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Currents: The Remote Developer Experience (July 2019)

As the VP of Engineering at DigitalOcean, I work with developers around the world. We’re a company that prides itself on allowing employees to work wherever they want — from different regions, to different personal setups in their homes and more. And it’s no secret that this trend extends beyond our walls (or lack of walls!). Across the industry, workplace flexibility is undoubtedly on the rise.

With this in mind, DigitalOcean’s sixth and latest installment of our Currents research series explores everything related to remote work within the developer community. With insights from more than 4,500 developers, the report provides an inside look into how developers work (whether remote or in office), their experiences working remotely, how they stay connected to the community, and how they maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Key findings include:

  • Remote work is the new normal for developers – not just something they prefer, but something they increasingly demand from employers. Eighty-six percent of respondents currently work remotely in some capacity, with nearly 1/3 working from home full time. Forty-three percent say the ability to work remotely is a must-have when considering an offer with a company.

  • Remote workers are connected. The traditional narrative of remote workers as isolated and disengaged from their companies is proving false for many. Seventy-one percent of developers who work remotely said they feel connected to their company’s community.

  • But the issue hasn’t disappeared entirely. The 29 percent who don’t feel connected say they feel excluded from offline team conversations or don’t feel integrated into their company’s culture when working remotely.

  • The burnout problem is real. Two-thirds of all respondents said their stress levels have caused them to feel burnt out or work fatigued, regardless of whether or not they work remotely.

  • Developers expect remote work to improve work-life balance. But the reality doesn’t always line up with that hope. Seventy-six percent of respondents said they think working remotely improves work-life balance, yet many remote workers reported working longer hours and ultimately rated their work-life balance as only slightly higher than in-office workers.

Remote work has started to boom in the past four years — and it’s reshaping developers’ perceptions

On a scale of 1–5, how important a factor was a flexible work schedule in your career decision?

Over the past four years, 82 percent of developers have started working remotely in some fashion, from being remote full time to splitting their time in and out of an office, to isolated circumstances. Today, it is critical that companies offer remote work flexibility, or they risk seeming behind the times. In fact, over half of respondents noted that they think less highly of a company that doesn’t offer remote work options.

Despite the rise of remote workers, connections to the community are still strong

Seventy-one percent of respondents feel connected to their company’s community while working remotely. This is primarily due to advances in workplace communication tools, as there is an increasing number of channels for employees to engage through regularly. On a scale of one to five, developers most prefer using business collaboration software and least prefer video conferencing.

In addition to their colleagues, the broader developer community connects with each other through local events or meetups, online forums, and conferences — in the last 12 months, 77 percent have attended an industry event.

How do you stay in touch with other developers and the dev community at large?

Companies must continue to support remote workers

Despite most developers feeling connected, issues of isolation still exist for nearly a third of remote workers, so it is important that companies proactively connect and include remote employees. Forty percent of respondents indicated that their employers don’t have specific programs or policies in place to include remote workers.

Does your company have specific programs or policies to ensure remote employees feel included?

Of these respondents who were aware that their company had a remote-employee programs, 88 percent said they have a positive impact. This disparity highlights a valuable opportunity for companies to invest in connecting their employees.

Burnout exists across the developer community

Globally, burnout is present in the developer community with 66 percent of respondents indicating they’ve experienced work fatigue — whether they work remotely or not. This number is even higher in the U.S., at 82 percent of respondents.

Reported burnout by region

Remote work is seen as one solution to this stress. The majority of developers who work from home (76 percent) believe that it helps them improve their work-life balance.

Developers — and their managers, co-workers alike — need to be aware of the signs of burnout and take advantage of employer-sponsored stress-reduction and mental health programs. Remote workers in particular need to disconnect and create separation between their personal and work environments.

This includes finding time to work out, foster their social circles, take vacations, and cultivate hobbies. Our survey found that outside of work, developers turn to family and friends, physical activity, video games, reading, or playing music to de-stress. Many companies are also now offering longer paid leaves to support people during significant life transitions and milestones.

Remote work (mostly) positively impacts work-life balance

Reasons people think remote work improves work-life balance

A majority of respondents believe remote work helps improve work-life balance, as it eliminates the stress of commuting and gives people the flexibility to work from wherever they’d like to live. A quarter of respondents reported remote work had no impact on work-life balance. The remaining 11 percent said remote work worsens work-life balance, most frequently citing the issues of working longer hours at home and feeling expectations to contribute more. Remote work expectations could be an area for improvement, as companies make efforts to implement remote-work policies and programs.


About Currents

DigitalOcean Currents highlights the latest trends among developers in the cloud.

If you would like to be among the first to receive Currents each quarter, sign up here. You’ll also be able to share ideas on what topics we should cover and participate in our next survey.

Read more about these and other findings in the full Currents report.