If you have an engineering business where your team are frequently working off-site or even overseas, then you’ll understand the challenges of trying to collaborate on projects remotely.
Assigning tasks easily, keeping everyone in the loop, following up on jobs and staying on top of the administration side of projects are common struggles. Without the right tools, you increase the likelihood of misunderstandings, decision-making is harder, dialogue becomes disjointed and your service may begin to lack consistency.
It can be a little overwhelming when it comes to understanding what you really need. So here are my suggested essentials for simplifying collaboration at your engineering firm, whether you’re in the office or out:
1. Document management and storage
Document management software allows you to organise, edit and share documents with those inside your organisation and out - and have a completely paperless office.
As an engineer, you often need to send and share large documents with colleagues or clients. Instead of going through the time-consuming process of compressing files, document management software gives instant access to the most up-to-date file. It’s a more time-efficient way of accessing plans, data sheets, site maps, manuals and project documents, and ensures you’re always working on the latest version.
At WorkflowMax we use Google Drive to collaborate on documents and spreadsheets. By creating folders and assigning access, our marketing team can see all files related to specific jobs or projects, instantly make edits and work on documents collaboratively from anywhere.
Two other good options for storing documents are Box and Dropbox. You may want to ensure you choose an option that integrates with other tools you already use in your business, such as your job management software - which brings me to my next point...
2. Job management software
Job management software for engineers such as WorkflowMax allows you to manage your whole project - from quoting, to costing and time tracking, through to invoicing, in one place. That means that your team members can log in from wherever they are to update and view the latest project information. They can enter their timesheets, job costs, project-related documents and emails, and view milestones instantly. As a project manager, you’ll have complete visibility over where a job is at, and therefore always be able to deliver your clients the latest updates.
3. Communication tools
Image courtesy of Skype
Long email trails can becoming confusing and difficult to manage, not to mention you’ll often experience a lag in response if you have engineers working away from their desk a lot of the time.
If you haven’t already, it might be time to add a smartphone or tablet to your engineers’ tool boxes. Your employees can then make use of a chosen communication app so you can instantly get in touch, whether they are in another office, working from home, or working on site - all they need is an internet connection.
The office here at Xero uses Google Hangouts internally to send instant messages and hold video conferences. In the WorkflowMax marketing team, we’ll often use Hangouts to hold virtual meetings with colleagues in other countries, collaborate with our overseas PR and marketing consultants, and communicate with clients without having to arrange more time-consuming face-to-face meetings.
The WorkflowMax marketing team also uses Skype to discuss projects and send files. One of our team members, Steff, is only in the office two days a week, but we’re in contact throughout the day via message or video call.
Google Hangouts and Skype both offer the ability to share your screen with the person on the other end of your call. However if they’re not a Hangouts user themselves, then using a screen sharing tool like Screenhero means it’s just like being in the same room.
Image courtesy of FormTab
How many forms and documents do you require your clients or those involved in your projects to complete? What is your current process for getting these filled in, set through and entered in your system? With a tool such as FormTab, all your company forms can be stored and accessed in one place, anywhere that you have an internet connection. You could have an engineer entering this information out in the field, then your office administrator can instantly retrieve and review this information.
What other tools do you use at your engineering firm to make it easier for your team to collaborate? Share your tips below to help out others in the industry.