Implementing Successful DevOps in an Era of Remote Work

Even before the pandemic, companies of all sizes were trying to figure out how to best approach DevOps. While all companies want to quickly adapt to changing markets, innovate faster, and manage projects with less friction, it’s often difficult for teams to figure out the ideal combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that constitute optimized DevOps.

With COVID-19 and the rise of remote work, the DevOps journey became even harder for many companies. How can you best collaborate over processes when your team is only present via video screen? What’s the best way to ensure continuous delivery despite a lack of daily in-person stand-ups? 

Although enterprises with mature DevOps processes adapted quickly to remote work, those at lower DevOps maturity levels are still trying to navigate their way through. The key to success, as with so many things tech-related, is frequent communication between stakeholders at all levels. Software development is ultimately a team game. 

It also comes down to selecting the right tools. Even the most competent team can quickly get bogged down in day-to-day processes. “It’s important to have the right DevOps tools for work tracking, reviews, deployments, monitoring reduce the manual work so the people can focus on important tasks rather than repetitive work,” said Ranga Karanam, a DevOps instructor at Udemy.

Karanam is seeing increased focus and investments in cloud adoption, as well as remote-collaboration tools such as Teams and Zoom. Security and identity-management tools are also essential for remote workers; mature DevOps practices already feature integrated automated security checks, as well as vulnerability checks for software code, binaries, and any container images before application deployment.

“With cloud adoption, DevOps adoption becomes easier due to availability of tools,” he added. “People and process will remain the challenge, as usual. Organizations good at it will adapt quickly.”

Looking to the DevOps Future

For mature DevOps teams, the focus is now on building cross-functional and multidisciplinary teams that can learn and grow together—despite the separation that inevitably comes with remote work. 

Steve Jones, DevOps advocate at Redgate Software, explained that being remote is a challenge to culture, but notes he’s seen some interesting ideas that work well for some teams.

For example, one team opens a Zoom call every morning and leaves it open; everyone works all day, but they can stop and talk on the Zoom channel if they need contact with other team members. 

Other teams take breaks and play games together, either online or even board games over video calls. “I know that there can be fatigue for meeting and video calls, so I would limit those as much as you can, and use them to build culture and interactions,” he said. “If things can be communicated better through chat or logs, then use those instead of meetings.”

It’s key to ensure good communication between groups that might not communicate on a daily or even weekly basis. That ‘good communication’ can come from regularly scheduled meetings or group events—the key thing is that all stakeholders must attend. 

Fortunately, many aspects of DevOps align well with widely dispersed teams. “Teams may need to learn to communicate over video instead of in person, but most of the automation, the notifications, the logs, all fit well with remote work,” Jones said. He expects DevOps will continue to grow as more companies see the value in remote work, and need to ensure that their process and protocols are followed.

“I expect that tooling will help ease the ways in which we set up projects, access, and networking, especially around databases,” he added. “It is possible there are firewall and networking changes to allow individuals in disparate locations to access them, but a well-configured VPN may alleviate even this need.”

For public resources, companies should ensure that privileged users are checked and multi-factor authentication is used, and review logs to be sure that there are not unexpected access attempts from hackers.

Fellow DevOps advocate Kendra Little explained that, at Redgate, DevOps is practiced in a variety of contexts. “The transition to remote work has not only caused our teams to shift to virtual alternatives for meetings, but also to investigate with an experiment with rituals and techniques to improve team communication, build a positive culture, and support mental health in a remote workplace,” she said. 

Little suggested that organizations iteratively experiment to find the practices which work well for their specific culture. “Examples of what we’ve done at Redgate include ‘traffic light’ style checkins, an asynchronous book club, and a fully remote internal tech conference,” she said. “We’ve also continued our practice of annual re-teaming, which matches our engineers with the most engaging work for their interests and talents.”