Settling into the new norm for an embedded engineering workforce - Embedded.com

Settling into the new norm for an embedded engineering workforce

Hybrid working practices will be adopted to keep the workforce happy and this is likely to continue.

Working from home (WFH) trends fuelled by the pandemic have become the ‘new norm’ even as companies adopt more relaxed health measures. And as the workforce returns to the office in quite different ways, the question remains ‘can the ‘new norm’ be sustainable’ or will companies try to get back to how they were prior to COVID?

One thing is sure, in the electronic engineering sector the need to complete urgent projects has still been the priority and has even become more acute against a worsening economy.  Productivity and sales have often been key to survival.  

Whilst many companies have been able to maintain their productivity through a WFH culture, there have also been cuts in headcount and hiring freezes and some employees have left companies because they do not want to return to the office.

Success of the WFH trend

The loss and shortages of highly skilled engineers and the mismatch of skills to requirements is having a detrimental effect on getting projects completed on time and on budget. We are seeing that the success of the WFH trend for both employers and employees has meant that some companies are changing their attitudes towards remote workers. And it may even have opened their eyes to what remote contract embedded engineers could bring.

Additional complications such as worldwide chip shortages and a demise in top level skills have left electronic engineering companies bereft of the vital talents for take their technologies forward. The costs of a permanent hire are also quite debilitating for any company trying to maintain profitable growth in a highly competitive and shrinking market. Many companies are also prone to make their hiring decisions based on what is available around the location of the office.

Global pool of highly skilled Embedded Engineers

During the pandemic, companies have been forced to send their workforce to their home environments and are now considering the option to get a better sense of what a remote, on-demand, better skilled engineering workforce could accomplish through the path of hiring on a short term basis..  If companies pay only for vital tasks as they’re needed and are able to choose from a wider range of geographically dispersed workers, they can better manage the bottom line. These specialists are generally used on short term contracts utilising their top level expertise in high productivity and quick turnaround situations. They are highly skilled and highly sought after as leaders in their own areas of expertise.

And of course these specialists are perfectly set-up to optimise their home environment.

We are finding clients are reacting favourably to a ‘working from home mantra’ with remote freelance contractors as they are able to accurately select the best skills matched to the requirements of the project, and working from home is not now such a ‘taboo’ thing as it has been a necessary operation in this pandemic. Even before the coronavirus, remote jobs were increasing rapidly because of its advantages, including higher productivity and lower operational costs. Engineers can take the advantage of having a more flexible schedule, greater job satisfaction without the need to commute.

The opportunity for employers is that they are able to select from the very best skills from a workforce across the globe rather than one living within the proximity of the office.

In the embedded engineering market both individuals and companies are continuing to adapt to a ‘new normal. And for contracting positions, we estimate remote working is now approximately 85% of the total business, compared to the 30-40% pre-COVID, it was then more of an onsite/offsite hybrid scenario.

In the majority of cases, clients are now only asking for a contractor to be present on-site if there is a specific physical necessity to be so or if it’s the contractors preference. This flexibility has allowed them to consider working with expert consultant contractors who are immediately available rather than gearing project start-ups around getting skills on-site.  As the relocation factor no longer becomes an issue, the lead-time to start a project can be greatly reduced.

Perfect Match, Flexibility and Cost savings

We are also seeing that the pandemic has injected the global economy with a sense of urgency, of how to get projects completed, against a backdrop of needing to reduce headcount and hiring freezes. Even though economic activity has stalled, there has been an increase in freelance engineer registrations attributed to specific, project-related needs and greater confidence in the effectiveness of remote, temporary workers.

Businesses that already were gradually moving toward a leaner workforce have accelerated their efforts due to necessity. Companies that may have been resistant to remote work or using contractors on a project-by-project basis discovered that their workers were just as effective working from home as they were in the office. The fact that when they’re not paying for long-term employment (including benefits and payroll taxes) or office space is key, companies can save a lot of money by focusing on project-specific, short-term hires. This is especially suitable for companies that expect or need flexibility with their projects. Plus the fact that they can be highly specific on skills required for a particular project and less likely to have a skills mismatch. Successful freelancers are agile by definition, even if they are working for multiple clients at the same time or take on short-term roles with limited ramp-up times. They get used to setting up their own environments and hit the ground running far better than in-house employees.

As costs for contract engineers largely come out of a project budget rather than corporate salaries there are benefits to the overall headcount and budget and can be easily controlled.

Strategic path

I expect to see the trends towards a leaner, project-based workforce continue beyond the current crisis as companies adapt to a new ‘norm’. The COVID pandemic has forced companies to look at using outside help for the first time and we believe most businesses have considered it a roaring success and will continue with enlisting further remote and freelance contract help into the future.

Electronics organisations have also recognised that some tasks need to be done onsite and also they respect that employees want to have ability to meet with colleagues in the office setting, so some hybrid working practices will also be adopted to keep the workforce happy and this is likely to continue also. However productivity is the key, and I believe that as the impacts of COVID, skills shortages, chip shortages, still affect the electronic engineering market so the requirement for  flexibility and high skills offered by professional freelance embedded engineering contractors will become more and more at the heart of a company’s strategic thinking.


Richard McCullagh is the CEO of CIS Electronics Engineering overseeing all day to day operations, developing strategic plans, company policies while maintaining an open dialogue with shareholders, and driving organizational success. Richard has over 20 years commercial experience including working for large multinational organisations to growing medium size organisations within the technology sector and construction industry.

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