5 Tips to Build a Successful Remote Hardware Team
When the work-from-home movement started to gain momentum, certain industries were more well-prepared than others. Some fields like software development were able to make the transition seamlessly, while others like hardware struggled to adapt.
At the heart of this discrepancy is collaboration. Software engineering has a well-put-together set of tools that facilitate easy collaboration, while hardware lags behind. Hardware engineers have the hardest time in any field to do their work remotely owing to antiquated design tools that are cumbersome and inhibit collaboration. Still, remote work enables greater productivity, creativity and overall happiness so it’s vital that the hardware industry catch up.
At Flux, we have experience building a fully remote team of hardware and software engineers. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
If you’re building a remote team, you’re going to be relying on video calls as your primary communication method. For this reason, one of the most important things you can do for developing a remote hardware team is to choose your video conferencing software wisely.
Video conferencing is absolutely vital to the hardware development process. Where hardware products are physical and tangible things, hardware engineers need a way to remotely collaborate that is highly visual. Hardware designers need to be able to look at a design file or 3D model to effectively share and communicate their ideas about the design.
Because of this, video conferencing software needs to be more than just a means of seeing and hearing each other. Instead, you’ll want to look for a platform that helps individuals communicate, collaborate and share notes, all while documenting the process along the way.
Fortunately, thanks to advances in AI, most video conferencing software tools have the ability to perform automatic AI transcriptions, analyses and call summaries. Merge this with a cloud-based platform that doesn’t require downloads and the ability to save each call for communal access, and you’ve got yourself a winning formula for hardware teams.
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There is a major shortage of tech workers right now, especially in the hardware industry. Compared to software engineering, for example, fields like electrical engineering are seeing far fewer new graduates on a yearly basis. The result is that the talent pool for quality hardware engineers feels tiny. Even worse, these engineers tend to be geographically concentrated in a handful of big tech hubs such as Palo Alto or Boston.
Building a successful remote team requires expanding the talent search to markets outside of your locale. In this way, you can ensure that you’re always recruiting the highest level of talent possible, and dance developing the best products and solutions possible.
Collaboration is key when building a remote hardware team. Hardware products are intricate and require various fields of expertise such as electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and firmware engineering. It’s almost impossible to successfully develop a product without a culture of deep collaboration. So, naturally, having collaborative design tools is essential to the success of remote hardware teams.
For electrical engineers, the industry sorely needs more truly collaborative design tools. A collaborative PCB design tool can allow hardware engineers to simultaneously work in the same file together and reap the benefits of remote work without losing the advantages of collaboration.
With these kinds of tools, hardware teams can share their designs with one another, modify the same design, and leave comments in the same file as well. This can help streamline processes like design reviews.
This is also important for other aspects of hardware design, like manufacturing. Find a collaborative tool that can allow external vendors to access design files without the need for expensive licenses — resulting in more streamlined and successful manufacturing processes.
If you’re ever on a call in a remote company, the go-to method for sharing information is often screen sharing. While screen sharing has its merits, allowing everybody on the call to view the same information simultaneously, it also has severe limitations.
Instead, it’s much more powerful to have everyone actually accessing the same native file together at the same time. This way, people can directly interact on the same piece of work, read through a document at their own pace, and be more effective in their output.
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Hardware devices are physical products, so when it comes to the hands-on aspects of product development, it may be necessary for engineers to get together in the same room.
However, this can be done in moderation. Design can often be done remotely, especially with the use of powerful collaborative tools. Once you move to more physical stages of the product, like testing and integration, consider integrating a rented location for a short timeframe, such as one week. Once the product reaches the point where being in person is necessary, the hardware team can congregate at this rented location and accomplish what they need.
This kind of “in-person moderation” approach can help minimize in-person working while also ensuring that the necessary work gets done.