Socially Distanced, But Not Socially Isolated: Managing a Remote Engineering Team
By Arian Bloomfield, PE, and Eric Webber, PE
Almost overnight, many companies have moved from collaborative office spaces to home offices in basements, kitchen tables, and guest bedrooms. This can be a big shift for companies that traditionally collaborate face-to-face with their teams.
One would think remote engineering would fit us. As stereotypically introverted engineers, we would prefer a dark, windowless room with a great internet connection and our calculators. At Morrison-Maierle, we have produced quite the opposite culture with well-lit, open seating plans to encourage collaboration with team members.
Embracing the New Normal
We are proud to say our team at Morrison-Maierle has transitioned seamlessly to “the new normal.” With some amazing staff who were able to adapt quickly and an agile management structure in place, our work is mostly back to “work as usual.” Managing structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers is no different from many other careers.
Many have recently offered tips and tricks to help those working remotely as a team. Here are a few that we’ve found particularly useful as an engineering design team:
- Video is your friend – Face-to-face interaction can help with communication. It might take a few days, but we’ve gotten used to seeing ourselves on camera. Software like Slack, Teams, Zoom, or others can help with internal and client communications. Remember to check your background clutter, children, pets, or bright windows that may distract you from your video call.
- Connect regularly as a smaller team – Whether you are managing a team of 2 or 50, having quick, 15-minute video meetings to check in as a team helps everyone feel connected. We like to mix these up daily or every other day, first thing in the morning, mid-morning for a coffee break, or end of the day. Switching up the time and topics can help make the meetings feel less official. We all miss the conversations around the water cooler.
- One-on-one videos are key – Larger meetings tend to leave some people out. Many do not feel comfortable asking questions in a larger group. Try to talk to each of your team members individually each week.
- Client video calls work great – To our surprise, holding virtual client meetings works well. The ability to share screens communication has been easy and clear.
- Embrace technology – Bluebeam, Microsoft One Note, or To Do can help manage a team and your tasks. Take your collaboration virtual!
- Continue to manage day-to-day activities – Don’t forget to keep up with the typical routine design aspects of the job. Digital QA/QC reviews, editing of reports, and general how-to questions should continue like they always have.
- Encourage your team to get outside and exercise – Working from home may cause some to feel isolated. It may also increase the number of hours people spend physically working. With laptops, it is easy always to have them by your side to respond to notifications immediately. Ditch the laptop occasionally and take breaks to rest your eyes from the computer screen. Exercise helps clear your mind. Schedule time for work and time for exercise.
- Flexibility is a must – Many staff members have mixed schedules and must juggle childcare responsibilities. It is important to help adapt to everyone’s schedules. Discuss your team’s daily and weekly schedules so everyone knows how and when they can contact each other.
Although many of us engineers are introverts, we are often excited to get out and meet with our peers and clients in person. Working from home may not be our preferred method, but to stay safe, it’s important to be flexible and adapt to our new changing conditions. Embrace the situation, encourage communication, and join the virtual work world!