At face value, when we think of developer productivity we might think of effectiveness in time management, communication, and task completion.14 Although we are drawn to personal workflow or time management tools, and learning secrets to improving our productivity, ironically this quest for the holy grail can sometimes take us off course and be a detriment to our productivity. The problem is that accomplishing tasks or having a filled up schedule does not necessarily equate to productivity. Creating a formulaic working strategy, as was common in the last century, does not either.a,8,13 Productivity is less a quality that can be easily measured,b controlled, or improved directly with tools, but instead is a human element that manifests from developer happiness.
This Viewpoint is intended for remote software engineers who are facing new challenges to thinking about routine, responsibility, and goal setting. As a developer of scientific software, and one who has transitioned to working remotely before any stay at home orders,24 I have slowly learned to optimize my own productivity by focusing exclusively on well-being. In this Viewpoint, I summarize what I have learned.
It goes without saying that a core ingredient to happiness, and thus productivity, is working on projects or software that you care about.
Although happiness and productivity are not exactly the same thing, they seem to be intimately related.
As a remote worker you might live in isolation, but you do not need to work in it.
I have summarized 10 suggested best practices to optimize remote developer happiness, and thus remote developer productivity:
I can personally attest that by discovering and subsequently following these guidelines over half a decade, I have felt more productive, more guided in my work, and can more easily take on additional responsibility without detriment to well-being. You might have noticed that most of these points come down to identifying a locus of control. The software engineer who feels in control of his or her work and has mental tricks for handling uncertainty and stress is more prepared to deal with said uncertainty, and over time is more productive and happy. Even in the case where happiness is related to disposition,22 by way of being mindful of these mental strategies we can change the way that we think, and arguably change our disposition.6 It should also be noted that although these points of discussion are especially relevant for remote software engineering, they can easily be extended beyond this domain of work. These points offer a refreshing idea that success and productivity does not happen to us, but is something that we choose to create.
4. Coo, C. and Salanova, M. Mindfulness can make you happy-and-productive: A mindfulness controlled trial and its effects on happiness, work engagement and performance. J. Happiness Stud. 19, 6 (Aug. 2018), 1691–1711.
5. Cropanzano, R. and Wright, T.A. When a "happy" worker is really a "productive" worker: A review and further refinement of the happy productive worker thesis. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research 53, 3 (2001), 182–199.
9. Erdil, O. and Gülen Ertosun, O. The relationship between social climate and loneliness in the workplace and effects on employee well-being. Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences 24 (Jan. 2011), 505–525.
11. Gant, W. Remote-First: A Guide for Organizations—Simple Programmer. (2019); https://bit.ly/3vzWCjr.
14. Hakes, T. How to Measure Developer Productivity. (2019); https://bit.ly/3qWH5q8
22. Ledford, G.E. Comment: Happiness and productivity revisited. Journal of Organizational Behavior 20, 1 (1999), 25–30; https://bit.ly/3vDtNCS
26. Oliveira, E. et al. How have software engineering researchers been measuring software productivity?—A systematic mapping study. In Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems (Porto, Portugal). SCITEPRESS—Science and Technology Publications, (2017), 76–87.
34. Sochat, V. The Sadness of the Open Source Developer. (2017); https://bit.ly/3vvklRX
a. The Scrum Guide. Scrum.org (2020): https://bit.ly/3ePRiT6
b. The myth of developer productivity; https://bit.ly/3m3uvF7
c. Definition of productivity—see https://bit.ly/38M7HEc
d. The Five Myths of Self-Compassion; https://bit.ly/3bVDepm
e. Almost two thirds of women face everyday sexism and racism at work; https://bit.ly/3eOB64l
g. Journal of Knowledge Management Practice. (Oct. 2001); https://bit.ly/30UB56O
h. Gitter; https://gitter.im/
The author thanks Ruth Marinshaw and colleagues in the Stanford Research Computing Center, her new team at LLNL, along with the many open source communities that she cares deeply about, for their humor and support during these times.
The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2021 ACM, Inc.
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