Remote working is a trend that has been rising in popularity across almost every industry. Even before the events of 2020 left many people without a choice but to work from home, digital nomadism and flexible working were proving increasingly popular as candidates sought new ways of working that gave them more freedom over how they spent their time.
Whilst many people have transitioned back to at least partly working in the office once again, many companies have decided to go fully remote for the foreseeable future. Now that candidates have got a taste of what it is like to work remotely and have more control over their daily schedules, many employers are finding that they need to offer remote or hybrid working options to stay competitive in the job market and keep attracting top talent.
Software development is a role that tends to involve a lot of independent work, which is why many developers are making the move to remote working for at least part of their schedule. It’s a setup with as many challenges as there are benefits, which has led to many people wondering whether software development suits remote working.
If you’re an employer who hires software developers, you may be wondering whether this way of working is sustainable, or whether it may ultimately impact the work your company produces. If you’re a developer, you might be considering whether you can make the move to remote work full-time, or whether there are still rewards to working in an office environment.
This article answers the question as to whether remote working is suitable for software development, and offers advice for both employees and employers as to how to make the best of the situation.
Can Software Developers Work Remotely?
The short answer to this question is yes.
The long answer is also yes, but only as long as the right systems, processes and equipment are in place to allow for the best possible working conditions.
A large part of the role of a software developer involves designing, writing and testing code, which are all tasks that can be done in a remote working environment. It might take longer to get help or advice when a problem arises, but there’s nothing intrinsic in the role that means it has to be done in a traditional workplace environment.
In fact, a high proportion of software developers are freelancers and spend 100% of their time working outside of an office environment, with no detriment to the quality of their work.
However, there are plenty of instances where software development is done by a team of programmers and engineers, which is where remote working starts to present a problem.
Whilst there is a huge variety of software now available to make virtual collaboration as easy as possible, having some members of a group in a remote location when it comes to brainstorming, collaborative working or team briefing can make things difficult. It can also take longer to identify problems and easily overcome setbacks if team members aren’t able to simply look over each other’s shoulders and point out what needs to be fixed or changed.
If developers are used to working with a team who are always with them in person, remote working can disrupt the usual software development process. This isn’t an unfixable problem however, just one that requires forward planning.
As mentioned above, remote working is very suitable for software development as long as appropriate measures are put in place to make this kind of work as easy as possible. Once developers have all the equipment and software they need, simple methods of contacting other team members, and a clear way of working collaboratively whilst remote, their work will continue without any interruption.
Benefits of Remote Work
There are a range of benefits to remote working that can have a positive impact on the work done by software developers, and which are definitely worth considering if you’re wondering about making the change.
The first is that many people find that remote working actually makes them more productive. Without the distractions of the office and a tiring commute at the start of each day, remote workers are more focused and therefore more productive, getting more work done more efficiently.
The second is that remote working often leads to having more control over your schedule, which means you can tailor your day to when you have the most energy. This also leads to more productive working, as well as reducing cases of burnout amongst employees struggling to get everything done between a set number of hours.
The freedom given to remote workers means that they tend to have a better work-life balance, as they have more time to pursue hobbies outside of work and can be more flexible when they do this. Employees who are happier in their personal lives will be happier when they come to work as well, and this, in turn, will lead to a higher quality of work.
From an employer’s perspective, offering the option for remote work means that you can massively widen the pool of candidates you recruit from. It may be that there are plenty of talented developers out there who don’t live a commutable distance from your office, so giving them the option to work remotely means that you can hire a more skilled workforce that can really boost your business.
Remote working is also often a more accessible option for developers who have additional needs, which will help to make your workplace a more disability-friendly environment and again, widen the pool of potential candidates you recruit from.
Challenges of Remote Work
Whilst there are benefits of remote working for both employers and the developers they hire, there are also several key challenges that have to be considered before making the change.
