Product managers perform a multifaceted role at the best of times. They balance several plates on any given day — liaising with creative teams, planning, and execution all at once. They work in different fields as car factories and ending with managing teams on how to build crypto trading bots, which offers a wide array of aptitudes and experiences.
Successful collaboration with people of such divergent expertise can be challenging in person. Now, with 88% of companies encouraging workers to work remotely, it’s more challenging than ever.
But, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to make times uncertain, remote working is becoming normal. While it was previously hard to believe remote product management could be possible or effective, it is increasingly becoming our reality. But there’s a difference between remote product management and effective product management.
So, what makes the difference?
In the world of remote product managers, good communication is crucial. Technology has adapted to a point where instant communication is standard, but that isn’t enough to guarantee good communication. If anything, it can increase miscommunication and misunderstanding.
That’s because, without the context clues of nonverbal feedback, or even tone of voice, people become much harder to interpret. A remote product manager not only has to lead divergent teams successfully towards achieving a goal, but they must also navigate the conversational lacunae arising as a by-product of the remote work environment.
To teach effective communication in a remote work environment, a remote product manager must emphasize:
- Minimize large meetings
- Informal Interactions
- Purposeful, direct communication
- Coordinate time zones
Transparent communication is the lynchpin of a well-managed remote environment. Communication comes naturally to a traditional office environment because people chat in hallways or trade information over lunch, but it has to be driven in a remote office.
The remote work environment lacks this organic infrastructure, and a remote product manager must work twice as hard to keep everyone apprised of what is happening.
It may seem natural for remote product managers to schedule frequent and large meetings. This helps bring everyone together but poses several logistical problems. Not only are large meetings hard to coordinate, but many remote product managers find that these expansive meetings devolve into status updates and leave no room for brainstorming or generating feedback.
Conversely, remote product managers, who mimic the intimacy of the office environment by keeping meetings small and personal, experience more transparent communication. With smaller group numbers, it’s easier for participants to focus on the speaker and make nonverbal inferences through the camera.
As discussed, fostering the informal interactions of the workplace can help stimulate creativity and generate new ideas. But they also bring a team of remote workers together and build connectivity, something hard to achieve when working from your kitchen table. Virtual team-building activities can help boost morale and help remote co-workers still get to know each other.
To that end, informal get-togethers can be a valuable tool for the remote product manager. If virtual drinks are too complicated to arrange, be it because of childcare schedules or time zones, then a 5-10 minutes relaxed chat at the start of meetings can be equally effective.
Because a remote product manager’s job involves acquiring stakeholders’ and clients’ trust, direct communication is critical. Electronic communication can make this harder to achieve than previously, but not impossible.
For direct, effective communication, one-on-ones are essential to the remote product manager. These one-to-one meetings go a long way towards simulating workplace intimacy and make it easier for both parties to read one another’s nonverbal cues.
65% of the conversation is nonverbal, making interpreting on-camera body language a critical skill for a remote work manager striving for direct communication between people.
For an effective one-on-one virtual meeting, product managers should:
- Foster connection through informal chat
- Be alert to on-camera body language
- Look directly at the camera at all times
- Avoid looking at emails and incoming notifications
- Take note of any perceived problems with/in the remote work environment
Managing Time Zones
Perhaps the trickiest part of facilitating smooth communication for a remote product manager is getting everyone in the same virtual room simultaneously. With the office environment out of commission, people can and are working from all corners of the globe.
That means not everyone is working to the same hours, and a remote product manager may spend a significant part of their day organizing others. It further means meetings in person may not be possible. In this instance, automation tools and communication tools like Slack and electronic forums are integral for reliably exchanging information long-distance.
Working from home presents a unique set of challenges and distractions. Without the distance of an office to retreat to, many people find that competing claims on their time make balancing work and home life difficult.
Work Towards Goals
An important part of remote product management means accepting that the traditional work hour routine isn’t practicable in the current climate.
People typically work with reference to one another, assessing the standard of their work by someone else’s. Remote work makes this impossible, and the goal of the remote project manager is to keep their team focused on the task at hand.
Rather than stress that all work be done by the end of the day, remote project managers should focus on emphasizing product goals as a way of measuring results. These goals unite the team through a common objective and help keep it on task, even if not all the parts move at the same time.
SMART goals are a valuable tool when seeking to unite teams because they give a team something concrete to work toward. They also help establish goals that are tangible, actionable, and quantifiably achievable. In turn, these goals enable team members to chart their own and others’ progress, much as in an office environment.
3. Establish a Routine
Remote product managers may also find that while some employees struggle to focus on remote work, others run the other extreme and overwork.
A remote product manager committed to establishing a routine ultimately helps both types of employees. Routines set boundaries on the latter’s work hours and facilitate the discipline needed by the former.
A routine doesn’t need to chart every hour of every day, but it should firmly delineate work time versus off-hours. Simple rules, like establishing common hours of availability, are valuable when coordinating meetings and come with the implicit expectation that people show up.
4. Create Feedback Loops
Just as communication is vital to a successful remote product manager, so is establishing a feedback loop. It is especially important for a remote work environment since environmental cues and other feedback indicators that would usually signify potential problems to a product manager are absent when working remotely.
Feedback helps build trust between remote product managers and their team members, as it creates neutral ground to relay problems. Incorporating time for feedback into scheduled one-on-one meetings can help a remote manager assess a coworker’s project management and anticipate problems.
Feedback is especially valuable now that applications like Zoom have eliminated the need for walking between meeting areas. There’s no time to process presentations, and by extension, limited time to comment on the information presented.
Keeping a close eye on sidebar chats or text threads is a good way to monitor team members’ feedback while also fostering creativity and opening the discussion up to multiple viewpoints. Building time into a routine meeting to offer feedback will help catch problems before they’ve begun.
Due to the latest technology innovations, it becomes possible to establish even remote tech assistance between team members, with the help of augmented reality solutions.
5. Delegate Work
Since a remote product manager has many, and varied responsibilities, handing off work to team members and trusting them to get it done is vital to successful remote management.
Clearly defining team goals, routine meetings, and strong communication combine to enable a remote manager to keep tabs on what their team(s) are working on without hovering or running constant interference.
Delegating also frees up a remote product manager to focus on convening meetings with stakeholders and organizing meetings across multiple time zones. Moreover, a demonstratable willingness to hand jobs off to others goes a long way to building team trust.
Remote product management is increasingly becoming a normal way of life. But remote work isn’t without challenges, and remote product managers must handle all the usual difficulties of product management alongside the attendant challenges of remotely managing a team.
For effective management, a capable product manager needs to prioritize:
- Routine establishment
- Creating feedback loops
- Delegating work
And while getting the job done is important, remote product managers should also remember the value of informal catch-ups and make space for more casual, social interaction.
- Virtual hangouts
- Casual conversation before meetings
As remote work evolves, remote product managers’ access to apps and technology designed to facilitate the remote work experience has increased.
A variety of applications now keeps colleagues in touch electronically, among them are:
- Microsoft Teams
They also offer opportunities for face-to-face discussions. While this isn’t the same as an in-person meeting, it offers remote product managers and their colleagues opportunities to access the nonverbal and facial contexts that would typically attend an in-person conversation, making for smoother, more informed communication.
Knowing how and when to deploy these applications and practices will help remote product managers generate a work environment that is safe, valued, and productive for all team members.
Romy Catauta works in the marketing field and is passionate about writing on web design, business, interior design and psychology.
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