DevOps and HumanOps: Efficiency meets empathy

With DevOps engineers potentially caught in an exhausting always-on cycle, companies must adopt tenets of HumanOps to avoid burnout.

How do you grow as a company without burning out your employees? DevOps preaches better collaboration and increased efficiency, both of which can help employees work faster, eliminating the need for longer hours. Another component of DevOps, however, is a continuous software delivery schedule, which can add to an employee’s workload. Cloud computing and automated systems have made the continuous delivery cycle a reality, but if not implemented correctly, a shift to DevOps can have a detrimental impact on employee health and morale.

To succeed at full implementation, DevOps must incorporate some tenets of another organizational philosophy: HumanOps. When it comes to DevOps and HumanOps, efficiency must also include empathy.

"We’re in a 24-hour business now where our websites, applications, and services are always on and available and we, as technology professionals, need to be always-on as well," said Rob Elkin in an interview with Elkin, the CTO of Busuu, a social networking site for learning new languages, noted, "People expect it from every part of the business, but especially from the IT department because technology is becoming just a massive focus for so many businesses."

Without taking into account how an always-on work culture will affect its workforce, a business risks burning out employees, which will result in reduced productivity and low retention. With a high turnover rate, a business will need to spend additional resources hiring new staff. HumanOps posits that human health impacts business health.

When an enterprise adopts DevOps, it must put into place systems that balance workloads to avoid a handful of employees routinely being called in after hours to put out fires. DevOps paired with HumanOps requires processes in place to ensure that organizations exhaust alternatives before calling someone back into the office to fix a problem, as well as a system to track and report these calls.

As a previous article on the balance between consumer satisfaction and employee work-life noted, some empathy-orientated companies have already put measures in place. Etsy employees can opt in for sleep and fitness monitoring, which helps managers schedule on-call duties. Another company taking measures, Server Density, monitors which employees deal with out-of-hours incidents and allows them to be off-call for the next 24 hours after responding to an issue. Besides these examples, the bottom line is that there must be a way for employees to alert management when after-hours calls exceed norms.

One way for management to understand the load placed on its IT staff is to add a manager or two to the on-call rotation. Nothing triggers empathy more than walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, especially after a late-night trip to the office responding to an IT emergency.

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