Raise your hand if you've ever thought it would be great to work right out
of your home.
Ah yes, plenty of us have thought so. And, thanks to flexible work rules, some engineers are working out of home offices. Many others, of course, have downsizing to thank for the move home, having been turned into contract employees working on a project basis for their former company and other companies.
The benefits of working at home are compelling. Foremost among them: no commute. Lose the commute and you gain back the travel time that used to be so unproductive. You can use that extra time for family, errands--and even work, which is only a room or two away rather than a car, bus, or train ride.
Of course, you give up the inspiration that comes from bouncing ideas off your neighbor at the next computer terminal. The camaraderie that develops in an office can help everyone refine their designs and produce better products. It's also hard to practice concurrent engineering--working closely with manufacturing to ensure that designs are buildable--when you're not there.
What brings these thoughts to mind is a conversation recently with Microcadam's John Sunderland. A bit of a philosopher as well as an experienced engineering pro and a CAD guru, he frets about the potential loss of corporate engineering memory and lack of engineering skills being built up within companies that farm out engineering or force their engineers off premises. Still, as he says, every problem holds an opportunity too.
In this case, one of the opportunities is for software developers to make their CAD and FEA products easier to use for home-bound engineers who may not have access to colleagues who can help them use the software's full potential. Microcadam, Autodesk, Ansys, and virtually every other developer is doing that. Microcadam is even incorporating voice-activated user commands.
There are also opportunities for companies such as PictureTel, which develops video-conferencing equipment. Engineers can meet via computer to collaborate on-design.
In the end, it probably doesn't matter where you work--home or office. What's important is what has always been important, the opportunity to communicate and collaborate to make good ideas even better.