One of the lasting consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a reassessment of where and how work is conducted as well as an increase in remote work — working from home, or other locations outside of the office. As employers and employees seek to address the new reality, the emerging consensus is that the new workplace will look significantly different, with remote work continuing well into the future.  

This shift to remote work is reflected in the attitudes of both employers and employees. A survey of business leaders by Gartner found that over 80% plan to continue to allow employees to work remotely at least some of the time, with almost half, 47%, saying they will allow employees to work from home full-time. For employees, the flexibility of remote work is proving similarly popular. A survey by McKinsey and Company found that 52% of employees would like their organizations to move to a more flexible, hybrid virtual-working model with some time spent in an office and partial worktime spent remotely. 

For product development, the significance of this shift is profound. Firms seeking to remain competitive must now rethink how they are empowering employees and re-examine legacy technology, including their CAD and data management solutions. These firms need to prioritize access and collaboration in order to ensure their employees remain productive when working remotely. As a result, many firms are now looking closely at digital and cloud-based data management solutions. 

CAD Access and Collaboration Anywhere, Anytime

As product development leaders assess the remote needs of their employees, they are quickly identifying a few critical priorities that must be addressed. The first of these is simply ensuring access to design file data. While basic, this requirement is often not easy to accomplish. 

For designers and engineers using file-based CAD, the transition to working remotely during COVID-19 often proved incredibly difficult. File-based CAD, fundamentally designed for the office environment, requires users to log into an expensive, dedicated CAD workstation and then sync files with an on-premise server.  To work remotely, these individuals face the complexity of either having their IT team set up a dedicated VPN connection, or of continually traveling back and forth to the office to sync their files and upload and download copies of their design files. In addition to the cumbersome nature of the process, the synching of files creates enormous opportunities for version control issues.  

These complications of remote work are in addition to common data management challenges already facing file-based CAD users. Survey research from The State of Product Development & Hardware Design 2020 report revealed that a majority of users of Product Data Management (PDM) systems are often unable to simply find and access the design data they need. The new demands of working remotely only serve to exacerbate these challenges. 

In contrast to file-based CAD, cloud-based product development enables employees to make a seamless transition between the office and working remotely. With cloud-based solutions, designers and engineers have access to their design documents regardless of location and from any device. The “single-source of truth” enabled by the cloud ensures that users never need to worry about uploading or downloading the most current design file. With cloud-based product development, users can be confident they are always working on the latest version of their design. 

Enabling Collaboration for Engineering Teams

Another critical priority for designers and engineers working remotely is the need for effective collaboration. Accustomed to the spontaneous and often iterative creativity that comes from face-to-face work in the office, remote work can prove to be a culture shock. For file-based CAD users seeking to communicate with videoconferencing tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the challenges of sharing detailed and complex design files can often prove overwhelming and inhibit the ability to collaborate.

In contrast to the myriad challenges facing file-based CAD users, users of cloud-based product development solutions can often virtually replicate the in-person experience. With these cloud-native tools, users can simultaneously collaborate with each user having access to the same design at the same time. The single source of truth enabled by the cloud lets users execute their own edits on the design, or simply “follow along” with a presenter. In addition to productivity gains from teams that can align more quickly, costly version control mistakes can often be avoided.  The ability to collaborate more easily on designs allows teams to overcome challenges more quickly and accelerate the design process. 

Remote CAD Access and Work Flexibility

Another critical requirement of technology in the new post-COVID normal is empowering workers with the flexibility to access critical design information quickly and easily. Especially as the delineation between work and personal life has blurred, it is increasingly important for users to be able to have technology that keeps them productive during regular or “irregular” work hours. 

In a scenario that is common for many designers, a deadline might require additional work to be completed during “off hours.” To address pressing deadlines, designers or engineers might opt to work on their project at the end of a workday from home. With file-based CAD, a user simply doesn’t have the flexibility to work at the office on a design, go home, and pick up work on the same design. In contrast, cloud-based product development platforms let a user pause work on a design, go home, and pick up right where they left off without missing a beat. Users never have to worry about version control headaches from starting on the wrong version of a document or losing work that is in progress. 

Another benefit of cloud-based product development is the flexibility it allows in addressing unexpected or last-minute changes. It is not uncommon for a head of engineering, project manager or engineer to receive a “last-minute” design change or update. In the past, a time-sensitive update happening at the 11th hour might require that employee to leave wherever they are — whether at a child’s soccer game on the weekend, or at a grade school play — to return to the office, log into the workstation and make a required edit or issue a required approval. Using cloud-native CAD, a simple review of design changes or required approvals can be quickly made — including from mobile devices.  As a result, users can keep up with critical deadlines while still maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

As the nature of work is redefined by the pandemic, cloud-based technology is playing an increasingly important role in helping companies and their employees address the new challenges of a work-life balance. By providing a single source of truth and enabling improved access, collaboration and work flexibility, cloud-based product development platforms are enabling firms to keep their commitments to their customers while also empowering workers. 

Get Your Copy of the “Beyond Data Management” eBook

Interested in learning more about how forward-thinking companies have benefited from switching to a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CAD platform? 

In Onshape’s eBook, “Beyond Data Management: How Engineering Leaders are Turning Data into Insights,” we explore how leading firms are rethinking data management in order to empower employees, streamline processes and ensure accelerated time to market.  

In this eBook, you’ll learn how on-premise CAD systems are slowing product development down — and how switching to a cloud-based platform can eliminate these time-killers. You will explore the following critical issues:

  • Access to Design Data – File-based CAD users are locked to individual computers and licenses. Cloud-native CAD enables access on any computer, tablet, or phone. 

  • Version Control Errors – Multiple design file copies often lead to engineers accidentally working on the wrong version, which can result in costly manufacturing mistakes. Cloud-native CAD relies on one master 3D model as the single source of truth. 

  • PDM/PLM Administrative Headaches – The check-in and check-out process of file-based Product Data Management systems creates slow serial workflows. Cloud-native data management enables simultaneous collaboration.

  • Lack of Analytics/Visibility – Because file-based CAD users store their work on individual hardware, managers have no visibility into a project until formal design reviews. Cloud-native CAD enables 24/7 access to designs by critical stakeholders.

With the increasing need for remote collaboration tools for distributed teams, cloud-based CAD and data management are no longer a nice-to-have technology, but a business necessity.

Download your copy of “Beyond Data Management: How Engineering Leaders are Turning Data into Insights” today and get a head start on your company’s digital transformation!