In the digital age, hybrid teams — a mix of central office workers and remote workers — are becoming increasingly common. Aside from the necessity of remote work for some companies, and under certain circumstances, these structures also allow workers to determine the best working environment for their purposes.
When a company is creating a new product, the product-development team typically takes a top-down approach. The product manager takes on a leadership role, directing team members toward different tasks during the development phase. The product manager is also often the sole source of ideas regarding the project.
In a remote-work environment, this can be challenging to overcome, given the physical distance. One or more product managers may solicit ideas from the wider design team, but the product manager decides the result.
Remote work (telecommuting) has been available to design teams for years. However, it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that the need for design teams to be fully remote became necessary. For some companies, the transition was simple — these new startups were versatile or remote anyway. For others, some restructuring was required.
One of the first challenges that remote teams have to overcome is different time zones. When your team consists of designers in North America and analysts in the EU, collaborating when each team is working from home can be difficult to arrange. Schedule flexibility is critical to meeting deadlines and achieving actionable results.
Managers also have to find ways to foster innovation while preserving the unique culture of the workplace, despite the distributed nature of the team. The result is often what’s called a hybrid team. As many workers return to a central physical location, companies have sought to hybridize the team, allowing some employees to continue working remotely.
This may be necessary due to geographic limitations. For example, if you have talented workers in another country, moving can be costly or legally difficult. Instead, you’re able to leverage the talents of a diverse workforce using telecommunications technology.
The Free Flow of Information
Regardless of whether you’re working with dynamic physical systems, such as mechatronics, in the smart mobility industry, or the entertainment industry, a non-hierarchical work environment can promote the sharing of ideas and information freely, which is critical to achieving success.
When non-managerial team members collaborate on developing a product, the collective group designs products, not the managers. This strategy allows any member of the team to contribute, providing a broader range of perspectives. Management plays an organizational role, facilitating implementation or production. Product managers can still contribute ideas, but they aren’t the sole source.
By decentralizing access to information and creating customized dashboards or spreadsheets, you can ensure that everyone can contribute input. This increases the pool of knowledge you, as the product manager, can draw from. No one is excluded from finding and submitting solutions to a problem.
One of the most effective product strategies divides responsibility between management and the design team, ensuring that each team performs tasks or explores strategies depending on the inherent difficulty or weight.
As part of the hybrid strategy, managers should share information regarding the user experience with engineers. For engineers to design and revise a digital product to meet customers’ demands, they need to receive qualitative feedback.
This lets your engineers understand exactly how their work has been received and what they need to do differently next time. It also shows them that their efforts are not wasted and have a meaningful impact on the end-user. When the customer is the priority, every member of the team should strive to satisfy their needs.
Expectations and Goals
Part of the manager’s job is to ensure that every worker understands the goals and expectations of the team and what their duties are. While the expectations should be clearly defined, the methods employed to meet and exceed them must be flexible.
The Right Tools
A remote team is only as functional as its digital tools. For your remote workers to communicate effectively, collaborate, and share information, they need access to the right platforms and software. While many companies choose to write and exchange information using Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) tools, others like Slack, Zoom, Skype, Trello, Basecamp, and other applications increase efficiency and productivity considerably.
Effective communication isn’t limited to the technology you use. Two-way communication between managers and employees is essential to achieving results and meeting deadlines, regardless of whether you’re in the same office or on a different continent. If you, as the manager, implement a change in strategy or direction, every team member should understand why and how they can individually support this adjustment.
Keep Meetings Focused
Keep meetings short and to the point. Using Zoom calls to socialize may be tempting, but individual team members shouldn’t be expected to participate unless it’s strictly necessary to the project’s goals. It’s also important to provide sufficient notice that a meeting will be held and distribute key discussion points, preferably by email.
Part of every engineering project, whether digital or physical, is collaboration. Engineers from varying disciplines join together in professional associations to share insights and information specific to their fields. When studying engineering or contemplating enrolling in a school, you should understand how to become accredited and what you need to be licensed in Canada.
At the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers or OPSE, we strive to meet the needs of our members by providing an abundance of resources and perspectives. This allows you to connect to the wider engineering community. Check out our “Join” page and see how OPSE can benefit you in your career.