I thought about the phrase in the title a great deal this spring when the coronavirus pandemic also forced our entire product development team to take up remote working over the course of just one weekend. Six months have now passed since that moment in March, and I can safely say that we have, for the most part, adapted well to this new method of product development without any significant effects on the end results. It seems that we can do almost anything – when we have to. The biggest thanks for this goes to our whole team. Here are some of my thoughts about the past six months, with a few ideas about the future.
A year ago, remote working was not very popular in our product development team. I don’t believe I am too far off the mark if I say that a large share of us did hardly any remote work before March, despite the fact that Murata Finland updated its remote working policy in January 2020, according to which employees were allowed to work remotely half of the time if their duties so allowed. However, this renewal did not result in much of a change in the team’s remote working habits, even though they now had the opportunity. I think that remote working would have gradually become a bit more popular, but probably not by very much and not very quickly. The coronavirus pandemic, however, caused such a massive leap in remote working that I, at least, expect it to continue to be more popular than before.
Product development teams and projects have been given carte blanche on how they have started to operate regarding remote work, how communications have been handled and what kinds of new methods have been introduced to promote and supervise remote working. We do plenty of independent work that requires a great deal of concentration, but brainstorming and dialogue between different designers and the different sections of projects are also central. We also have some teams and roles (such as laboratories) where remote working does not work the same way as for design teams. This means that practices have been very team-specific, depending on the nature of the work and the worker’s role.
The key to successful remote working and, through this, the introduction of new work methods is largely based on mutual trust. This sudden transition to remote working has forced both us and many other companies into a situation where people have to trust that the work will get done, regardless of the place. And our work and the projects have progressed. We have achieved results, which is more important than where the work has been done.
In August, we also held a small survey for the product development personnel, asking for their thoughts on remote working and what kind of challenges and positive sides they had discovered. Even though the responses had some variation, most people held very similar views about certain matters. Increased peace and focus on working as well as more agile coordination of work and family life were seen as positive sides. Saving time on commuting was another factor worth noticing. The concerns, however, listed prolonged working hours and the general blurring of the line between working and leisure time as well as the scarcity of social interactions. People missed brainstorming sessions and saw the decreased communication between the different organizations and teams as concerning. In particular, informal discussions across organizational and team boundaries were difficult to achieve remotely. These are matters where new operational models and ideas are still needed, so there is room for improvement. Work ergonomics and the need for breaks were other concerns that were mentioned. These are other factors that should be considered when remote working is no longer just occasional.
In addition to people, one “technical” success factor for remote working that cannot be left out is Microsoft Teams. It has played a major role during the last six months. We were all forced to learn to use it in a matter of days. All meetings, chats, workshops and information events were held via Teams. We have established our own virtual teams in Teams, both for our local teams and around product development projects or various subjects. All this happened very quickly without any large-scale planning or common, comprehensive guidelines. One proven Teams function is the possibility to record events. RnD has held several information events for large crowds that have been recorded and then utilized afterwards for the induction of new employees, for example. Overall, Teams has truly proven to be a necessary tool. Thanks to our IT team, we at Murata had great prerequisites for taking it into use.
All in all, the situation brought on by the pandemic and increased remote working has, despite its challenges, also offered opportunities, new insights and great possibilities for learning. Still, we should keep in mind that we are still continuously learning more. We should all think about how product development can be done efficiently in a way that best promotes productivity and occupational well-being and how we can share our working days between remote and contact working even after the pandemic. A balanced combination of physical presence and remote working would probably benefit us all.
Senni Laaksonen, VP, Research & Development