Distributed team management: request for advice

Stanford Online High School launched FRC Team 4014 in September. We’ll be at the San Diego and Los Angeles regionals in 2022.

We’re looking for advice on how to best manage a hybrid team, with remote coding/design and in-person fabrication/building. Our 22 founding team members are distributed across the U.S. Of those, 6 are based in Southern California, where we will fabricate and build the robots at Urban Workshop maker space in Irvine. The core team will meet Fridays/Saturdays all-day during the season.

Do you know of teams who successfully work together in a “hybrid” manner, with some members remote and others on-site? Who are they, and how do they do it?

Many teams worked in a distributed way last year: what worked and what didn’t? What workflows or tools were most useful?

Really appreciate any and all ideas or observations. Many thanks.

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Like most topics here, we are not the most versed, but we did do some of this last year.

I was just thinking that with COVID, all teams may need to consider this.

We are a small team, and we were mostly working with Romis when we were hybrid.

Many of the challenges are not far-removed from in-person meeting challenges. How can you maximize your time while keeping everyone engaged, learning, having fun, and achieving your goals at the same time?

The best way to do that is to have a plan and provide scaffolded resources so everyone can access the learning and fun bit while the whole team is productive. TBH, we sometimes struggle with this even in person.

Anyway, as for resources. Github is incredible. Multiple comupters and mini robots are extra helpful. If you have the ability to get a Romi in each remote programmer’s hands, it is helpful.

We had Zoom on the host laptop and running on an iPad watching the course and the main robot, but our remote programmer had one at home as well.

He and our other programmer would be able to talk to one another and each make changes to the code simultabeously. Github allowed them to sync changes. It was not flawless, but worked well enough.
If screen sharing is an option, it is helpful.

Multiple screens allow the program computer to see the people online and their code at the same time.

If we were working with the full team and robot, I would have a Zoom instance running on a t.v. and that way everyone would be able to be included when it is appropriate. When not, I would leverage breakout rooms.

If you have any mentors who are teachers and have taught hybrid courses, I would ask their help too.

Teams has a lot of potential as it coukd theoretically link directly to github, but we did not explore this.

If you all work in CADD, I would strongly suggest Onshape as it is collavorative by nature.

I would also recommend posing this question to your members. Many teams, us included, lost members because the thought of another Zoom session was too much. There is a lot that can be done independently, and having drop in help can be a powerful tool. If you are okay with member-member discussions, you could have team leads be the drop-in leaders.

The last potential suggestion is exploring the command Framework. It naturally can lend itself to distanced iteration. If members also gad a mini robot and some mechanical materials to prototype (we also sent home scaled game pieces), the remote students could create scaled prototypes.

It would be cool if your events had enough cell covetage to allow a tv to be setup in the pit too.

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I can’t hold us up as any model for success–our team interest nose-dived during the season. Three things I’d push:

  1. Ensure your way of communicating allows for members to communicate in smaller groups without a ton of manual setups. One big Google Meet is how you get one thing done; you have many things to do. Something closer to Slack or Discord voice channels is what you want, though with video so you can share things. (Of course, you also need that many mentors and have to mind YPP compliance.)
  2. Pick some core hours for the remote squad, and past that let them get their work done. That may mean some camera-off-mic-off time so they can hunker down on a part.
  3. If resources permit, get some robot parts in the hands of those remote team members so they can understand some aspects of whatever is going on. If that means shipping, I’d suggest a Pirate Ship account; it’s very rare that any mortal is going to beat them.
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Hi Mr R_2

Thanks for your advice!

Great idea to get Romis in the hands of remote programmers. We exploring Fusion360 Synthesis to use simulation as an alternative.

Agree Github is a must.

Really smart to have Zoom available at most locations for remote participations.

WRT to Onshape…we are planning to use Fusion360…thoughts?

Many many thanks!

Hi BillFred,

Many thanks for your advice.

We’re using Discord…hopefully will facilitate taks-oriented just-in-time conversations…we’ll see. Not a lot of collaboration integrations, but the students seem to love it.

Smart to have set “core hours”. Will do that…thanks.

Great call on Pirate Ship! Seriously cool. Agree need to get parts to remote team members…current plan is simulation, but not the same.

Thanks again!

@Michael_Corsetto has facilitated hybrid in person and remote design feedback on 1678 even before the pandemic.

On 841 I have not successfully developed remote mechanical design feedback, but with our move to onshape I have higher hopes for this year.

For work, I’ve been logging all my design feedback into a per-assembly Google doc for my design engineer to follow up on. That’s worked reasonably well, but is time intensive - I think I have spent between a half and a full workday a week writing, with about 40 pages of images (lots of cad screenshots with scribbles over the top) and notes so far over two months.

Set up a team slack or discord. Make sure people stay in constant communication.

The challenges of remote working are pretty much the same in an FRC environment as they are everywhere else, I think - use this to your advantage. We’ve learned a lot during COVID about how to work productively with people in different places. What has worked at your own workplace? Try to apply that to the team.

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You are welcome. This is an afmirable and necessary project.

I have not ised Fusion 360 much. Every time I try it, it is not what I expect, and therefore get frustrated and move on. I am not well-versed in CADD though. The engineering teacher at our school switched to it, and is not a fan, but he is pretty set on Inventor.

As with programming languages, I think the software is less relevant than what will allow you and your members to maximize their time.

If you habe people already using Fusion, go for it. This may be especially true if your leads in that area (mentor and/or student) are familiar with it.

Id you are all starting with no particular CADD experience, I highly suggest OnShape. It is the easiest to set team members up, and mkCAD is really helpful. It os also easier to use than many other CADD programs. Add the easy active collaboration on documents, and it is a solid win in my book.

I feel that in a competition where anything that just works out of the box is a boon, onshape shines. But, I am biased. There are teams that use and love Fusion 360.

In terms of remote work, my team had great success with using Zoom, especially with breakout rooms. We bought a team account, and the student leaders became experts in dealing with large groups (they ran a summer camp for elementary students).

Some pointers:

  • use the break out rooms, lots of them. We ran team meetings at specific times, but after a few minutes of announcements, we would split into working groups, each in a breakout room.
  • Having the single meeting was important. It meant students scheduled the time and generally attended, and it meant that the mentors could split their time between groups as needed.
  • we left the meeting on pretty much all the time. Students could use it outside standard meeting times for projects. We were OK with this, but you will need to be comfortable with the amount of supervision you provide/require.
  • we also used it for remote robot work (programming/testing for the At Home skills). We would have a mentor in our space with the robot, but students online watching via camera and doing the programming (lots of pushes to github). We probably could have improved that with a couple more computers and remote screen control, but it was not really needed.
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+1 on the Slack; that was a lifesaver for our team!

If you can arrange to have or have access to 3D printers in multiple locations, that offers a lot of possibilities for prototyping parts and mechanisms before they get run out in metal.

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That is an incredible idea. Along those lines, maybe a protopiping kit?

It would be good to clarify ahead of time what “access to 3D printers” really means. The team I was mentoring in the 2020 season “had access” to a number of 3D printers that belonged to the Engineering teacher. After coaching a student new to CAD through learning how to design a part and getting it printed, we found out that they were only allowed to print one job and the teacher was going to get upset with the team if they printed any more parts.

Yeah, gotta negotiate on time and materials!
My preference is to have your OWN minion(s)! Mwah, Ha, Ha!

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