Article

Tips for collaborating remotely on new product development

By Charlie Wood, Director of Application Engineering and Design, Fast Radius

The pros and cons of remote work have long been debated. While some studies have found that remote workers enjoy greater productivity and a healthier work-life balance, the challenges of remote work are substantial. Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report reveals that remote workers struggle to unplug after work, often experience loneliness, find collaboration and communication difficult, and deal with distractions at home.

Of course, that report summarized the challenges of remote work in 2019. In 2020, the sudden transition to remote work that many organizations and their employees experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t necessarily allow much time for strategic planning or forethought. As a result, these challenges may be more acute for today’s remote workers than for those of years past.

What’s more, product development teams tend to rely heavily on real-time communication and collaboration. The front end of the development process is entirely reliant on the rapid exchange of ideas and information — it’s not atypical for a product team to spend hours or days together during this phase, sketching early prototypes on whiteboards and offering feedback in real time.

Later in the product development process, further challenges emerge: as it comes time to build and test parts, it’s much more difficult to do so without the possibility of gathering the whole team in one room.

These teams are likely to experience a more difficult transition to remote work than others, especially for project managers tasked with ensuring a new part or product is developed on a set timeline. While in-person interaction may always be the best fit for these certain kinds of work, there are steps teams can take to ease the transition to remote work and facilitate productive collaboration from afar.

Use video conferencing as much as possible

Video conferencing simulates a face-to-face interaction, and while email and instant messaging are quick and convenient, face-to-face communication is invaluable when exchanging ideas.

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 While nothing can replace an in-person meeting, video conferencing comes much closer than email or instant messaging.

Humans are programmed to respond to each other’s facial expressions; many people find that collaboration comes more easily and more naturally when they can see their colleagues’ facial expressions and body language.

What’s more, video calls facilitate more participation and discussion, as it’s easier for people to jump in with off-the-cuff thoughts and ideas when communicating verbally versus over email. In addition, many video conferencing software options offer the ability to screen share, which can allow designers to quickly and easily demonstrate an idea or show a detailed mock-up.

Collaborate early, collaborate often

Even when it’s not possible to simply walk down the hallway or spin a chair around to bounce ideas off a colleague, brainstorming and collaboration remain vital — and spontaneous communication remains possible. Chat tools like Slack enable instantaneous communication, and many now even offer built-in video calling for when an idea is best expressed verbally.

In addition, collaborative project management tools like Basecamp offer the ability to make annotations and offer real-time feedback, nearly simulating the experience of a whiteboard session. However, even with the help of these tools, collaboration may not come as naturally in the remote-working world; it may be necessary to proactively schedule time to exchange ideas.

This could take the form of group brainstorming sessions or even open “office hours” where a team lead or project manager keeps a video call open for a set number of hours to allow employees to drop in if desired. In the world of remote work, the right amount of communication is likely to feel like over-communication. More than half of remote employees feel isolated from their colleagues; mitigate this problem with concerted efforts to increase communication.

Nothing replaces holding your parts

Although we live in a virtual work environment, product development ultimately depends on creating physical objects. That’s why prototyping, testing, and collaborative product development and design services remain central to Fast Radius’ offerings.

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We ship parts to each other and to our clients to continue sourcing much-needed feedback, working closely with our operations team to ensure we never miss a beat. For product teams continuing to work throughout the pandemic, a partner like Fast Radius is invaluable.

Fast Radius helps to ensure a seamless product development process, even when your team can’t be together in person. If you’re interested in learning more about how Fast Radius can help your team, contact us today.

Ready to learn more? Check out the Fast Radius resource center to read about some of our work and capabilities.

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