How to Manage a Remote Team for Electronics Design
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Remote work has become all the rage in the corporate world over the last few years, especially in software and hardware development jobs. Significant growth has been seen in both industries. We’re not just talking about outsourcing here, we’re talking about salaried employees taking ownership of important projects as part of a larger development team.
According to a recent study from the world’s largest freelancing network, approximately 73% of all teams are projected to have remote workers by 2028. The drive to form remote teams is both employer-driven and employee-driven. On the employer side, remote teams carry lower expenses and provide access to a broader pool of talent. Both points are especially important in the electronics world as more design teams are becoming multifunctional electronics teams, embedded software teams, and hardware engineering teams. On the employee side, remote work carries less stress, provides a better work-life balance, and eliminates time and commuting expenses (this can produce huge savings over time for remote workers).
With all the activity in the remote workforce, both in the software and electronics industries, project managers and team leaders need powerful collaboration tools that allow access to remote talent without sacrificing product quality. Here’s how to manage a remote team for electronics design, and how an integrated design collaboration system aids remote team management.
The most important thing to consider with any remote team is this: hire professionals, and treat them like professionals, and you’ll get professional results. Hiring and managing remote teams requires having trust in your team members. Although there are plenty of processes to consider when putting together a remote team, I’ve found that remote team management boils down to three important practices:
- Set clear expectations: clearly define roles, boundaries, expectations, and goals, both as part of a job description and during projects. For remote electronics design teams, this means setting very clear action items and ensuring each member of the team takes ownership over their part in a larger project.
- Have regular one-on-one meetings: this is a great way for managers to take an employee’s temperature on their role in a project and within the organization as a whole. It also gives a manager a chance to identify any challenges and give team members the tools they need to succeed.
- Enforce transparency: this is one of the most intense points of resistance to going remote. When team members have access to shared design data, they can hold each other accountable, and managers can get a truly accurate view of progress on a project. This requires using the right team collaboration tools for PCB design.
You can increase your confidence in your team by implementing these simple, yet effective management practices. Remote teams need to be set up for success. In the electronics world, this means giving your team members the right set of design and collaboration tools.
Obviously, tools like Skype and Slack are important communication tools for managing remote teams. These applications are widely used by the software community, and I prefer to use Skype and Zoom to communicate with team members and clients. However, these and other communication methods are too inefficient for PCB design. In fact, most software on the market can’t provide holistic design collaboration and management functions, forcing companies to cobble multiple programs into a convoluted workflow.
For electronics design, and hardware design in general, everyone in the industry has commonly relied on internal networks, emails, or cloud services for file sharing. This makes design inefficient; designers aren’t able to collaborate on a design unless they’re in front of the same computer screen. Instead, remote teams need design collaboration features that are built into their EDA software. Here are the design features that are critical for remote PCB design teams:
- Instant data sharing in a common interface. Instead of emailing design files back-and-forth, relying on FTP servers, or trying to collaborate on designs through screen-sharing programs, design data changes should be sent between a designer, customer, and manufacturer in a common interface.
- Revision tracking: Let’s face it, sometimes a team member makes a mistake, or a design choice gets reviewed and needs to be rolled back. Just like Google Docs, built-in revision tracking allows you to roll back to an earlier version of your design. Everyone has access to previous versions and annotations of the same design data.
- MCAD collaboration: Everyone tends to focus on the electrical design, but newer electronics are carrying innovative mechanical requirements. Mobile/wearable devices, anything with a flex or rigid-flex board, and plenty of other products have mechanical requirements that must be considered during electrical design.
- Supply chain and component data: Throughout the past, many designers have compiled their own component libraries and manually entered supply chain information.
While manufacturing requires clustering a remote team into a single facility, these very collaboration practices are critical for communicating with designers in preparation for manufacturing. Inefficient collaboration practices between designers and manufacturing engineers—and an overall lack of communication—is often cited as the most common reason for manufacturing delays.
The PCB manufacturing industry still relies on file transfers between designers and manufacturers (IDX, DXF, and IDF files). In the event a design needs to be modified before manufacturing, this manual file transfer process and screen sharing can be a productivity killer. Integrated design and collaboration tools are ideal for quickly executing and validating electrical and mechanical changes to a new design.
Learning how to manage a remote team for electronics development can carry a steep learning curve, but the powerful design collaboration tools in Altium 365™ help ease the transition to a fully remote development team. The design features in Altium 365 are integrated into the industry-standard PCB design tools in Altium Designer®. You’ll have an ideal set of ECAD and MCAD design and management tools for building new electronics products and preparing for manufacturing.
Contact us or download a free trial of Altium Designer® and Altium 365™. You’ll have access to the industry’s best MCAD/ECAD co-design, PCB layout, documentation, and data management features in a single program. Talk to an Altium expert today to learn more.