Jul 28, 2022

Work Life Balance is Dead, DX Stays

Work Life Balance is Dead, DX Stays

Preface

Two thirds [1] of the global workforce have already, or would consider, changing their job if their employer would insist on returning to the office. The covid pandemic has undoubtedly changed the perspective of workers on their work environment. Work benefits are no longer centered around the office amenities, nobody really cares if you have a coffee machine or offer a shared PlayStation to cool off – the workers that would benefit, probably have both at home already.

Work commutes often take up unnecessary time off the day, daily or weekly house chores like washing your clothes can be done in sync with work, mostly everyone who worked through the two years of the pandemic realized this – working from home (WFH) can help you better manage your time.

Following the same dataset we could also conclude that WFH has its downsides – over a half of workers report poor work performance due to mental health issues. This could be attributed to several factors like isolation, blurred lines between life and work, lack of social contact and even degradation in amenities utilized for work.

Especially the blurry contrast between work and life is seemingly emerging as the next work-life balance issue, that we’ll need to keep an eye on. One could even say that our work-life balance is quite unbalanced now. That’s where Developer Experience (DX) can come to the rescue, at least for some of these workers, granted developers are apparently feeling the adverse effects in full force [2].

The meeting fatigue

Being a developer I can attest that one of the most talked about issues between my colleagues is the quality and quantity of meetings. As ICSE points out, there are some notable work areas that have suffered direct hits with the rise of WFH.

  • Feeling of being socially connected with your team has dramatically decreased
  • So did the ability to efficiently brainstorm with your colleagues
  • And lastly, the ease of communication has worsened

Coupled with the increased quantity of meetings, while their quality and usefulness remains the same, this sets an unprecedented issue for productivity and the team's ability to deliver.

What can you do about that in regards to DX?

The first and most obvious path is to focus on the quality and quantity of your scheduled meetings. We can go ahead and call these Meaningful Meetings.

To manage meaningful meetings, it is vital to focus on the importance, length, regularity and value. One of the causes of increased meeting quantity is also trust – WFH has an adverse effect on trust and meetings are a favored tool to, at least partially, hold the reins steady and stay on top of everyone's work progress – a false sense of control.

Signs you shouldn’t have a meeting

  • Nobody is engaging in a conversation, perhaps you have invited workers that are not the designated group for this type of meeting.
  • The meeting was poorly scheduled, and for example breaks the chain of context for the developers.
  • It keeps sprawling out of context, dealing with unrelated work or circling around the same initial point – the initiator has no control over the meeting.
  • Setting up a meeting just to repeat and recite information which could have been acquired from a time management tool.
  • It’s a long meeting, without breaks or just keeps getting longer, while it could have been postponed and dealt with in a more efficient way.

Of course meetings are not the end all be all. Focus on performing retrospectives, listen to your developers and improve through feedback. Move social interactions to the virtual realm, like virtual beers or perhaps online lan parties – depends on your team and their needs and wants. DX is all about feelings and voicing them out. Naturally, the next step would be culture.

The (lack of) culture

Managers should strive to create a team culture that is inclusive towards all team members (for example with one-on-ones) and promotes social interactions. While the amount of workers on WFH has skyrocketed, the amount of tools, activities and services that are viable to be conducted online has increased at the same rate.

The overall decrease in social activities and connection with other team members leads to insufficient communication, less work awareness, and ultimately to reduced productivity.

All work and no play does not keep the burnout away.”

Keep in mind

  • Think of ways to engage with your developers, as well as ways these developers can better engage with each other
  • Do not force it, respect developers time and always base your steps towards a better team culture on wants, needs and actual feedback
  • Underestimating the need for social interactions will take a direct toll on the health of your team and its productivity

Ultimately this is a game of psychology, with WFH it is much more probable your dev team is based all around the world – dramatically increasing the difficulty of creating a healthy team culture (time zones, different demographics and so on) or partaking in culture based meetings.

But fear not, perhaps measuring your developers personalities can help you better understand their needs. And you could also try having a better approach to mentoring and feedback. All of these approaches will require a developer-first (or even people-first) approach – something that pays itself off immensely.

Benefits

Whether it’s the WFH model or some kind of a hybrid agreement, this new work-life imbalance has led to a discrepancy in the traditional workplace benefits market. Adequate salary has moved right to the top, followed by a proper flexible work schedule [1].

Does this mean we should just scrap all of the benefit packages and increase developer salaries? Well, while reducing the costs of operation through remote work can technically allow you to increase salaries, not quite.

If you’ve followed closely, there are issues like mental health or social interaction – both of which were historically being taken care of through in-office benefits, like an ergonomic workplace, zen zones, attractive office designs or even just meeting your colleagues.

What can you do

  • Offer WFH benefits, those adjustable ergonomic tables you had at the office? Why not sponsor one at home? Or perhaps it’s an onboarding bonus to set up and improve a developers home office.
  • Focus on mental health, you could offer paid therapy sessions or provide different ways to consult and take care of mental health.
  • According to NAHB [3] the pandemic has spawned an increased demand for larger homes to accomodate for workplace separation, offer help with relocation or maybe assist with mortgage.
  • Set clear boundaries and offer ways to distinguish where work ends and life starts, be it through flexible hours, 4-day work week or other ways of respecting free time.
  • Among all of these changing variables for workers, stability is definitely a common factor, so figure out ways to radiate stability and promote long term commitments. Either by setting up competitive salaries or having a stable and transparent cash flow.

DX is all about listening and adapting to how developers feel when they’re working, perhaps the time has come for new benefit packages and ways to deal with stress, miscommunication and burnout.

Consider thinking about your developers time as the most valuable resource – maybe set up a right-to-disconnect just like laws in certain countries recently or provide ways to adjust work for the worker, instead of the other way around.

Conclusion

Developer experience describes positive and negative feelings of developers when working in their environment or with a certain product. Now more than ever it is required to closely listen to these feelings and act accordingly. With work being increasingly more remote and social interactions virtual – feelings and feedback get easily lost.

The traditional work-life balance term might have died in favor of the more conjoined approach with work seeping through life in a more flexible way of work, but DX is here to stay, arguably in a much stronger position than ever before. Hopefully these few examples help illustrate how to think about these new (and yet old) issues.

Visit the DX Knowledge Base for even more interesting or creative tips on how to make your developers happy and keep your teams productive. Keep creating great products valued by developers and if you need some help with any of this – make sure to give us a shout!

Sources

[1] https://www.adpri.org/research/people-at-work-2022-a-global-workforce-view/

[2] https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/how-was-your-weekend-software-development-teams-working-from-home-during-covid-19/

[3] https://www.nahb.org/news-and-economics/press-releases/2022/03/millennial-home--buyers-want-larger-homes-survey-shows

Jan Dočekal
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