Today’s world of work requires a new way of thinking. The changes to the world of work present new questions and challenges for technological organizations. Specifically regarding the practice of Agile Software Engineering, which has traditionally insisted on co-location - potentially creating a tension with the hybrid way of working (working from the office and home). For SAP, flex work, onsite, and virtual collaboration are a unique part of our DNA. That is why we chose to dive deeper into what this means for software engineering employees - we wanted to learn from them in order to best leverage these findings to help our teams thrive. We see this as a key element of the Future of Work in the software development context.
How does hybrid work affect agile software engineering?
The Scrum methodology is widely used in the SAP engineering teams, which work in sprint cycles. The present global academic research focuses on understanding hybrid work from the perspective of SAP global development employees who work in Scrum teams, what we call "Flex Scrum". The research was conducted with the Faculty of Management at Ben-Gurion University in Israel and focuses on productivity, engagement and belongingness measurements of the Flex Scrum setup.
To achieve a broad global scope and an in-depth understanding of agile development processes in a hybrid work environment, a combination of quantitative (two global online surveys) and qualitative methods (observations, interviews, etc.) of data collection was used. The sample includes only employees working in local teams that can (technically) meet easily in the office and from different development functions.
The qualitative stage included observations of all teams onsite, as well as online interactions like interviews, job shadowing, and focus groups. This stage was conducted at SAP Labs Israel, which was re-opened early after the COVID pandemic lockdown.
The quantitative stage was conducted via two Qualtrics online global surveys. Responses of 721 SAP developers from Brazil, Israel, Hungary, Canada, Bulgaria, and India were collected. The quantitative stage ran with two surveys (June and July 2022) to get support for the hypotheses that emerged from the initial stages of data collection.
Flex Scrum research findings
Hybrid work is important for employer attractiveness
About 78% of the surveyed employees indicated the importance of Flex Work as between 5 and 7 (on a 7-point Likert scale) in their decision to work for SAP or when looking for a job.
Perceived productivity is not affected by the hybrid work
According to the research, employees reported not feeling any difference in productivity whether working from home or from the office (53.70%).
Office presence is crucial for increasing belongingness levels
Belongingness was found to be much higher when working from the office, as compared to working from home. Having said that, 49% of participants do not see a difference between working remotely or at the office.
Highest engagement levels reported for 2-3 days working from the office
The research shows that most employees (64%) do not see a difference in their engagement level when they work from home or office. However, significant relationship was found between engagement and actual days of work from the office, with highest engagement levels reported for 2-3 days working from the office.
Certain Scrum events are better suited for the office
It is recommended to run the Sprint Planning as well as the Retrospective events at the office. The daily Scrum can be conducted virtually. The Sprint Review can be conducted either in the office or at home depending on the situation.
The Scrum team is the main vital unit
The research shows that the Scrum team is the main unit that employees identify themselves with and the center of belongingness, engagement, and productivity.
>> Read more about the research findings & recommendations:
Image description: Quotes from the research participants about specific Scrum methodology events
Research Recommendations: Leveraging Flex Scrum in the day-to-day
The findings in the present research pose a valuable source of insight for software engineering teams working in the Scrum framework. While the future of work strategy is well underway at SAP with the Pledge to Flex hybrid working model among many other initiatives, the research findings will be thoroughly considered in setting the future direction. Keep reading to get a glimpse into SAP’s current approach to hybrid work as well as recommendations based on the research findings:
Attract employees to work from the office based on the “nature of task”, so they see the value of coming to the office.
Decisions regarding office attendance should betaken on a team level, while considering the best location (home or office) to perform the Scrum events and the nature of the teams’ tasks. SAP has developed an enablement tool to support teams to define their own hybrid working model, which is available publicly - the Flex Team Workshop.
Enhance workplace interactions at the team level and at the group level. Initiate professional and social interactions between team members, group members or all the local employees; and interactions with Scrum Masters/Team Leaders and group managers.
Find a solution to the commuting/transportation issue, such as arranging company transportation or shifting the working hours out of the traffic jam hours in your location.
Reconsider the design of the office and its facilities. The workspace should allow employees to leverage from the social interactions as well as to concentrate on their focus tasks. To tackle this, SAP has developed and implemented the 4C approach for workspaces: Concentration, Community, Communication and Collaboration. This approach features activity-based workspaces with a variety of different work settings to match every role and task. Frontrunner locations are already making use of this approach and seeing great results.
What are the future directions for hybrid work and software engineering?
The ever changing fast paced environment today requires an unprecedented level of agility. The desire for flexibility at work is here to stay as a key employee need and a decisive factor in defining employer attractiveness.
Despite all the great progress, there’s still a lot to learn. That’s why there remains a great need for a more scientific approach in finding the right path towards getting the best out of working hybrid. The present research on Flex Scrum only highlights the importance of collaboration between companies and academic institutions.
We hope that these findings will support the transition towards doing hybrid right as well as spark an interest in diving deeper with a scientific approach.
The journey doesn’t end here. We can all contribute towards building an environment of work that fosters flexibility, productivity and well-being. A work environment that works for all.
What was the most interesting research finding for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!