Thinking outside the screen: Virtual Engineering

By Tatiana Peralta 12/02/2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth a deviation from in-person to virtual activities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth a deviation from in-person to virtual activities. As a result, SourceAmerica has quickly adapted many programs to accommodate virtual requirements, including trainings, congressional meetings, and productivity engineering visits.  

As part of the SourceAmerica® Workforce Development team, productivity engineers are dedicated to developing innovative solutions that increase efficiency in the workplace for people with disabilities. Prior to the pandemic, these highly skilled engineers traveled across the nation in support of the 700 nonprofit agencies within the SourceAmerica network to help mitigate productivity issues that arise in the workplace. 

Solving problems is not new to the Productivity Engineering team, which is why in March they quickly pivoted their capabilities to offer their services to the SourceAmerica nonprofit network virtually. They tackled the problem like they would any other, by working together. After holding meetings for a few weeks online to figure out the ideal pathway forward, the team began scheduling virtual visits with the nonprofit agencies. Through trial and error, they learned a few lessons: 

Be open to learning with and from each other 

By implementing this new virtual work style, the Productivity Engineering team found itself participating in “teaching” and “learning” with each other. The visits were no longer about just showing up at a site and getting to work; it was important that the entire team remained engaged and used the technology available to interact with each other to solve the problems at hand. The nonprofit agencies used their smart phones to walk engineers remotely through facilities, becoming the eyes and ears on the ground for the Productivity Engineering team. Based on the initial efforts, the SourceAmerica team was able put together a plan for how each visit should flow, maximizing efficiency. 

The engineers have seen a lot of success using this format. To date, they have worked with nearly 70 nonprofit agencies since March, demonstrating exceptional improvements. In one case, a nonprofit agency’s productivity on an AbilityOne® contract increased by 200%, equating to increased job opportunities for the people with disabilities they employ. The AbilityOne Program is one of the largest sources of employment for people with disabilities in the United States.  

More opportunities for collaboration 

One of the benefits of a virtual format is that more people can participate in each visit due to reduced travel costs. This means more opportunity for creative brainstorming, a great value to both the nonprofit and the engineers that can participate without the restriction of travel.  

The success of nonprofit agencies within the SourceAmerica network is critically important. As the SourceAmerica Productivity Engineering team heads into 2021, they plan to continue testing different approaches to the challenges presented and helping additional nonprofit agencies succeed in their mission to employ more people with disabilities.  

If you’re interested in working with SourceAmerica and learning more about the Productivity Engineering team, please contact