The remote working revolution is in full swing as we enter 2023, with no sign of the move towards working from home abating any time soon. This is wonderful news for many workers, including those with care responsibilities and those who were previously forced to make a long commute to get to and from work every day. There are apparent downsides, though, including the barriers to collaboration that can exist in remote teams. Here’s how to overcome them, in the context of the product design lifecycle, which hundreds of thousands of people worldwide are involved in.
When you’re working remotely, you need to make sure everyone’s on the same page when it comes to how the resources of the company are dished out, and how they’re accessed. In product design, there’s a very simple rule where this is concerned: you need to be able to access the materials to make your products, whether that’s plastics from polychemistry.com or metals from a local foundry.
All of this means that you need to be sharp on how you share things as a team. It’s easy to share things virtually, such as designs made digitally, but harder to share the physical plastic that you’re planning to build your product out of. To help your team get to grips with these issues, consider asking companies to send multiple material samples to all your staff. That way, everyone will have a chance to experience the physicality of your product materials.
Put simply, the primary objective of any team in collaboration is to communicate effectively at all times. Even if you’re in different jurisdictions and time zones, you’ll have to make sure that everyone is singing from the same song sheet, everyone has critical communication technology installed, and that everyone is aware of certain periods of the day in which group calls are made.
With all this in place, it shouldn’t be too difficult for your team to communicate as effectively as if they were in an office. Still, there are other elements of communication and collaboration that a product design team might miss, such as getting their hands on product prototype designs.
One of the downsides of working remotely is that you’re not able to meet in person. That means, in the context of product design, that you’re unable to gather as a team around the table to share sketches and to fiddle with prototypes to find flaws in the existing design. While this might seem like a huge sticking point for product design, it certainly need not be.
It can be useful to have a product prototype sent to multiple different people, even if that’s a more expensive process in the short term. When you have just a single prototype, your staff can often get tunnel vision, agreeing upon the same notes without fully inspecting and testing the prototype. Giving it to multiple people who join different households, though, can result in one or more of them unearthing something novel and important bout the current product design.
The other way to test a design and collaborate on the initial blueprint of a product is to use high-value software that has been designed specifically for those in the product design and production industry. Here, there’s cloud-based design software that anyone in your firm can access at any time, giving you an excellent level of collaboration that will be comparable to the insides of any office space.
If you’re unsure about the best software that’s currently on the market, a quick search will reveal all of the most impressive services that you can try as a business. Try to locate the software that you feel will work for you, rather than a package that you can see some flaws in. The software works best when it achieves something your firm needs, and in this case, you’ll be looking to bridge the remote working gap while encouraging flexibility and creativity in all of your processes.
In the product design space, there is often physical work that must be done to test and play with ideas on how products ought to be designed. This can be difficult to conduct when there are key personnel in your organization who are working from home. Many firms experimenting with remote working are nonetheless attempting to retain a small space for people to meet in, and this might be important for your company, should physical testing be a priority for you.
If you used to have a large workshop, hiring a smaller one that anyone in the firm can go to work in might be a smart hybrid option going forwards. You could also meet in shared maker spaces across your local city, or even in small events spaces, with each member of the team attending bringing some equipment or materials needed to work on the physical product. It might be that full remote work does not suit firms that perform a great deal of physical work.
Factory and Production
Another aspect of the product design lifecycle is that you will eventually want to hand your product over to a factory floor, where a combination of human labour and robotic machines will help to construct large numbers of your products for sale on the mass market. This is something that cannot be made a remote-only operation, but you’d be surprised at just how close we are to removing people from the factory floor.
With smart automation technology advancing rapidly, it’s not unlikely that, in the coming decade, we’ll see only a handful of operatives present in even the largest factories. Machine learning and AI should soon begin to learn to correct their production processes on their own, without human interference or oversight. That means that, for large production firms, even these shop-floor staff can work from home in the future.
There you have it. Some key insights into how product design and engineering teams can work successfully while working remotely in the coming years.