On-site vs Off-site Development Work

When working with an outside engineering firm or engineering contractors, the issue of the engineers working on-site or off-site is a typical consideration. Here we try to address some of the relevant issues.

Access to equipment

The specific nature of the project will determine if physical access to equipment is necessary. In some circumstances, the need to physically manipulate something on the system may require an engineer working on the project to be in close physical proximity to the system. In this case, either the engineer has to work on-site, or the system has to be shipped to the engineer’s physical location.

Often the equipment can be made available remotely to the engineer via the customer’s VPN. With an embedded system, we typically need to have a remote power switch setup to allow the equipment to be power cycled. If using an in circuit emulator / development system for building, downloading, and debugging software, typically this would be running on a PC or laptop that is physically located next to the equipment, and which we access via the VPN. Modern logic analyzers and scopes can also be controlled remotely via a network, assuming probes are connected where needed. Typically, the devices we work on themselves have network ports and are connected to the customer network so we can access them.

In cases where systems have buttons, touchscreens, and the like that in normal use provide a user interface, we can often work around actually needing physical contact with the system by altering the system software to accept inputs in a different way for debug purposes, and so can perform the bulk of the development efforts remotely.

Personal Communications

Communication between the in-house engineering managers and engineering team, and the contract engineering firm engineers, is a vital aspect of any project. Face to face communication is generally the best, therefore communications can be improved by being on-site.

However, using tools such as www.gotomeeting.com, skype, and other on-line technologies, it is now possible to communicate remotely quite effectively.

A compromise arrangement is on-going remote communication with periodic face-face meetings. Frequency of face to face meetings will depend on the distance, the stage of the project, and the current project situation.

One side effect of being off-site, which could be viewed as a positive or negative depending on your perspective, is that there is less time spent around ‘the water-cooler’ in non-work related conversation. But there is obviously a balance between endless non-work related discussion and valuable team-bonding time.

Travel Time and Unproductive Time

One of the major benefits to working off-site is that the engineer can spend more time working on your project and less time in traffic. For example, if the engineer is generally local to the customer, and can commute, the door to door time could be in the area of 1 hour. If the engineer were to commute 2 hours per day, 5 days per week in a typical 40 hr work week, that is 10 hrs / week or 25% of the actual ‘productive’ work time. On top of that, following a commute, it normally takes time to acclimate and get productive.


A significant advantage to both the customer and the engineer to working off-site is time flexibility. Current trends indicate that people today are not necessarily always available to work during the hours 9-5, Monday to Friday, which has been the norm in the past.

However, people may be available to work more hours during the week, and incidentally be happier and more productive for you, if they can work outside of the traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday time frame.

Another consideration is that situations may arise that demand immediate attention. If an engineer has the capability to work off-site, he or she can look into your emergency issue right away.

Access to talent

Talented engineers that could help with your project do not necessarily live near your facility. If you limit yourself to only using on-site engineers, you limit the pool of available talent. The engineer that is physically near you may not be the best person for your project. They may also be more expensive.

Accountability and Accessibility

There is a certain feeling of confidence that when you see an engineer physically working in your facility, the work is getting done. The engineer is also available for an immediate quick question.

However, there is no guarantee that just because the engineer is on-site, he is being productive or cost effective. Wherever the location is that the engineer is working, it is still necessary to evaluate the work output vs the time and cost spent to accomplish that output.

You as the customer are in the best position to evaluate the value provided by anyone you are paying, be they a full time employee, an on-site contract engineer, an off-site engineer, or a contract engineering service firm. And you are better able to make that analysis the more you understand about the details of the project, and the more realistic your expectations are for what it will take to accomplish your engineering objectives.


Lextel has worked with various customers both on-site and off-site, and we are open to working either way, or with some combination. Each project presents a different set of circumstances and requirements, and the physical location of the work has to be determined on a individual project basis. In either case, we strive to deliver high quality and high value results for our customers.

Please contact us and let us know how we can help you with your embedded software or real time systems projects.

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