Although remote workers are becoming more common in companies, product managers still resent the idea that they will have to work with teams located far from their headquarters. It is clear that product managers can’t influence their colleagues if they are separated by distance.
The question is: Can a field that is focused on collaboration, like product management, be successful when its members are not located independent? As with most things in life we can’t answer complex questions in a binary way. Understanding the issues is the first step to understanding how we can collaborate as a remote product team.
Remote Product Management: The Challenges
Maintaining a high level of communication is the most difficult aspect of working remotely. A remote product manager’s most important task is to ensure that everyone stays on the same page and up-to-date.
This can often lead to product managers losing sight of their product roadmap. At worst, the product may fail.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only problem we face as remote product managers.
Employee Assessment: When you don’t have the opportunity to observe someone in action (and all you can measure is their outcome), it becomes difficult to evaluate other important employee qualities. It is difficult to measure aspects such as teamwork and the ability to learn from past errors.
New hires:Hiring the right person is the most difficult part of employee development and assessment. While past work and interview results can give you a good idea of the candidate, not seeing them in person can severely limit your ability to hire the right people.
“Me against them” mentality: When you work alone and don’t see your team members often, feelings of isolation or resentment can arise. It can be difficult to build a common understanding with your team members if you don’t interact with them. This is especially true for paired product managers, who are looking to maximize product output but not necessarily the team output.
Cultural differences: If you have ever traveled the world, you will see that there are commonalities in people based on their cultural heritage. It could be a different way of communicating (with possible language barriers), understanding the quality of deliverables or something as simple as punctuality. People can have very different approaches to work.
Operational problems:Aspects like time differences, reliability and access to certain hardware could be a problem when working remotely. Working with constantly moving employees (i.e. digital nomads), you may experience sudden unavailability.
Although remote product management can present challenges, there is hope. These are five suggestions and tips to help remote PMs improve their chances of success.
1. Connect regularly and meet up every year
It is essential to communicate on a regular basis. A daily standup meeting is a great way to keep up with the latest developments if you are following Scrum principles. Set aside time for team members to discuss any roadblocks that they see. Your team will be more trusting if you are willing to support them and offer your support.
Even if you live across continents, it is important to ensure that you have regular contact with each other. This will help build trust and morale. You can create a place that everyone feels at home in and encourage team building activities. To get to know each member of the team better and to get a feel for their feelings about roadblocks, it is important to meet them personally.
It can be helpful to have someone on the inside who monitors the team and makes sure that you are being heard. This has happened in many companies that have a headquarter in Dubai and dedicated development offices in Berlin. Careem for example, has its headquarters in Dubai, but maintains a Berlin-based tech office.
2. It is important to agree on the basics
When we feel at ease in the environment where we work, we do our best work. It is important to agree on a set of tools and procedures that your team uses. Examples include:
- Chatting is easier with Slack
- For ticketing, JIRA or Trello
- Confluence for your documentation
- Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts are all available for video calls
- InVision is a rapid prototyping tool
We must also ensure everyone is familiar with the development process. For example, everyone should have a common Definition for Done and an understanding of (Agile).
Side note: It is best to not be more than 5 hours from one another. It is not a good idea to wake up just as your colleagues are finishing their work day.
3. Maintain and create a shared knowledge base
This is a tie-in to the previous point but it cannot be overemphasized. It is important to have a shared knowledge base in order to answer basic and repetitive questions.
This allows the team to keep up with the latest developments and relieves the PM of being available 24/7.
Also, ensure that your team members are involved in maintaining your knowledge base. If they don’t cooperate, hold them responsible.
4. Celebrate your wins
It can be difficult to enjoy the fruits and benefits of your labor when you are so consumed with work and deadlines. These things play an even greater role when they are distant.
You could show your appreciation by using these ideas:
- Show your appreciation to the team by closing all Sprints tickets
- Don’t talk about work with your coworkers, but appreciate them as the person they are.
- People who go above and beyond to complete difficult tasks deserve a shoutout
- You can be emotional and dorky from time to time, so GIPHY’s or Emoji’s will be your best friends
- A drink or two is a good idea when you meet face-to-face
Remote product management is a good fit for me?
Although it is a good idea to bring previous experience as a PM to the table, bringing a fresh perspective to the table can be a great way to help your team find its feet.
It is not easy to be a remote PM. If you can overcome these obstacles, you will gain a new perspective and more freedom to focus on the important things.