Amazon has become the latest company to shift its remote work policies to further accommodate employees' desire to work from home. Led by tech giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Oracle, the new normal for technology companies is to allow their teams to work where they want — and increasingly that is outside of the office environment. 

This shift to remote work has increased the need for technology to help empower workers to stay productive, creative, and collaborative. For firms that design and build innovative products, this new normal requires a shift from workplace/office-centric legacy technologies to the cloud.  

Specifically, leading product firms are realizing that proven, cloud-native product development platforms like Onshape are a “night and day” difference from the slow, cumbersome, file-based legacy CAD systems that their teams have long struggled with. 

For remote workers, the benefits from cloud-native solutions are numerous. These include easier, intuitive “one-click” access to design data via web-based links, the freedom to access design documents from any web-connected device including tablets, Chromebooks, or mobile devices, and “freedom” from worrying about data crashes and hours of lost work. 

Accessing and Locating Design Files? Over 80% Say It’s a Challenge.

In fact, for those in the C-suite or managers who may have lost touch with the daily process of product engineering, it’s sometimes shocking to be reminded that engineers — even when in the office — struggle with the basics of staying productive due to outdated technology.

For instance, recent survey results in The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2021 report revealed that a majority of users of file-based CAD systems struggle with simple tasks. The survey found that over 80% of designers and engineers reported difficulty in finding and accessing design data — identifying it as one of the chief time wasters. 

This data might be surprising to some. But it is illustrative of the profound challenges that designers and engineers face in using backward-looking file-based CAD technology. In a day and age when folks are accustomed to fingertip access to the data they need, or the ability to order a product with a few swipes and a tap on a mobile device, file-based CAD is keeping teams mired in the past. 

And, as teams look to work remotely, the expensive and inflexible hardware of workstations and on-premise servers that characterize file-based CAD are simply not capable of enabling these individuals and teams to stay productive. 

In stark contrast, users of cloud-native CAD platforms like Onshape are able to instantly access their data from any device and any location. The cloud gives these designers and engineers the freedom to create, collaborate or edit design data regardless of whether they are in the office or working remotely. 

Freedom from Data Loss and Worry

Similarly, data loss rises to the top when it comes to the challenges facing designers and engineers. As important as being able to access the right data is the ability to work without concern that the data will be unexpectedly and irretrievably lost due to a system crash. 

Unfortunately today, as the survey statistics also illustrate, designers and engineers using file-based CAD must labor under the Damocles-like threat of losing their data due to an unexpected system crash. The data shows that 72%, almost three quarters, of all designers and engineers expressed concern with losing work due to data crashes. 

The dynamic today for users of file-based CAD mirrors something that only an older, perhaps nearly retiring, generation in the workforce remembers. Few can recall the habitual and pedantic act of manually “saving” documents via mental pauses and fingertip gymnastics to simultaneously hit the right keys on the keyboard. Surprisingly, designers and engineers using file-based CAD — even now (in the 21st century!) — must routinely hit “CTRL+S” to ensure that their work is saved and not lost due to a random system crash. 

In addition to the anachronistic nature of the very idea of manually saving work is the observation that these designers and engineers must expend the time and mental energy thinking about the threat of losing hours of work. Think about it: Instead of concepting the next great design, many designers and engineers are instead “looking backwards” over their shoulder to find ways to ensure that their work product is not lost. 

Increased Collaboration and Communication

In addition to the basics of being able to access design data and the freedom from worrying about losing data, the new normal of remote work is placing new demands on teamwork and collaboration.

Today, whether working on different elements of the same design or working on the intricacies of complimentary pieces that must fit together seamlessly when brought together at the end of a development process, designers and engineers must work closer and collaborate better than they have in the past. 

Unfortunately, and as crazy as it sounds in the age of Google documents and one-click file sharing, for those designers and engineers using file-based CAD, there is no easy, purpose-built way for users to share information. Even now it is still the norm to have to save and then append design files to an email to send to a colleague.

Sending copies of design files back and forth is as time-consuming and tedious as it ever was. And it is also a process inherently prone to errors and miscommunication. Users continually revise their latest design file to address feedback from multiple sources, and then must begin the version process again — sending a new copy to colleagues. This process results in version control errors and colleagues reviewing outdated design files.   

In contrast, those designers and engineers using the cloud-native Onshape product development platform can quickly and easily share design ideas. In fact, users can work on the same document at the same time, with the ease and access of commonly used applications like Google Docs and Google Sheets. In addition, because Onshape is specifically designed for product development, users have an array of useful features that include task management, notes, and comments and an historical audit path that fosters collaboration rather than inhibiting it. 

Today, as firms seek to address the new challenges of a remote workforce, product development leaders are embracing the cloud, and cloud-native platforms like Onshape to empower their teams and ensure that workers can stay productive.

One of the lasting impacts of the pandemic has been a collective realization by analysts and business leaders that firms of all sizes must move more swiftly to improve their technology systems to become more nimble and react more quickly to future unexpected “Black Swan” events. 

The imperative for change is clear. However, even as employers and their IT departments seek to “figure it out” employees are actively making consumer-like decisions on where they want to work, and what vision they want to be a part of in this brave new world. The bottom line? The future of work is already here, and it is looking significantly different than what came before. “CTRL+S” that. 

Get Your Copy of “The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2021”

Interested in learning more about potential areas of improvement for your product development team? In addition to exploring the impact of remote work, this 2021 industry survey also offers insights on the following topics:

  • Reducing Wasted Time – 85% of teams say they sometimes can’t access the correct version of their design data; while 83% say they sometimes can’t even find it in a timely manner. Another 71% of teams say they have lost work due to CAD system crashes and data corruption.

  • Pandemic Impact – As a result of the product development lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, 63% of engineering professionals say remote collaboration tools are now more of a company priority. Another 58% of respondents say they now have a greater need for seamless access to design documents from any location. 

  • Data Management Challenges – Half of on-premise PDM/PLM users say that their software gets in the way of team collaboration and slows down the overall product design process. While 45% say PDM has only replaced one problem (version control) with another problem (delays).

  • Workplace Flexibility – Companies that view themselves as “highly productive” are better at supporting “work from anywhere.” While 74% of high-productivity companies say they are good or excellent at giving employees flexibility for when and where they work, only 41% of average or low-productivity companies give themselves similar marks.

  • The Capabilities Gap – Companies self-rated their actual performance vs. their desired goals across specific areas of the design and manufacturing process. The two biggest priorities for improvement this year are “minimizing time spent on non-design related activities” and increasing “early communication, visibility and clarity in the design process.”

  • The Generation Gap – Across multiple categories, millennial and Gen Z engineers give their employers lower scores for offering workplace flexibility and for enabling real-time access to information than their later-career colleagues. This perception gap is important for executives to consider as they think about their future recruiting efforts.

Download your free copy of The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2021 today and discover the best opportunities for improving business agility.