Today, more people than ever work remotely or are part of distributed teams. The DevOps world is no different. While working remotely has definite advantages, it also poses distinct challenges for teams trying to build strong internal cultures, coordinate product launches and hit shipping deadlines. It’s not enough to just slot in a communications app anymore. Teams need tools and processes that foment creativity and the frictionless sharing of ideas.
Leaders know that the greatest ideas often come at the most unpredictable moments. With distributed teams, the risk of losing those great ideas in the shuffle dramatically increases. Given these realities, how can DevOps teams replicate the spontaneity and creative energy of an in-person brainstorming session when employees are located in different places around the world?
It’s human nature to withdraw when feeling uncomfortable in a new group of people. Be it a party or work function, people will choose not to participate in conversation if it risks embarrassment among strangers. The same thing can happen due to the seemingly cliquish nature of certain distributed teams. If a new employee doesn’t know anyone personally, it is imperative to bring them into the fold and establish comfort as soon as possible. Then they’ll feel more confident sharing ideas.
For extroverted people, this rarely poses a problem. However, introverted team members may not take so easily to unstructured casual conversation, and will need to be drawn in. This is where a bit of planning can go a long way.
Leadership should start every team meeting with an icebreaker question that draws people out of their shells and reveals new aspects of their personalities. There is no need to get too intimate. These questions can be playful and funny. For example, asking people about their favorite hobby, restaurant or vacation destination is an easy way to kick start a conversation. Questions about long-term personal or professional goals—perhaps completing a marathon or learning to code in new languages—can also spark meaningful conversations or potential mentorships. The goal is not necessarily to force friendships (though that is not discouraged) but to make everyone comfortable interacting while knowing the company is a safe space for the expression of new thoughts, ideas and strategies.
Use Both Live and Asynchronous Video
Modern DevOps relies on a high degree of automated processes. With modern pipelines that deploy code live several times a day, it becomes incredibly important to have a tight communication loop across the DevOps, Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) and development teams. In the unfortunate event that there are production issues, it becomes crucial to engage in meaningful conversations with team members and stakeholders while working on a terminal or actively fixing issues.
Instant audio-visual collaboration plays a key role in creatively solving these types of problems. Text tools are clunky and slow. Plus, anyone late to the Slack channel then has to wade through piles of messages that further delay action. The ability to leverage synchronous and asynchronous workflows becomes indispensable when teams need the agility to communicate effectively.
With live video, details and nuances that are difficult to relay via text can be instantly shared without the worry of misinterpretation. Plus, talking is faster than typing, and allows for an easier back-and-forth when problems need to be solved quickly. Voice and video encourage free-flowing conversation. When a DevOps team spends less time thinking about how to communicate, they can better concentrate on how to solve a problem.
Because distributed DevOps teams often operate across different time zones, live video may not be practical if someone is asleep or enjoying life outside of normal working hours. This is where recorded video has special advantages. For example, recorded videos express context clearly and more effectively than sending an email when dealing with “show and tell” walk-throughs, bug reproductions, release audits, commentary on visual assets or user feedback. A lightweight video recorder can also aid in memorializing and documenting fast-changing deployment models, pipelines, scripts and configurations. These videos excel at capturing a thought in an instant, bringing energy and clarity to a conversation.
Make Flexibility Fundamental
With a DevOps team scattered across the world, standups and regular team meetings often take place during odd hours. Someone might be joining during morning coffee while another hops on after putting their kid to bed. Now think about how creative you feel in the morning versus the evening. If a scheduled check-in constantly fell during a time you felt mentally and physically drained, it would be hard to bring your A-game. Have you ever successfully brainstormed first thing in the morning, when hungry or right before bed?
Regularly switching the times of these check-ins is key. This way, leadership can show DevOps that it understands some hours of the day are just not as conducive to creativity and brainstorming as others. By accommodating employees through switching the call times weekly or monthly, leadership gives each team member the opportunity to shine. Plus, this approach gives people a fresh perspective to share unique ideas.
Random, on-the-fly check-ins can also be a boon to remote developers. Hopping on the phone or a video call when hitting a snag can help quicken the solution process. After all, two (or more) heads are better than one. This can also relieve some of the pressure associated with sharing a new idea in front of the whole team during a formal meeting. Perhaps just bouncing a nebulous thought off of a trusted coworker is enough to bring that idea from half-baked to reality. This is certainly faster than a Slack message or email chain.
The ability to encourage creativity with remote teams is only growing in importance as more and more people work offsite. Building a strong, open culture where team members know they can express themselves freely without fear of negative repercussions is paramount to successfully navigating these changing workplace environments. Hence, we strongly urge that modern DevOps concepts, new tools, strong releases and tight team coordination must jointly evolve to help establish a strong culture and bolster the importance of nurturing creativity in-house.