A good balance between work life and home life is always desirable. Tipping the scale either way can be problematic.

The ins and outs of flexible working in a software engineering team

Chris Howell -  08 Jun, 2016

A good balance between work life and home life is always desirable. Tipping the scale either way can be problematic. The answer? Flexible working! In this post I’ll go on to explain the perks and challenges of flexible working, and how we do it here at travel.cloud.

Flexible time, flexible location

At travel.cloud HQ, you can opt to work certain hours in the day, provided you do your contracted hours. So rather than a typical 9am to 5pm working day, those of us who prefer a lie in can work 11am to 7pm, or likewise those “early bird catches the worm” types can work 7am to 3pm.

You can also work wherever suits you: in the office, at home, on the beach (assuming you can find WiFi on the beach). Most of us strike a balance between office and home, but we also have some entirely remote workers. We could hardly ask someone to commute from Norwich or Italy on a daily basis!

What are the perks?

Flexible working has amazing benefits. It’s particularly helpful to those with families, but equally to anyone who needs to simply run a few errands during the week. For me personally it’s benefited me greatly when I’ve needed to pop out for an hour or two in the day and don’t want to miss out on actually having a lunch break! But it can also help your work as well as your life.

As many software engineers know, you can reach a point where the problem you’re trying to overcome just becomes too confusing, or too complicated. Taking some time away from the screen to clear your mind and focus on something else can actually lead to that lightbulb moment and with flexible working you can do just that, even if you need a few hours away from the screen to forget about why your unit test won’t pass.

Core hours

Flexible working does come with it’s challenges. For instance, there’s no use in an employee doing their work from 1am to 9am, because then how can they collaborate with the rest of the team? This is sort of essential in delivering fast, high quality code.

Likewise, if your team has important meetings every morning at a certain time, such as daily stand ups, then starting your day from midday onwards means you could miss out on crucial information.

So at travel.cloud we do have core working hours, when you ought to be available. These are 10am to 3pm. The rest of the working day can be completed whenever suits each individual.

Small teams build trust

With all these flexible hours and remote working, how do we know people are pulling their weight?

At travel.cloud we have small agile teams that focus on only one or two tasks at a time, and our team leaders are all senior engineers who are completely involved in the engineering effort - this means they’ll soon know if one of the members isn’t pulling their weight! Of course, there also has to be an inbuilt trust and respect for your fellow teammates, we prize that highly.

Tools help with remote working

Here at travel.cloud we use a few applications to help the Software Engineering Team function efficiently, especially when working remotely.

Slack - This is an effective instant messaging application that allows users to subscribe to channels they’re interested in for their organisation. At travel.cloud each service our small agile teams develop have their own channel where discussions take place, meaning we don’t get confused when someone has a question, idea or feedback.

Screenhero - Allows us to share our screens when remote working, meaning if I’m working from home and need to share my code with someone else on my team, I can simply start a Screenhero session with them and they can remotely access my screen.

Google Hangouts - Perhaps the most well known of the three, this technology is perfect for our meetings. It’s very easy to use, especially for daily standups and demos, which allows everyone (office or home based) to get involved with what’s going on at travel.cloud from anywhere in the world.

Flexible working, when managed correctly, is a great benefit for any software engineering team. Some would argue that a hot-house environment, with everyone in the office all the time, is inevitably more productive. But I had to move to Bristol a while back, and without the opportunity of flexible working I couldn’t have stayed at travel.cloud. They’d have lost an awesome engineer and had the hassle of finding a replacement (impossible!). So, a hot-house might be more productive, but making sure your company finds and keeps the very best talent out there is surely more effective?

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