Remote working has been around for quite some time. With a global pandemic on our hands, however, working from home quickly became the new norm. While some years ago, mainly customer service representatives or developers were some of the most common professions that allowed workers to perform their professional duties at home, nowadays a larger number of industries and fields are adjusting to the new norm.
Product managers and product management consultants had to change the ways they manage product teams as well. Adapting to this new culture of working from home can be immensely stressful as team leaders and managers have to find ways to establish solid communication channels, transparency, adequate work flow, discipline in task execution and productive team meetings. Not just that but they are also burdened with monitoring stress and engagement levels online and finding ways to keep the team spirit such as virtual team building activities.
Ultimately, for a successful product management, a product manager or consultant has to formulate fundamental principles that will shape the way product teams work together towards the common goal. Frequent communication, transparency and autonomy should definitely be the three most important things to consider when establishing remote product culture. But how to do that efficiently? Why is frequent communication important in remote product management? How to optimize collaboration? The following article will try to answer these questions and shed more light on the issue of how to construct an effective remote product culture.
Remote Product Management: An Opportunity in Disguise
While many product managers and consultants may find working from home and managing the work of numerous teams and departments stressful and absolutely impossible, others find it as a great opportunity. Why is that? Because challenges are what makes us stronger and successful. Challenges are what build strong culture and make the completion of the final objective even sweeter.
Having an online team is considered by many entrepreneurs as an outstanding opportunity to implement clear and straightforward communication. Forget about the hour long product meetings at the conference room. Now, you can utilize an online meeting management system that will allow you to conduct daily huddle meetings, strategy meetings or any other type of meeting efficiently and productively. Using remote meeting tools will completely transform the way you used to run meetings at the office. With everything done in a few clicks, you save time and valuable resources.
Furthermore, remote means being creative - creative at finding new ways to connect to your team, build trust, show that you care, celebrate victories, recognize achievers, even manage workplace conflict. You have to do all that and more without the help of non-verbal communication cues which can be extremely overwhelming. However, with the advancement of remote communication technologies, such as video conferencing and instant messaging, you now have the ability to do all that and more with just a click of a button. Remote product management can become a lot smoother once you find the best communication and project management tool that works best for you and your team.
Remote Product Management Strategies to Implement for Better Results
Product management and product management consulting is about forming strong relationships with team members, coworkers and customers that will lead to outstanding results. It’s also about effectively communicating complex product development processes, finding solutions to urgent issues and building consensus that will, again, lead to successful product release and management. When in-person interactions are not an option, product managers have to find alternative methods for building that rapport and follow strategies that will actually work. Let’s take a look at five of them.
1. Replace In-Person Interactions with Regular Virtual Conversations and Meetings
Even though everyone is working at home and not at the office, that doesn’t mean you can’t recreate the daily dynamics of working together. You can easily do that with a positive and can-do attitude, along with a little intentionality.
For instance, you don’t have to cancel the daily standups just because you can’t physically gather together. Routines must be reinvented and you can easily do that with communication and video conferencing tools. Have everyone hop on the same audio and video call every morning, at a time convenient for everyone. This way, everyone can share their progress and make important information transparent. Not just that but the team will feel like they’re part of an organization. Keeping such routines is highly recommended for remote product management.
Moreover, building a rapport with key stakeholders is absolutely essential for many product managers, as well as consultants. Avoid large online meetings or virtual presentations to earn their trust and give them a better understanding of your product. Instead, schedule “catch-up sessions” with key power figures. You don’t need large preparation, just a ten to fifteen minute online meeting with key stakeholders to ask for clarity and guidance, as well as update on important matters and progress.
2. Tools are Your Best Friend
It’s the golden age of remote work. High-speed Internet access, HD webcams, laptops and tablets allow you to work from anywhere. Additionally, because all the work is transferred to your home, many solutions started popping up.
Equip yourself, as well as your team, with a nice set of tools that will allow you to work and communicate smoothly. Asynchronous messaging apps, project management tools, meeting management tools, note-taking apps, time-management apps and workload management tools are going to be your new best friend in this day and age of remote work. You can no longer go down to the second floor and check how the design team is working in person but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do regular check ups with the help of product management and communication tools.
