourselves noticing. In the next coming weeks, more complex people issues, which are often overlooked in the daily grind of software delivery, will begin to surface. The intention of this article is to facilitate a deeper reflection on software productivity processes.

Timesheets, video surveillance, clocking-in systems and trust

Why do we still have timesheets as a billing tool? The reality is that most customers and managers are not equipped to check the veracity of a timesheet entry. Now that software developers are working remotely, how are managers ensuring that they are working? Business Insider reported that in the US, managers are using videoconferencing that constantly takes photos of employees, https://www.businessinsider.co.za/work-from-home-sneek-webcam-picture-5-minutes-monitor-video-2020-3. Is this level of mistrust of employees justifiable or is it an issue of management control? If it is an issue of management control, where does it stem from? Do we really believe that software developers are unaware that their performance is even more critical in the current economic climate and looming recession?

Focus and productivity

Software development requires deep focused thinking. Is your team trained to focus their attention? Is your team aware of the impact of context switching? How do you enable your team so that they are able to structure their days to obtain chunks of time to focus deeply? Do you have routine structures and systems in place to prevent procrastination? How do you arrange your days to collaborate and share ideas without impacting deep focused thinking? Is your team aware of mood management and how it impacts their perspectives and productivity? Is your team aware of the impact of social media, exercise, healthy eating and routine on mood management? While software developers hate filling in timesheets, they are intrigued by metrics that allows them to tweak their performance. Software developers who are struggling with finding and developing a working routine will benefit from journalling their day. A typical journal entry may track aspects such as the time of day, mood, energy levels, type of work that they are doing and their concentration levels. These records will enable them to structure their days better and will also assist in being more self-aware of their mental state.

Team structure

Ruth Malan in the book: “Team Topologies” stated: “If the architecture of the system and the architecture of the organisation are at odds, the architecture of the organisation wins.” I have found this to be true in my interactions with various companies. So even if we now have technology that fosters collaboration and sharing, it is worthwhile understanding how your organisation is structured because people are socialised to behave and communicate in a specific way in an organisation. This socialisation will impact how information is shared and disseminated, even if you are using the latest collaboration and teaming tools.

Communication factors

During this time, there is a high level of residual anxiety, loss of control, fear and uncertainty. We need to be cognisant of these factors because this is the pervasive mood, through which messages are received. Just communicating frequently and over communicating are not enough.

Working from home is not the same as remote working

Software development is immersive, where developers lose track of time and their surroundings. Working remotely now is actually working at home with your family present and the stresses of the two are not the same.

Working at home is challenging to developers who have to juggle work with taking care of kids and family. This is a fact and if this is our new normal then its best that managers understand the impact and cater for it. Working from home is synonymous with a lot of context switching, prioritisation and suppression of constant distractions, which is exhausting. It is not conducive to the deep focus that is required for abstract and complex tasks. Software developers will seek quiet hours when they can focus. Usually this will be late at night or in the early hours of the morning. It is important to consider this when scheduling and chunking meetings. It is also important to consider this in the project life cycle because these hours (which are rarely reflected on a timesheet) are unsustainable. A software developer needs to be careful of building habits that are unsustainable. It is even more critical now that software developers diligently schedule in recuperation time.

A crisis causes individuals to reflect inwards, pausing to understand their priorities. This is also a time for organisations to reflect on processes and priorities. It is essential that we understand that the way we lead and manage software developers now will impact loyalties and will determine if individuals stay once all of this blows over.

Chillisoft has been successfully building and managing software development teams since 2005. Please contact Chillisoft (info@chillisoft.co.za) if you require seasoned professional software development teams to help your business during this crisis.

Editorial contacts