Learning from a distributed model at Outerspace

At Outerspace a distributed studio model has been a valuable learning experience for everyone and it’s united us as a team. We adapted quickly to either working from home or working in the studio and workshop while giving one another the space and flexibility they need to complete projects safely. I think a lot of us will miss this – as we gradually gravitate back to the studios in Melbourne and San Diego.

Everyone is adept at working to a brief and, as always, we keep our communication and management style open and collaborative. We’ve always had a system in place where project managers give their teams targeted tasks with clear deliverables. This has made the transition to a distributed model easy for us. We give clear consideration to how we brief and communicate.

To make the innovation process most efficient for clients, we focus on the details and what a deliverable looks like. When we are in our own space, there isn’t as much studio conversation and ‘back and forth’, and our designers and engineers are spending more time in their own headspace, but with a clear brief they are surging ahead. As a result we have been working more efficiently.

Like so many of us – we are looking forward to the buzz of our office, studios and workshops. In the meantime, our team has been finding new ways to explore and brainstorm in their own timeframes and work environments.

They are openly communicating and coming up with innovative ideas and variations of ideas. We’ll continue to use these creative thinking techniques as we gradually move away from the virtual and back to having the studios fully occupied.

Outerspacers are showing a lot of initiative and using their own brainstorming techniques, or sharing ideas online on Zoom. Our more junior team members, who are often quieter in the studios, are feeling more liberated and are coming to us with fresh innovative ideas where previously they were not always heard.

The team’s ability to manage their days around what works best for them has been key. They have biased their days and managed their own time. They have been taking a few hours off in the middle of the day, which gives them more flexible hours.

We are having very targeted meetings. We have a meeting every day, at the same time, that suits Melbourne and San Diego staff, where everyone is welcome, checks in and shares what they are doing. This makes sure team members have a purpose every working day. We have our weekly WIP and a weekly social get together drinks session. So again more structure is key to supporting the social elements of our distributed workplace.

Interestingly, working this way has also invited team members into other people’s lives and homes. We’ve got to know one another better and it’s made us closer as we get glimpses and a better understanding of how our colleagues live. Little observations and connections to other conversations – this really helps innovation, because the more comfortable the team is together, it’s more likely they’ll speak out and contribute ideas.

We work closely with our interstate and overseas clients. This is business as usual for us, with studios and offices in Australia and the US. It’s a positive for us in the current circumstances. We’ve honed skills in communications with clients and suppliers for many years. It’s been more of an adjustment for our local clients and connections.

Our prototyping and workshop facilities have stayed open in Melbourne. When the team in San Diego had to shelter at home, they moved some of their workshop equipment into a home garage so we’ve had the flexibility to provide for our local clients in the US.

For the vast majority of projects the studio and workshop in Melbourne has been kept open for the team to access the facilities for projects, using the electronics lab and the workshop for assembly and manufacturing support. We have dedicated equipment that’s essential for this. Some of the team have 3D printers at home.

Our systems enable sharing and access with cloud based solutions such as G Suite. This enables collaboration on presentations and work using tools such as PDM software for sharing, control and releasing mechanical and electronic CAD, and programs such as GitHub for versioning control and controlling firmware and software.

This allows us to effectively work remotely on a lot of project elements while keeping a high level of security and control throughout the product development documentation process.

We moved totally to the cloud early on for most of our processes, software platforms and document sharing and moving forward we’ll be even more flexible with team members able to work from home if they need to.

As we transition to the next phases of working apart and closer together, it’s heartening and inspiring to see our team thrive, support one another and innovate for our ever-important clients.

Andrew Moore

Operations Manager – Outerspace Design – Melbourne and San Diego

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Andrew Moore
About the Author
Andrew Moore
Andrew has years of experience in engineering and manufacturing across multiple sectors. His strengths are in the commercialization of ideas and business management. He works closely with clients to help them to clearly define, contextualize and achieve their goals.

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