First, I recommend the three books by DHH and Jason Fried about remote work. Rework, Remote and It soesnt have to be crazy at work. DHH has ample experience doing development work using remote staff. These books are easy reading, total 10 hrs read (hope I wont get shot for that guess). https://dhh.dk/
We work remotely at Kitemill. It has been a great experience for me. Our site, Lista is remote, we mostly live some distance from there.
Rather than going for tool overload to compensate for the «rich» cubicle environment, I would rather say that working from home is less stressfull and allows for focused effective work. I am definitely more productive now compared to when I was working from a cubicle with many people buzzing around me. This is of course individual. For me, I feel I have more energy after a day’s work remotely than I ever had in an office.
I would say something like email, Skype/Discourse and a shared files space is enough. Most people in AWE will not be computer geeks, so better to not make communication software a focus of your initiative/company. DHH also works on a web service called Basecamp that looks nice, though I never had a chance to use it. Being a sw developer foremost, git/github.com serves most of my infrastructural needs.
AWE does come with a few extra challenges for working remotely. You need to do the testing in favorable conditions, mostly, for a long time. There are various good reasons to steer away from rain, lightning, low wind days, high wind days, gusty wind etc. Of yourse you need to do that also, but most of the time flight tests are focused on other things, and AWE is already hard enough without these. So this means that most of the team should be able to muster for such tests. Choosing the best days on short notice is a good way but puts pressure on more remote employees. Having preplanned test campaigns works for more people (those with … ugh … families, or even single parents like myself), but weathet is not guaranteed even at the world top locations (we could agree perhaps that things dont get much better than Lista or Isle of Lewis).
I think it is of utmost importance that all participant in such a project attend most testing. At least make a clear separation between the core team and external workers/subcontractors that do not to a large extent decide the design of the system as you go.
Some tasks it seems you can’t easily do remotely, like building parts, testing for faults, etc. Bringing the workshop with you is just to cumbersome. I currently bring 4 boxes along for every test campaign at Lista. That along with my kitesurfing gear pretty much fills up my Nissan Leaf
Some projects you can do open source on a volunteer basis. Im not sure if AWE is suited for this, due to rather large expenditures in equipment, testing time, communications with authorities and landlords etc.
I depend on whether one could do it in small enough scale or just simulated. But to get the kind of focus I am currently getting at Kitemill, there’s no way to get around the need for someone to pay one’s salary every month. Many will agree to work at a reduced salary, but perhaps not forever?
This also comes back to the funding issue, which I think we have covered previously…