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THE INSTITUTE The COVID-19 pandemic has led many IT companies around the globe to shut down their offices, causing millions of employees to work from home. The situation has provided an opportunity for the companies to experiment with remote work.
Companies that have embraced the remote-working model are likely to continue to do so even after the pandemic ends. One of the India’s largest IT companies, Tata Consultancy Services, for example, announced it was going to discard its 20-year-old work model and leapfrog into the new mode of work. Tata expects to have 75 percent of its 450,000 employees work from home, up from the industry average of 20 percent, according to a Business Insider India article.
Most small and medium-size high-tech companies and their employees were not prepared for the change, however. They did not have a good understanding of the requirements for remote work or its benefits and limitations.
To better understand the strengths and weaknesses of such a model, we conducted a study from July to October with 90 IT professionals who were working remotely. We studied 32 developers, 27 team leads, and 31 project managers. Our data-collection process involved interviews and discussions through videoconferencing and phone calls. The 90 professionals’ employers provide software solutions to a variety of industries including insurance, banking, manufacturing, robotics, supply chain, logistics, and health care.
Respondents answered questions about the driving factors and attributes of a software project. That includes project costs, operating with limited IT resources, and project duration, as well as the different types of projects, such as application software, hardware, embedded software, robotics, and the Internet of Things.
Respondents were asked about managing information and network security threats; working a flexible schedule; verifying and validating products; handling various categories of projects, such as challenge-driven and instruction-driven; upgrading their skill set; and physical workspace.
The respondents said they could better control project costs by working from home; they could complete software projects on time, thereby reducing the duration of projects; and they were able to do their job with limited IT resources and with less physical workspace requirements than in the office. Another benefit was a more flexible work schedule, which gave respondents the freedom to adjust their workday to their personal preference.
There were drawbacks, though. According to the respondents, it is not feasible to execute all types of projects from home, such as IoT, application software, embedded software, robotics, and hardware projects. They were unable to handle various categories of projects, including instruction-driven ones such as a Web or mobile app and challenge-driven projects such as software for driverless cars. It was not technically feasible to verify and validate a completed task from a remote location. The respondents said they lacked the capability to manage information and network security threats. They also said there were fewer opportunities for peer learning.
For IT companies to continue working on software projects effectively with remote workers, we suggest these points be considered.
- Review the project. Determine whether it’s a typical Web or mobile application software project or a hardware-based one. Deciding that remote workers can take on all sorts of projects might not yield a productive output.
- Establish a secure environment. Define a robust security policy for VPNs. Develop customized protocols based on the security threats the company has experienced. IT and cybersecurity professionals need to provide a secure environment for remote workers.
- Facilitate peer learning. Provide opportunities for employees to learn from each other. Employees often learn technical and soft skills from their colleagues only through social interactions.
- Assist workers with home systems. IT companies should develop a strategic action plan on providing or facilitating remote workers with setting up the necessary systems for their projects.
- Evaluate the complexity of the project.Before starting a project involving remote workers, it is vital that IT companies evaluate its complexity. Is it a challenging project, a maintenance project, or a typical application development (Web app, mobile app, or cloud services) project?
To be successful, a remote-working model for software projects by IT companies calls for a proactive approach. We suggest in-depth follow-up studies focus on other technical, business, and behavioral factors that influence the efficiency and productivity of remote work and also address the limitations of such work.
IEEE Member Sudhaman Parthasarathy is a professor of data science and head of the computer applications department at the Thiagarajar College of Engineering, in Madurai, India. Chandrasekaran Sridharan is an associate professor in the computer science and engineering department at the college.
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