The first is that many teams find it a lot harder to collaborate when they are working remotely. This can make it harder to come up with new ideas and decide on the next steps in a software development project, slowing down progress and impacting innovation.
Communication is also harder when workers are remote, which can lead to issues if team members misunderstand each other and certain tasks get forgotten about or incorrectly completed. This can be tackled with increased virtual meetings and clear plans of action, but these extra steps can eat into time that would be otherwise spent working.
Leading on from that point, general communication happens less organically when team members are working remotely and cannot just speak to one another as they work. Again, this can be tackled by using software like Slack, but it can make relationships between team members more difficult to form and add a barrier to collaborative work.
Employees who work remotely may have more control over their schedule, but the lack of interaction with other people every day can have a negative effect on mental health. Loneliness or isolation can stem from remote working, and remote workers must have their social needs met elsewhere if they want this style of working to be successful.
When you’re not going into an office to work and then leaving at a designated time, it can be harder to stick to strict working hours and switch off when you finish work. This can lead to burnout in some employees, or increase stress levels outside of work because it is hard to stop thinking about what you need to do when you sit back down at your desk.
Finally, some people simply don’t enjoy remote working and are used to commuting to an office every day. If a software development role is advertised as entirely remote, this may deter certain kinds of candidates from applying, which could mean that employers miss out on opportunities to work with talented developers.
Advice for Employers
If you’re an employer whose workforce or team of software developers have moved to remote working, the best thing you can do is ensure that you have everything you need to make this transition as smooth as possible. Invest in software and platforms that make remote collaboration and communication easier, and establish a clear system for working so that everyone knows how they are going to keep each other updated on progress and what to do if they need help.
It’s also important to be flexible with remote working, especially if it is new to your team. Be prepared to regularly assess the way you are working, identify what is going wrong, and make changes to your systems to better suit everyone involved.
When you give your employees the option to work remotely you may also give them flexible working hours, meaning that the team can do their work when it suits them. It’s important to designate key office hours within this so that everyone knows when they can contact one another, and also to develop a system that will notify others when someone is away from their desk.
Hybrid working is another option for employers who want to give their developers the option to work remotely but don’t want to make the shift entirely. This can work in a variety of ways; you might bring the team into the office once or twice a week or moment, you might have some fully remote members and some who come into the office each day, or you might use a flexible office space to hold occasional meetings and give employees the option to work in a professional environment if they want. Hybrid working looks different for everyone, and it’s with doing your research into how others in the industry are making it work.
Advice for Developers
If you’re a developer who works remotely or partly remotely, the most important thing you should do is develop a schedule for yourself. When you work from home it can be easy to blur the boundaries between work and your personal life, but you’ll enjoy both a lot more if you can draw a clear line between when you’re working and when you’re not, and then stick to it.
If possible, have your workspace in a separate room of the house from where you sleep and spend your free time. This will make it easier to get into a working headspace at the start of the day, and easier to switch off and put work behind you when you finish.
Communication with other team members is hard when you work remotely, so make sure that you have clear systems in place and platforms that you can use to contact other developers and task or line managers. Asking for help can be more daunting when you have to do it over a message or video call, but it’s really important to get into the habit of reaching out so you don’t get stuck or isolated whilst working.
If you find the transition to remote working difficult, it can be worth considering working remotely only some of the time. This still gives you more freedom over your working hours but allows you the best of both worlds when it comes to working independently and collaboratively.
Finally, enjoy having the freedom to make your working day suit you. Identify the hours when you are most productive and try to schedule your most important tasks for then, and also give yourself a break when you feel sluggish and come back to your work when you have more energy.
Going remote can be a fantastic option for software developers who want to give themselves more time for focused and deep working. It’s also a great way for employers to hire a more diverse range of developers and give their employees more freedom to find their most productive and efficient ways of working.
If you’re looking for help hiring remote software developers, or you’re a software developer seeking an employer who offers flexible working options, get in touch and find out about how our recruiters can help.