Humans crave autonomy, and software engineers even more so than the average human. But software engineering is no different from most other business functions in that collaboration can fuel rapid innovation and speed problem solving. The key is finding a way to enable collaboration while giving engineers the freedom to work when and where they want.
“[G]ood collaboration doesn’t simply happen. Bring together a bunch of world-class athletes—without the right training facilities, they’ll never be a team. The same goes for engineers. Even the most selfless of team players will struggle to work successfully with their colleagues if their environment doesn’t promote it,” writes Mikker Gimenez-Peterson in his blog post Designed for Collaboration: Helping Engineers Be Awesome Together.
The workplace must be designed to facilitate collaboration between software engineers. New Relic is a great example of this. The digital intelligence company designed and configured its workspaces “for physical and technical collaboration, while still honoring the ability to work solo when necessary,” Gimenez-Peterson writes.
New Relic’s semi-open office layout helps strike a balance between public and private spaces, he explains, while “dedicated pairing stations make it easy for two engineers to work side-by-side, confronting problems and finding solutions in tandem.”
Like most companies today, New Relic’s teams are distributed. Enabling effective communication and collaboration amongst team members who are both in the office and working remote is critical. Gimenez-Peterson explains:
“For inter-team communication, our conference rooms are fully equipped to enable our engineering teams in San Francisco, Portland, and Barcelona to get together even when they’re miles (and hours) apart. At the same time, within teams that include remote employees, we make an effort to ensure that everyone communicates equivalently. This can mean team members video conferencing into stand-up from their own laptops similar to a remote person, and steering inter-office conversations and technical exchanges via group chat.”
An enterprise-grade video conferencing solution eliminates presence disparity. It levels the playing field, so to speak, enabling everyone to have the same experience. This is important for ensuring that team members are fully engaged in the conversation and have an equal opportunity to participate—key criteria for effective collaboration.
But it isn’t just distributed team members who can benefit from a video conferencing solution. Given the nature of their work, engineers need the ability to work flexible schedules and to easily collaborate regardless of when and where they’re working.
“Developers are also content creators and makers who use code as their medium. Makers are particularly susceptible to disengaging in a restricted time environment. They don’t view the world in 9-to-5 cycles; rather, they view it from project to project. Let your makers break free from a strict schedule, and their work will benefit from it,” writes Kuty Shalev, founder of New York City-based software development firm Clevertech.
A video conferencing solution enables engineers to work on a schedule that suits their natural work habits without sacrificing the ability to collaborate face-to-face. Engineers can also share their screen during collaboration sessions. Whether they’re discussing code or an application architecture diagram, they can be assured that they’re looking at the same version.
Regardless of whether engineers work remotely full time or part time, building relationships helps build a culture of collaboration. Clevertech uses a buddy system in which employees are paired up. “We ask that they meet once a day—even if it’s just for five minutes. This way, employees don’t feel isolated from the rest of the company; rather, there’s a real sense of connection,” writes Shalev.
While autonomy is necessary for engineers to thrive, collaboration also plays an important role in building innovative software. Video collaboration can bridge these two factors so that they’re not at odds, but rather both working to make software engineers successful.