In the space of a few weeks, COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. For CloudBees and our customers, this has been one of the most challenging times we’ve ever faced. So we recently brought together two dozen of our advisory board members for a candid conversation about navigating DevOps in the era of COVID-19. Here are some of the things we learned.
Work Environment Adjustments
For nearly all of our customers and their DevOps teams, working from home (WFH) during the COVID-19 crisis has become the norm. Logging in over a VPN now marks the start of the average workday. But despite some short-lived technical snags and the need to relax work rules in some countries, the switch to at-home working has been thankfully smooth. For many, working from home has actually been a boon for productivity and morale, with many employees happy to eliminate the stress of long commutes.
But telecommuting can take some getting used to. Many people working at home say they needed to adjust their schedules and work habits to accommodate a house full of rambunctious kids. Some must also find a new work-life balance that includes caring for elderly family members.
Lacking physical separation between work and home, some WFH employees say they can fall into the trap of working longer hours, risking burnout. Support and empathy from senior leadership can help: One board member says the CEO told employees to think less about work and more about family, even if it means productivity might suffer a bit. This has helped ease a lot of the stress many have felt during this time.
Software Delivery Disruptions and Collaboration Roadblocks
Does working from home get in the way of delivering software? Our customers say it hasn’t been a major impediment, though slow home networks can lead to longer-than-normal wait times for big files or large artifacts. Some have had to learn new skills to get around bottlenecks and minimize latency.
For those who loved to collaborate using whiteboards and post-it notes, many have adopted the digital workplace solution Mural to recreate that visual experience. Some use it in conjunction with conferencing tools like Zoom to talk through ideas as though they were in the office. In addition to boosting collaboration, board members say these tools have allowed them to cut back on costly air travel and see it as a cost-saving opportunity going forward.
Adjusting to Shifting Business Priorities
The COVID-19 outbreak has seen businesses around the world scrambling to adapt to new economic and operational realities. Many of our board members are now dealing with steep drops in sales and searching for efficiencies to protect revenue and save money. On a positive note: The lull in economic activity has afforded some customers the chance to tackle back-burner projects and pay down technical debt to become more efficient. Not surprisingly, many are launching automation initiatives to help cut costs.
Going forward, many expect continued cutbacks in business travel and a growing reliance on telecommuting to slash expenses. Some envision paring back on in-office meetings to just a couple days a week and many expect more desk sharing when they return to the office. They are also bolstering their IT networks to handle surging traffic volumes from their remote workforce. Many are retooling their offerings to deliver more services historically available to their customers in-person s via the internet.
Identifying Tool Gaps and Lifelines
With the sudden spike in remote working, many customers are pushing their VPN-based collaboration tools to the limit. A few are sidestepping logjams by using more cloud-based tools (such as AWS) that don’t require a VPN. But the crisis itself hasn’t driven DevOps to the public cloud in large numbers and many prefer to stick with their on-prem private cloud systems.
Working remotely can present distinct challenges for agile DevOps teams that typically thrive in co-located work environments. For these organizations, working remotely may not be an effective long-term strategy. However, as organizations adopt more automation that enables developers to eliminate manual hand-offs and interactions, remote working could become a viable option over time.
Need a lifeline when you’re working from home? The key to surviving, many say, is to be disciplined and create strict boundaries between work and home life. One good technique for recharging during the day: use normal routines like bathroom breaks as an opportunity to take a walk around the block, soak in the sunshine and reboot.
Risk and Regulatory Ah-Ha's
COVID-19 is likely to spur a range of regulatory and policy changes aimed at reducing risk, many say, although not while we’re in the midst of the crisis. Some don’t expect regulations to change until something “breaks” in the system that causes regulators to act.
In our “new normal” world, one member envisions auditors asking organizations whether they’re equipped to have all employees work from home at short notice. Another is looking at setting up an automated governance database to track everything in one system, so auditors won’t need to sit down and talk to multiple tool administrators.
Customers across the board expect companies to relax strict policies that require staff to be onsite for particular tasks and meetings, especially if an employee is sick. Some also see the possibility of new regulations that require companies to track the whereabouts of on-the-go employees to gauge the potential impact in the event of another outbreak.
Post COVID-19 Predictions
What will work life look like in the aftermath of COVID-19? At least half of the members we talked to say they expect major shifts in operations and processes, while about a quarter say things will “go back to normal” after the dust settles. Some worry about the return of a similar outbreak - perhaps even multiple resurgences of COVID-19 itself - and say that organizations need to be ready to handle that possibility.
At least one predicts that companies that aren’t already set up to work remotely will need to make it a core capability, while others will need to strengthen their existing remote technologies even more. Chat apps and other tools to monitor and manage team members from afar will become more important for DevOps teams, helping replace the impromptu and valuable “pop-in chats” that were common in the in-person office setting.
For many, the COVID-19 event reinforces what we’ve known for a long time: that we live and work in a global and mobile world. That means we’re all connected – in good times as well as the bad.
A shout out to all the great CloudBees Customer Advisory Board members who participated in our COVID-19 discussion. CloudBees has made a donation to the World Health Organizations COVID- Response Fund on behalf of all of them.
Check out how CloudBees is supporting its employees and customers through CloudBees Cares .
Stay healthy and be safe.