How to adapt to remote work
To be a good product manager, it’s important to be good with people. Construction products involve influencing people without exercising official authority, which is best done in person. Product managers also need to talk to a lot of different people, which can be logistically complicated at the best of times. Sometimes circumstances change or opportunities arise (as more and more companies start offering remote positions), and remote working becomes the norm.
While most prefer to do things 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 desktop to remote couldn’t be easier. You already have the tools you need to easily work outside the office. You just need to tap them.
Embrace the change
What will help you the most in the future is adopting the right mindset for remote working. Sometimes it’s circumstance rather than a choice that sends us to our home offices (be it that desk, that couch, or that kitchen table) when we much prefer to be at work. It’s a mental challenge you’ll have to overcome, but it’s what product managers do best.
Start by thinking about how to maximize the benefits of remote working. You no longer have a home-work trip? How will you use the extra time? Are you going to sleep an extra half hour or use it to plan your day?
You also need to set up a space to do the work. If you don’t have a home office, this could be a corner of your kitchen table. Try to avoid working from your couch or other comfortable places, as your brain recognizes them as places to rest. You don’t want to doze off in the middle of a meeting.
Respect a schedule
Sticking to a schedule is absolutely essential for working remotely, especially if you are working from your own home. It will give structure to your day and help you feel sane. If you had flexible work hours in the office, try to stick to the hours people expect you to be. If they know you got to the office around 8 a.m., try to start working from home at 8 a.m. Keeping things as normal as possible minimizes disruption and makes you feel 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 are on a call that will take your full attention. If you’re going to be away for an entire afternoon, tell one person on each team you work closely with.
Learn to communicate
Cross-functional communication is complicated at the best of times and will remain the biggest barrier to working remotely. The first step is to collaborate with team members and define your team’s communication guidelines. While you can be bossy and define them yourself, by asking your team for ideas you will benefit from the power of collaboration. Create a shared document or pin a post to your group Slack channel showing how and where to talk about certain topics for people to use as a reference.
If you are all working remotely as a distributed team, keep a channel open for fun conversations on the water cooler. Not only will this help bond between team members, but it will keep the official channels where work is done without distractions.
Weekly one-on-one meetings are a good habit even in an office environment, but they are especially useful when working remotely. Sometimes direct messages and emails can come across very bluntly, and a little face-to-face time will help remind your people that you are human. Face-to-face conversations can make difficult conversations easier and are another tool in keeping your working relationships strong.
Whiteboards and sticky notes are a stereotype of the product manager for a reason and can be digitized too. Miro is a great digital alternative that lets you create interactive whiteboards to share with your team. As an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about anything accidentally being wiped off or scribbled down by a mischievous passer-by.
Summary: Your to-do list for remote work
• Configure your office space
• Choose your tools
• Develop your communication guidelines within your teams
• Decide on your schedule and make it available to your colleagues
• Set up a team liaison channel for your distributed teams
• Plan your meetings in advance, including weekly one-on-one meetings