To be a great product manager, it’s important to be good with people. Building products involves influencing people without wielding official authority, which is best done in person. Product managers also have the need to speak to many different people, which can be logistically complicated at the best of times. Sometimes circumstances change or opportunities arise (as more companies start offering remote positions), and remote work becomes the norm.
While most prefer to get things done in the office, great products can still be built from our own homes. More and more, we’re seeing work being done online, and the transition from office to remote couldn’t be easier. You already have the tools you need to easily work outside the office. You just need to harness them.
Embracing The Change
What will be most helpful to you going forward is to get into the right mindset for remote work. Sometimes it’s circumstances rather than a choice that sends us to our home offices (be that desk, couch or kitchen table) when we’d much rather be at work. This is a mental challenge you’ll have to overcome, but that’s what product managers are best at.
Start by thinking about how to maximize the benefits of working remotely. Do you no longer have a commute? How will you use the extra time? Will you get an extra half hour of sleep, or use it to plan your day?
You should also set up a space to get work done. If you don’t have an office at home, it could be one corner of your kitchen table. Try to avoid working from your couch or other cozy places as your brain recognizes them as places of rest. You don’t want to be dozing off in the middle of a meeting.
Keeping To A Schedule
Keeping to a schedule is absolutely key to working remotely, especially if you’re working from your own home. It will give your day structure and help keep you feeling sane. If you had flexible work hours in the office, try to stick to the hours people expect of you. If they know that you arrived at the office at roughly 8 a.m., try to start working from home at 8 a.m. Keeping things as normal as possible minimalizes disruption and keeps you feeling more grounded.
If you have to leave your desk for more than a few minutes, make it clear to your team. For short coffee breaks, update your Slack status to “away” (or similar on other communication platforms), and for longer appointments, update your calendar. You can also do this if you’re on a call that will take all of your attention. If you’re going to be away for a whole afternoon, tell one person from each team you work with closely.
Learning To Communicate
Cross-functional communication is complicated at the best of times and will remain the biggest hurdle for remote work. The first step is to collaborate with team members and set out your team communication guidelines. While you could be dictatorial and set them out yourself, by asking for ideas from your team you’ll benefit from the power of collaboration. Create a shared document or pin a message in your group Slack channel laying down how and where to talk about certain topics for people to use as a reference.
If all of you are working remotely as a distributed team, keep a channel open for fun water-cooler conversations. Not only will this help to keep building bonds between team members, but it will keep official channels where the work gets done free of distractions.
Weekly one-to-ones are a good habit to get into even in an office environment, but they’re particularly useful for working remotely. Sometimes direct messages and emails can come across very bluntly, and some face-to-face time will help remind your people that you’re human. Face-to-face conversations can make difficult conversations easier, and are another tool to keep your working relationships strong.
Whiteboards and sticky notes are a product manager stereotype for a reason, and can also be made digital. Miro is a great digital alternative that lets you create interactive whiteboards to share with your team. As a bonus, you won’t have to worry about anything getting accidentally wiped off or doodled on by a mischievous passerby.
Summary: Your Remote Work To-Do List
• Set up your office space
• Choose your tools
• Work out your communication guidelines across your teams
• Decide on your schedule and make it available to your colleagues
• Set up a channel for team bonding for your distributed teams
• Schedule your meetings ahead of time, including weekly one-to-ones