Initiate conversations with colleagues and team members with consideration of their working schedule. Since remote work is allowing everyone to make their own schedule, sometimes you may not be able to receive feedback from a team member at the same time you’re writing them. Use Slack, Microsoft Teams or similar apps to ask your questions and allow team members to answer when it’s convenient.
Project management apps like Trello, Asana, Write, etc., on the other hand, will allow you to assign tasks, action items and deadlines and monitor progress. Not just that but as a product manager, you will be able to see who is working on what and immediately access a complete task.
Google and Dropbox, on the other hand, can help you with sharing documents, presentations and important documents with the rest of your teams. On Google Docs, you can have an entire team working and editing the same document or presentation, which makes collaboration very smooth and easy.
3. Find Your Work Focus at Home
If you get distracted easily at the office due to coworkers interrupting you or team members always asking you questions, get ready to be even more distracted while working from home. Non-work things like your family, children, neighbours, cooking, doing laundry or playing with your cat will compete for your attention. That’s why it’s important not just for product managers but everyone who will work from home to create a dedicated workspace. Have a work-only area that will limit temptations. Make it clear to everyone else in the household that you’re working and it’s important for them to respect your working space. Some people are even investing in backyard offices, which are becoming the new trend.
One last thing - your appearance matters. Product managers will have to join tons of meetings on a daily basis. You don’t need to wear a tie or a costume but it’s nice to look semi-professional when you’re joining a videoconference with important stakeholders.
Invest in noise-cancelling headphones or HD video cameras that will significantly improve your video conferencing experience from home.
4. Customer Interaction
Most product companies don’t have customers or hold customer feedback sessions in the office. However, working remotely further limits your opportunities for customer interactions. Product managers and product management consultants need to generate customer insights on how to improve a product or a service. Not just that but customer feedback is important for introducing new products or adding features to an existing one. That’s why as a product manager you should actively create opportunities to interact with customers.
How to do that? Well, product managers can ask customers questions by getting included into customer calls. Talk to your sales team and jump in on a call or two whenever you can. Additionally, you can create online customer advisory boards where you can analyze insights and valuable customer feedback.
5. Schedules, To-Do Lists and Reminders
Many companies think that because their staff is working from home that means there will be less done. However, the truth is that without physical boundaries between home and the office, employees end up spending even more hours working. Instead of waking up at 6AM and catching a bus, getting stuck in traffic and arriving at 8AM, you wake up and immediately jump right in front of the computer.
To avoid employee burnout, you have to formalize a work schedule for you and for your team. Healthy and consistent work schedule is important for mental health, maintaining good relationships with your colleagues and, as mentioned, to avoid employee burnout.
Creating a remote working schedule and introducing it as a company culture will eliminate miscommunication and wasted time. You will clearly carve out times you will be available for meetings, chats and discussions along with when you won’t be.
Make sure you and your team know that dedicating time for yourself during the day is important. Working from 8AM to 8PM is not healthy. Take breaks, exercise or run some errands.
Writing a to-do list, setting up reminders or utilizing calendars will help you stick to your schedule. It’s better if you have the entire remote team using a shared, standardized calendar that will let everyone know when you’re free or busy.
You can also talk to your team and all agree on common, overlapping hours. For example, knowing that everyone will be available from 10AM to 3PM enables managers to schedule meetings with maximum attendance.
Nobody is saying that remote product management is easy. In fact, is there even a type of management that’s easy? No, there certainly isn’t.
What you can take from this article is that becoming a good product manager in a remote working environment should not scare you at all. It’s possible, it’s doable and you have all the tools you need to succeed in it. Of course, you have to make sure your employees are keeping their productivity levels as high as possible and strong communication channels are well-established. It’s not difficult to do it, though. There should always be opportunities for people to showcase their talent, share their opinions and thoughts and be heard and it’s your job to make sure they are presented to your team members regardless of the surrounding environment.