Virtual Collaboration – The Future of Collaboration in Engineering Companies?
The world has never been as united as it has been since the beginning of 2020 when the coronavirus crisis began. This applies to both private and professional life. Forward-looking and future-oriented thinking – especially in companies – has never been more essential. In the professional world, time has come for virtual collaboration and the use of opportunities provided by global networking with customers and partners.
How can virtual collaboration in engineering processes respond to the challenges posed by the impact of the pandemic?
Virtual collaboration should not only be considered for internal corporate communication, but also for cooperation between a company and its customers. Currently, it is almost the only way to maintain close contact in a secure manner. And this cooperation is of particular importance when it comes to complex customization projects in the field of mechanical engineering. Until recently, digital communication hardly played a role in this field, but it can no longer be managed without it.
With its numerous possibilities, virtual collaboration is much more than a temporary solution: There is no other way to work that flexibly, quickly and cost-effectively with one another. Meetings with several participants from several countries can take place within minutes. The right tools even allow for an interactive involvement of all participants.
The tools also offer the opportunity to share knowledge and files. Everyone can moderate a meeting and it is possible to work on the same document simultaneously. The video features are of particular interest when it comes to products: for example, as an engineering company, you can present new products to your customers and solve problems directly. You can even demonstrate maintenance – live and on the same product the customer uses.
In summary: Apart from direct personal contact, virtual collaboration offers the essential aspects for working together successfully even on complex development projects – irrespective of where you are.
How can you prepare for virtual collaboration with manufacturing companies?
Of course, the sudden need for virtual collaboration also poses challenges. Usually, the first challenge is the selection of the right collaboration tool. It has to be suitable for internal corporate communication as well as for work with external customers and partners. As there are various technical solutions for digital communication, companies and their customers must find and define a common path to virtual collaboration.
When deciding on a tool, data security is certainly quite important. There are numerous solutions available that guarantee security and protection of privacy. Before companies acquire a license for a virtual communication platform, it should be clarified whether the tool meets both the internal security requirements and those of the customer.
Once the right tool has been found, there are some important aspects to be considered in order to ensure smooth and successful communication: Virtual meetings require more attention than face-to-face conversations. “You need to be really well prepared and structure your meetings when it comes to virtual conversation”, Alexander Volk, Managing Director at KNF Neuberger AG in Balterswil, Switzerland points out.
Of course, the general recommendations for virtual collaboration also apply. These include turning on the camera to see facial expressions especially in conversations; using a headset to increase sound quality, and the participation of only one person per device to not to mix up physical and digital collaboration.
How does KNF master the challenges of virtual collaboration in order to work efficiently on system design projects?
“At KNF, we have a unique corporate structure and proven working methods as we have always collaborated with our partners all around the globe”, knows Eric Wilson, Director Sales and Marketing in Trenton, New Jersey (USA), who has been working for KNF for 17 years. KNF started using the advantages of virtual collaboration long before the coronavirus crisis. Already back then, this did not only improve the internal knowledge transfer between the 17 KNF locations. The use of virtual collaboration as an internal corporate communication tool also optimized the corporation with joint customers across KNF locations in different countries.
Today, KNF and its customers benefit from the years of experience, as Alexander Volk says: “Especially in the beginning of the pandemic there were several companies that did not use any tools for digital communication. With our knowledge we could and still can support them with this topic.” Efficient use is the prerequisite for customer collaboration, for engineering projects like product development, and for internal corporate communication.
KNF trained personnel to facilitate virtual collaborative meetings and has even helped customers in their use. “Understanding customer needs is vital, which requires asking the right questions, practicing active listening, and good back-and-forth discussion”, adds Eric Wilson. “If attendees are struggling with using the virtual communication tools, this can hinder fluid collaboration.”
How does digital communication work with virtual collaboration tools?
Organizations should choose the most suitable tool for their virtual collaboration needs in terms of internal corporate communication and client communication. “Of course, there are several effective collaboration tools available. But we chose Microsoft Teams with its numerous features such as team channels, conferences, virtual meetings or instant messaging. It allows for close contact with customers, information exchange without loss and the best possible cooperation”, explains Eric Wilson about the decision. KNF can even present a remote how-to demonstration on pump maintenance, or even virtually troubleshoot an issue. Two important aspects for an efficient and successful collaboration with customers, especially when working with customized solutions.
In particular, the possibility of working virtually but still close to the client in video conferences allows for efficient and effective progress in joint projects. This is very important to KNF’s process of close and personal collaboration. Information and files shared during those video conferences via chat, notes or whiteboard are also available to the participants after the meeting. This way, all parties involved are always up-to-date.
The future of virtual collaboration starts now
As long as the pandemic prevails, virtual collaboration will remain a priority for internal corporate communication as well as for working with customers. KNF and engineering partners benefit equally from it. In these challenging times, virtual collaboration provides the essential opportunity to maintain close cooperation, which is particularly important for complex processes such as product development.
With its numerous advantages and considering aspects such as time, costs and environmental protection, virtual collaboration can be a valuable alternative in the future as well. Or as Eric Wilson sums it up: “I think it’s going to be a blend of virtual and personal cooperation allowing for the optimum efficiency.”
If you’d like to take advantage of the benefits of virtual collaboration with KNF, contact our KNF experts to discuss your needs.