Now that we’ve all dived into the deep end of remote working (thanks, #covid-19), it’s time product managers take stock of which tools and practices will help their teams maintain both focus and motivation. Previously PMs enjoyed the co-location perks of in-person stand-up meetings, watercooler chats, and live dynamic brainstorming. But without those opportunities for nuanced face-to-face communication, how can you lead your product effectively?
The good news is that by outlining clear policies and practices that meet your new needs, it’s entirely doable. Here’s our list of 5 things remote product teams can establish to set themselves up for success:
1. Always communicate with context
There is no such thing as over-communicating when working remotely–it’s the glue that holds teams together no matter how far apart they are. But communication when working from home needs to be accompanied by the right contextual hooks that simply and succinctly identify precisely why, how, and what you need from the other person. For product managers, this is true when they’re working on-site or off-site, but when working remotely it becomes even more critical to provide context and detail. Think about a PM talking to a developer about a specific ticket – the fuller and richer picture the PM can paint of the specs and business aims, the less ambiguity and more clarity the developer can glean from the interaction, resulting in increased efficiency and less back and forth down the track.
2. Connect using the right tools (at the right time)
Now that everyone is miles apart, instantaneous, real-time interactions demanding an immediate response (such as directly asking a person a question in a live meeting) are more of a rarity than the norm. We can still maintain synchronous communication when working remotely of course– Zoom, Google Hangouts and live Slack discussions all constitute this mode of communication and are beneficial for maintaining that human connection and informal brainstorming. The benefits of synchronous communication are clear, for example, when a developer and a PM are chatting live and the developer can instantly action a request or respond to a bug. However, knowing when to opt for an asynchronous communication tool (such as email, Jira, or Craft.io) is imperative if your product management team is to succeed in holding onto and making sense of the information shared. Utilizing asynchronous communication tools for structured documentation ensures nothing gets lost through the cracks and all stakeholders have a concise frame of reference to refer to. Finally, asynchronous communication allows your team to get work done without distraction (or Zoom fatigue) and regardless of everyone else’s timetable: so whether your customer success team is in a different time zone or your scheduled working hours are after you put the kids to bed, you can still communicate clearly and effectively to the rest of the team. Both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools have their place in remote work environments: the trick is understanding when to adopt each tool and how to use them to your (and your co-workers) advantage.
3. Have one source-of-truth for all team members
Product managers, in particular, are gatekeepers of large and multifaceted activities: constantly liaising with multiple teams and stakeholders and ensuring they stay on top of all moving parts. Working remotely means that now, more than ever, it is critical that everyone involved can refer to an accurate and reliable source of truth. A product system-of-record, like Craft.io, both presents PMs with a bird’s-eye view of strategy, planning, and development at all times, and provides full transparency to the entire organization. Such a tool ensures cross-functional teams and PMs can evaluate context-driven data without relying on gut feelings or hunches– and can instead make decisions with confidence.
4. Facilitate accountability by setting expectations
With our day-to-day working life now changed so drastically, the levels of individual autonomy employees now experience have increased exponentially. So how does a product manager keep morale and productivity high while ensuring the work gets done and standards are met? It’s all about setting expectations: you can’t expect your team to hold themselves accountable if they don’t understand the new remote working rules. So have the important conversations early to ensure each team member comprehends precisely what is expected of them on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Discuss how you’ll be measuring success, and be sure to set realistic parameters so that it’s feasible for everyone to meet said expectations. For most, this is a brave new world, so tap into both flexibility and sensitivity to help make remote working work by scheduling regular check-ins, building trust and communicating what accountability looks like for your team.
5. Protect your work-life balance
Last but certainly not least is encouraging everyone on the team (including yourself) to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Working remotely means the boundaries between work life and home life naturally bleed into each other, so it’s essential to actively set in place clear rules, tools, and practices so that you can stay productive, focused and sane. Set a clear working schedule and stick to it, try to physically separate your working space from your living spaces, and preempt and remove distractions so you can remain focused. And once your working day is done, focus on yourself and properly switch off: meditate, exercise, spend time with your kids and unwind. The key to staying sane and productive when working remotely is to be present for your work when it’s time to work but demonstrate the same level of commitment to your non-working hours.
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