Working and performing during a pandemic will leave deep marks behind, both financially and psychologically speaking. In our latest survey, we asked developers how their needs have changed due to COVID-19. The findings shared in this post are based on the Developer Economics survey 19th edition which ran during June-August 2020 and reached more than 17,000 developers in 159 countries.
At the time of writing this post, there have been more than 30 million COVID-19 cases around the world, with 7.3 million of those still active. The virus is ubiquitous and affects all continents to more or less similar degrees. Working and performing during a pandemic is an experience that will undoubtedly leave deep marks behind, both financially and psychologically speaking.
7.2 million developers report needing flexible working hours/workload
We asked developers to select from a given set of technical and non-technical needs, up to three extra needs the pandemic has created for their own development activities. 73% of developers reported having additional needs due to COVID-19. In particular, 34%, or 7.2 million developers, expressed their need for flexible working hours/workload.
Quarantine and social distancing policies have encouraged many employers to allow their workers to work from home, where possible. A large proportion of workers are now facing the inconvenience of relocating their working space into their home. Among such inconveniences is the necessity of taking care of households while keeping up productivity. Under these circumstances, flexibility is seen as the key to success, or simply survival.
The next most common perceived needs, reported by about one in four developers, are:
- collaboration tools and platforms (26%),
- online training resources (25%), and
- virtual opportunities to support networking and peer-to-peer interaction (23%).
Among these three, the only technical one, strictly speaking, refers to the need for collaboration tools, such as video conferencing platforms. The other top needs are related to self-improvement and self-management, and to socialising.
The supremacy of non-technical needs is striking. All of the technical necessities, except collaboration tools, sit at the bottom of the list, being reported only by about one in ten developers:
- better performance in terms of computing resources (13%),
- hardware components (9%),
- increased security (9%), and
- additional cloud space (7%).
There are two explanations for these patterns. First, developers may have not indicated the need for extra technical support because it had been already fulfilled, i.e. their employers had already provided them with it. It could also be, however, that developers did not perceive technical considerations as being more important than flexibility, networking, and learning.
The bigger the company, the more flexibility developers need
We found that the most important factor in influencing developers’ needs in relation to COVID-19 is their company size. Compared to those in middle- or large-sized companies, self-employed developers and developers working in small businesses of up to 20 employees report fewer new needs overall. That is especially the case for flexibility in terms of working hours/workload, and for collaboration tools. The most probable explanation is that they would have already implemented a flexible working schedule prior to COVID19. This is likely to apply to contractors as well as to small, dynamic startups. When it comes to keeping collaboration and interaction going, it may just be easier for small groups of people to maintain old habits or find an easy-to-use tool, such as emailing, phoning, or even getting together whilst respecting the required social distancing.
On the contrary, the bigger the company, the stronger the need for all of the above, including opportunities for virtual interactions. A large company typically requires a structured system of communication, and usually that system needs to accommodate the various teams’ diverse needs; even more so when a company is locked into an IT vendor’s services.
Interestingly, the need for mental health support also linearly increases with company size, probably as a result of those challenges experienced in terms of flexibility and peer-to-peer communication and interaction. Another potential reason is that employees in larger organisations, where nobody is indispensable by default, may be experiencing more performance pressure and be more scared of losing their jobs.
How COVID19 is affecting developers’ technical needs
While developers’ technical needs due to COVID-19 do not change significantly with company size, they strongly correlate to the developers’ level of involvement in tool purchasing decisions. Those most concerned about increased security, performance, and cloud space are the ones responsible for tool specs and expenses, as well as budget approval, who usually fulfill roles within technical management.
On the one hand, with the increasing number of developers working from home, more machines need to be available and connected via VPN and similar technologies. More layers to navigate introduces complexity barriers that affect work efficiency, but also the need for the implementation of extra security controls. Furthermore, servers are often overloaded and downtimes happen more frequently, affecting system reliability. If you add to this the fact that budgets are being reduced or even frozen, due to the economic instability the pandemic is causing, the situation is actually precarious. Those in charge are inevitably the ones noticing the need for technical support the most.
In a relatively short time, the pandemic has generated and consolidated a series of working practices that had been previously known only to a very small proportion of the population. Such new practices, based on remote working and virtual collaboration, are likely to persist after COVID-19. If one acknowledges this, investing in optimising support becomes even more valuable. We recommend that, especially large enterprises, consider the delicate balance between self management and collaboration needs when designing policies and offering support to their employees in the face of the pandemic situation.