Seattle startup Uplevel adds features to measure engineer productivity in remote work settings

Like many startups, Uplevel is adapting as the economic crisis changes how its customers work.
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This story was originally posted on Geekwire by Taylor Soper on June 10, 2020.

The Seattle company emerged from stealth mode earlier this year, revealing its software tools that measure the productivity and happiness of developers. The platform can show whether engineers are stuck in too many meetings, assigned too many tasks at once, or don’t have enough focus time, for example.

A sample chart from UpLevel showing how engineers spend their time.

With the shift to work-from-home as a result of the global pandemic, the dynamics of how engineers get work done and how they are managed have changed. Uplevel noticed that employees were working too much, feeling isolated, and unable to complete tasks compared to the traditional in-office environment.

“At the office, engineering teams used to worry about physical interruptions and in-person meetings, which forced them to context switch to keep up,” Joe Levy, co-founder and CEO, said in a statement. “Now, due to increased digital interruptions from work and physical distractions from home, teams are context switching more than ever. As a result, many people are ‘always on’ — responding to messages at all hours, an easy solution since their office is right next to the bedroom.”

A sample chart from UpLevel showing how engineers spend their time. (UpLevel Photo)

In response, Uplevel this week released new tools for managers:

— “Always on,” which measures hours on message apps such as Teams or Slack, or the number of meetings and pull requests for a given engineer. The idea is to help assess if workers are having trouble disconnecting from work.

— “Isolation Identification,” which measures attendance at virtual work and social meetings, to help employees maintain collaboration and connection with their team.

— “Throughput,” which measures metrics such as median review time and Jira cycle time so managers can identify changes in work productivity.

Pros and cons of remote work

The coronavirus pandemic has quickly turned a somewhat theoretical debate over the pros and cons of working from home into a global, real-world experiment. Now, as communities across the country begin to re-open, employers are weighing what they’ve learned against the costs of returning to office life.

Many teams have proven to be more productive when working remotely, particularly in the tech industry. Workers are able to handle issues that come up at home in real-time, and have more flexibility with activities such as exercise or eating. They also don’t waste time commuting through traffic to the office.

But the trade-offs for those benefits remain an open question. Last month Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the New York Times, “[W]hat I miss is when you walk into a physical meeting, you are talking to the person that is next to you, you’re able to connect with them for the two minutes before and after.”

Nadella also warned about the consequences of embracing telecommuting permanently: “What does burnout look like? What does mental health look like? What does that connectivity and the community building look like? One of the things I feel is, hey, maybe we are burning some of the social capital we built up in this phase where we are all working remote. What’s the measure for that?”

Uplevel spun out of Seattle startup studio Madrona Venture Labs. The company was founded by an organizational psychologist and a group of tech executives with shared Microsoft DNA. It raised $7.5 million in seed funding this past January, with Norwest Venture Partners, Madrona Venture Group, and Voyager Capital participating.