Software development in the home office can be particularly stressful. How startups and companies protect the mental health of their programmers can be read here. […]
At best, software development is a creative matter. In order to be able to perform high-quality work, developers need a certain level of comfort. Experience has shown that boring tasks, noisy offices and too many meetings affect productivity. Although it is discussed far too rarely, health is fundamental in this context. This is not only about physical well-being, but also about the mental state. Developers need their minds – and this in the clearest possible state in order to be able to do their work. For example, it means that programmers can already read the mental state of their colleagues from the code of the respective person before these problems have even communicated to the outside world.
Communication is therefore the be-all and end-all. However, the tech world makes it more difficult because teams often work decentrally. Remotely, hybrid or remotely, many – often without being aware of it – lack the existence of a corporate office. The reason: offices are not only places of work, they also help to promote the well-being of the team. This does not mean startup stereotypes such as free fruit, coffee and bean bags, but being together.
However, the spatial distance makes it even more complicated to recognize when a colleague has problems. Since teams are less likely to physically come together in one place, it is hard to notice who is late, stops earlier or seems exhausted. But it is precisely through coffee conversations that employees recognize among themselves whether someone is doing well or not. In virtual teams, communication must therefore be rethought and mental health must also be discussed. The motto is: It is better to ask a little more often if someone is doing well, instead of letting a team member get to the edge of his powers. In the best case, you have worried for nothing.
What many people appreciate about the remote model is the flexibility and autonomy of their own everyday life. For example, as a developer, you can start your working day earlier, go to the gym at eleven o’clock, and then put dinner in the oven before the last appointment of the day. The opportunity to have a little more of life besides work can have a positive effect on your own well-being in this way.
This is how Daniel Pink describes in his book “Drive” that autonomy, mastery and goal setting are the most important driving forces of motivation. Motivation, recognition and trust are in turn the key to successful software development. Contributing to a greater goal with his skills and work is a satisfying experience. Especially startups, where there is often more freedom in the selection and prioritization of work, can be very productive for developers from this point of view.
According to a study by Haystack Analytics, a provider specializing in the analysis of software teams, 83 percent of developers report burnouts. The downside of the pandemic: It is more difficult to finish work if you work from home instead of in the company office. This makes it all the more important that the expectations of companies are of a realizable nature and are carefully defined; all the more so when there are flexible working hours and home office and the danger threatens to be captured by large projects. Companies should pay attention to the following points:
1. Investing in continuing education
People who work in software development learn throughout their lives. You have to, because the industry is fast-moving. This means constantly investing in yourself as well as your own knowledge and personal skills, as well as employers in their employees. Some companies offer generous budgets or exemptions for further training.
2. Create free space
Motivating developers exclusively with money does not work very well. It is better to give them time and trust that they will use it for something other than direct product development. For example, Google is known for the approach that employees can spend 20 percent of their time on everything that is interesting to them. Some useful products have come out of it. The most important aspect: this approach makes programmers feel valued in their work. At Atlassian, too, all employees can work 24 hours on projects of their choice, producing surprising innovations and improvements that would otherwise probably never have come onto the market.
3. Open source projects
People working in programming identify strongly with this open source world. 91 Percent say open source is their future. The opportunity to participate in open source projects is therefore not only meaningful for many, but also appreciated. Open source communities can therefore be an important part of employee motivation.
The modern workplace can learn a lot from open source. For example, when it comes to participating in projects. Open source projects are reasonable models for a decentralized workflow. In this way, people who knew each other only through mailing lists or IRC channels have developed some of the fundamental elements of our software world. And that’s not all: they have also maintained close relationships with each other.
Nowadays, software teams working on remote sites, voluntarily or for other reasons, have much more tools at their disposal: tools for source code control and collaboration have long ceased to be a simple mailing list. People can be in constant exchange with each other through text chat, audio or video call. Programs can be remotely paired with each other via screen sharing or with tools such as VSCode Live Share.
A very positive networking, which, however, can lead to additional stress and exhaustion. The working style of a software developer is individual and cannot exactly match that of another colleague. Open source approaches solve this problem by respecting the time of all participants and not expecting a person to be present at a certain time. It is more important to complete agreed tasks within an expected time window. For remote teams, it can be very helpful for a quiet working environment to schedule as few meetings as possible and not expect that Slack messages will be answered immediately. This gives the team members more time to solve their project tasks.
4. Work-life balance
When the pandemic fundamentally changed everyday working life, many people did not have an ideal working environment in the home office. Working on the sofa or at the kitchen table, possibly still with other family members nearby, was surprisingly difficult for many. Burnouts increased. Even if people working in software development now often pursue their profession at home, it is important that the employer enquires whether they need a new monitor, a replacement power supply or a new keyboard. Many employers now offer budgets for the home office. However, even in the home office and the hybrid working world, joint activities remain essential for companies. However, this does not mean unbearable teambuilding measures, which hopefully belong to the past. Casual online games are much better suited to lighten the mood.
5. Employee Assistance Programs
Companies that offer an employee assistance program should ensure that employees are also informed about it and know who can use it and how. It also doesn’t hurt to remind managers to use these programs as well.
For mental health, a startup can be a difficult patch. Startups are fast-moving, subject to frequent changes, and employees have a lot to do. This makes it all the more important to take care of each other. This applies not only to the managers, but also to the team members. Every employee can do his or her part to pay attention to others. There are warning signs before burnout. However, in order to recognize this in time, we must look at work differently, we must become aware of the relevance of a healthy life. That’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, busy startups and tech companies are also responsible for this.
*Lorna Mitchell is Head of Developer Relations at Aiven, a managed cloud services company that offers open source data technologies worldwide, has raised $210 million and is present on three continents with headquarters in Helsinki and hubs in Berlin, Toronto, Boston and Sydney.