Developers are more remote-based, company connected and burnt out

Cloud provider DigitalOcean has released the results of its latest Currents global developer survey, which looks at how software deverlopers view their work and their working conditions, among other things.

This latest survey has a special focus on remote work within the developer community, featuring thoughts from 4,500-plus developers on how they work, their experiences working remotely, how they stay connected to the community and how they maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Information Management spoke with Al Sene, vice president of engineering at DigitalOcean, for this thoughts on what the survey reveals and what lessons organizations should take from it.

Informtion Management: DigitalOcean just released its global developer survey. What is that survey all about in terms of focus and mission?

Al Sene: As a developer-focused company, it's vital to keep up with the technologies and tools developers are interested in so we can help them achieve their goals. We surveyed more than 4,500 developers around the world about remote work-- including how they work, their experiences working remotely, how they connect with the larger community, and how they maintain work-life balance.

IM: Who were the typical developers that participated in the study in terms of location, industry, years in this work, etc.?

Sene: Survey respondents were from around the globe – 90 percent identified as male, 8 percent as female, and 1 percent as non-binary. The majority (66 percent) self-identified as developers, while others included DevOps, students, administrators, managers and technical support. 35 percent switched to remote work within the last year, while 47 percent have been working remotely for 1-4 years, 14 percent for 5-9 years, and 3 percent for 10-plus years.

IM: What were the principal findings of the study?

Sene: Several things.

  • Remote work is the new normal for developers. It's not only 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.
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  • 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 twenty-nine 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.

IM: Has this study been done before, and if so, how do the results compare?

Sene: This is the first survey conducted by DigitalOcean on remote work, but we have been releasing reports on developer perceptions around various topics for the last three years. In the past, we have surveyed developers around their thoughts about open source, kubernetes, and bootcamp vs. traditional degrees.

IM: Did the study look at job satisfaction among developers and if so, what were the results?

Sene: The survey asked developers if they felt connected to their company’s office as a remote worker and if they felt pressure to work longer hours because of their work situation.

The survey found that more than a quarter of remote workers do not feel connected, often citing they feel excluded from offline team conversations or don’t feel integrated into the company’s culture. In addition, 76 percent 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.

IM: How satisfied are developers with the ability to work with new and emerging, or disruptive, technologies such as AI, machine learning, RPA, etc.?

Sene: While not specifically covered in this survey, we feel that the opportunity and ability to work on new and emerging technologies can be an important factor in developer satisfaction. Being at the forefront of a new technology wave can be exciting, provide a renewed sense of purpose, be more trendy while opening up new innovation avenues.

IM: How do results in the survey differ among remote workers and on-premise workers?

Sene: One of the areas that really stood out to us regarding the differences was around levels of burnout and how developers were feeling about their work-life balance. According to the results, remote workers reported slightly higher levels of burnout than in-office workers — 66 percent vs. 64 percent, respectively.

The biggest difference between remote and non-remote workers was in their belief around whether remote working improves work-life balance. Unsurprisingly, 79 percent of remote workers agreed that working remotely improves work-life balance compared to only 58 percent of non remote workers.

While remote work is often seen as a solution to work-life balance, it's clear that it cannot solve burnout on its own. Managers must keep a close eye on employees’ work-related stress and experience — wherever they work from.

IM: What did developers have to say about their experiences with stress and burnout?

Sene: Building upon the above — burnout is especially prevalent In the U.S., with 82 percent of respondents saying they have experienced burnout. When it comes down to day-to-day levels of work stress/frustration/anxiety, a quarter say remote work has no impact, while 11 percent say it actually worsens these issues.

Working longer hours from home and the pressure to contribute more to projects were the top reasons for the drop in work-life balance for remote workers. In fact, a full 34 percent of developers say they work more than 8 hours a day when they work from home.

IM: Are there other top trends that you think are most worthy to note?

Sene: Another interesting trend the survey revealed is that developers experience burnout across the world at different levels across the globe. About 82 percent of U.S. respondents say they have experienced burnout, compared to 77 percent from the UK, 68 percent from Canada and 52 percent from India.

The good news is that while developers in the US and Canada experience burn out more, they are also the most likely to take action. 67 percent of U.S. developers and 66 percent of Canadian developers stated that they have taken a mental health day to relieve themselves of work-related stress or anxiety compared to 60 percent of Indian developers and 45 percent of UK developers.

This data seems to point out that although these developers are more likely to experience burnout, they are more empowered to take the time to care for their mental well being.

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