Can engineers work remotely? It depends on whether you need access to specific equipment or if you’re hands-on with the final product.
Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of remote work for engineers by addressing these two questions:
- Do you rely on complex machinery and computers in your job?
- How often do you engage with your end product in your job?
Do you rely on complex machinery and computers in your job?
If your job involves pricey equipment in a lab, like at SpaceX, remote work is a no-go. Think powerful CAD machines, rocket parts, prototypes, and high-end tools. Plus, some gear just isn’t allowed off company property due to liability issues.
But hold up! Some engineers can create a mini-lab right in their own homes, and their company might even chip in for the costs. If you’re a hardware engineer designing circuits, for instance, it’s totally possible—as long as the equipment costs don’t skyrocket (aim for $20,000 or less).
You could also try doing some initial design work at home and then head to the office for implementation and testing, depending on the complexity of your tasks.
How often do you engage with your end product in your job?
If you’re an engineer who regularly visits project sites or supervises manufacturing, being a full-time remote worker is a no-go. You’ve got to be there in person. For me, I can’t go 100% remote because I visit construction sites to:
- Review construction quality
- Chat with contractors
- Guide contractors through my design
- Tackle construction issues
Which engineers can best work from home?
Here’s a list of engineering gigs that can be done from the comfort of your couch:
#1 Design work: With a VPN and a networked office, you can tap into your company’s servers for smooth design sessions in your PJs.
#2 Customer support: Most of these jobs can be remote since you’re usually connecting via email or phone. Only onsite support requires your in-person presence.
#3 Internal coordination: You can be the glue that holds parties like manufacturing and R&D together, all through emails and calls.
#4 Managing outsource teams: If you’re a U.S. engineer keeping an eye on remote foreign engineers, you’re already online—so it’s a no-brainer.
#5 Software engineering: Remote work and software development go hand in hand since most production and testing happens on a computer to start with.
Should engineers work from home?
A Buffer report reveals the biggest benefits of remote work:
|Remote working benefit||Respondent rate|
|Working from any location||30%|
|Time with family||14%|
|Working from home||13%|
But, many engineers I’ve chatted with wouldn’t want to work from home forever. Here’s why:
- Loss in productivity due to distractions
- Loss of social interactions leading to depression
- Inability to efficiently solve complex problems with colleagues
- Upward mobility for promotions becomes difficult
I personally believe there’s nothing like in-person teamwork to tackle complex issues. You can brainstorm and troubleshoot together in real time. That’s why I love being in the office at least a few days a week.
However, it all boils down to your personality. Some engineers are introverts and adore working from home, while others are extroverts itching for face-to-face time.
So, the answer typically lies somewhere in between. According to Buffer, here’s the lowdown on the biggest struggles with remote work:
|Biggest remote working struggles||Respondent rate|
|Unplugging after work||22%|
|Collaborating and/or communication||17%|
|Distractions at home||10%|
|Being in a different timezone than teammates||8%|
|Taking vacation time||7%|
|Finding reliable wifi||3%|
The shift in company culture with remote work
These days, high-tech giants like Google are all in for remote work. They’re hip and savvy, keeping up with the latest trends and technologies. But the more traditional engineering professions, like civil engineering firms, are a bit more old school. They’re still hanging on to those tried-and-true work models, even though a lot of engineers could totally do the work-from-home life.
7 considerations engineers should make on whether to work remotely or not
If you’re an engineer with the chance to work remotely, here are 7 things you’ll want to consider:
#1 Building connections and making an impact
Let’s face it, building relationships and climbing the ladder can be tough when you’re working remotely. Here’s why face-to-face time is so important:
- You’ll chat about things beyond work, like sports, family, and health. It’s how you really connect with people.
- People will remember you, not just your name on a screen.
- You can read people better in person.
This is particularly important for engineers who may not be natural social butterflies. Remote work could disrupt that essential team dynamic.
#2 Tackling complex problems
I’ve tried almost every popular online collaboration tool out there. They’re effective.
But nothing beats face-to-face work when it comes to solving complex problems. Here are a few perks:
- You can sketch out ideas and get instant feedback.
- You can see if someone truly gets what you’re saying.
- You’ll have someone’s undivided attention, unlike with remote work where you can’t always tell if they’re secretly playing video games while chatting with you.
#3 Casual questions evolve into learning opportunities
Picture this: you walk into a fellow design engineer’s office and start discussing a problem. Suddenly, the conversation morphs into an in-depth exploration of related topics, and other engineers chime in with their insights.
I’ve gained so much knowledge this way. Many people underestimate the value of group engineer discussions, especially for young engineers who require guidance.
In remote work, this scenario rarely unfolds. Instead, your colleague would quickly answer your question, and the conversation would end.
#4 Enjoying flexibility at home
Remote work offers you incredible flexibility in your personal life.
Most service providers operate during typical 8-5 office hours, Monday through Friday. By working from home, you can more easily:
- Visit your dentist
- Call and dispute fraudulent credit card charges
- Schedule home improvement projects with contractors
- Spend time with your kids and family
Balancing professional and personal responsibilities can be stressful. Thus, remote work can improve your mood, leading to better performance.
#5 The commute conundrum
By skipping the daily commute, you’ll save time, money, and energy. Plus, it’s safer and less stressful.
I know a few Twitter engineers who used to commute from Sacramento to San Francisco – a mind-boggling 4-hour round trip daily!
And let’s not forget how this exhausting routine tanks your productivity.
#6 Mastering self-management
Remote work isn’t for everyone. If you struggle with focus when alone, you might face distractions at home, such as:
- Video games
- A spouse
- Endless food
Without proper structure and planning, working from home can be a challenge, especially in engineering, where extended periods of absolute focus are necessary.
#7 Your home office setup
Does your home office have the essentials, like:
- A proper desk
- Large dual monitors
- High-performance computer
- Fast internet connection
These factors significantly impact your productivity and well-being. Sure, you can upgrade your equipment, but it’s still a consideration.
Many engineering tasks demand a powerful computer for CAD and design simulation software. Additionally, most engineers require ample workspace to spread out papers and other materials.
Remote work is an option for many engineers, but company culture plays a significant role in this decision.
Sometimes, outdated company cultures hinder optimal work models. Plus, it’s a big shift, particularly for seasoned engineers.
However, remote work can save companies money through reduced overhead costs. Ultimately, organizations must find that sweet spot between keeping productivity sky-high without running their workforce ragged.
As for me, I’m all about mixing it up with a blend of both worlds.
How about you? Are you all in on remote work? Do you think productivity will take a hit or shoot up with permanent remote work?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering-related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over 15 years now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, our history and future, sports, and fitness.