Last week we held the next session of our webinar series and asked the question, “How can product managers thrive when working remotely?” Craft.io CEO Elad Simon sat down (virtually) with Arif Gursel, CEO of ViBEHEAVY, for a lively and insightful chat that touched on the best ways for remote teams to communicate, avoid potentially detrimental tools, and the role PMs have to play in this transforming world of remote work.
Check out the full webinar recording here, read on for the full recap, or steal a glimpse of the takeaways below:
- Effective communication in the era of remote work requires processes and tools that everyone can get behind and an understanding of when asynchronous communication is more efficient than its synchronous counterpart.
- We need to develop an awareness of how our digital personality can be interpreted, and dial it back when needed to ensure the tone of our messages is understood.
- Slack, email, and other similar tools need to be used wisely so that they contribute to efficiency, not increasing the noise.
- Product managers have an opportunity now to use their experience to help transform their company’s remote work policies.
What does effective communication look like in the era of remote work?
Ultimately, it comes down to establishing a set of processes within a team: understanding which platforms and tools are used and when. The key for distributed teams who communicate successfully lies in their understating of using synchronous vs. asynchronous modes of communication. Synchronous implies the expectation that the person receiving your message will drop everything they are doing and instantly reply.
This is all very well and good when a person physically knocks on your door to get your attention, but in a remote working environment, being bombarded by a million tiny distractions isn’t conducive to good work. And because remote workers have the flexibility to restructure their schedule, removing the expectation that a coworker will reply to your 3 AM ping or that you will reply to that slack message during the kids’ bath time means that everyone can get on with their work without the pressure of being ‘always on.’
The more we start to work in remote and distributed teams, the more we need to figure out how to be efficient asynchronously – because ultimately, you’re trying to let people do their best work wherever they are.– Arif Gursel
How should communication styles change now that we’re no longer face-to-face?
Our new reality means that we no longer have the luxury of picking up on the nuanced non-verbal behaviors that people naturally share with us during f2f interactions. If you’re communicating over an instant messaging tool, you’ve instantly lost the cues that come with micro-expressions, tone inflections, and body language. This can even be said for virtual meetings– a pixilated video call can only show you so much of a person’s subtle movements and facial expressions.
If you’re debating whether to bring your full personality into a distributed team, err on the side of caution, otherwise; people can quickly misinterpret and misunderstand your meaning.– Elad Simon
So how do we compensate for this when working remotely? For one, we need to cultivate a greater awareness of our personalities and how they could be perceived through pixels and instant messaging. Your direct, no-frills approach might be understood when you’re chatting with a coworker in person, but over Hangouts, it might suddenly come across as cold, arrogant, and even rude. The same goes for sarcasm, which relies heavily on tone of voice to be interpreted correctly and also relies on a particular cultural understanding and can be lost on coworkers coming from different backgrounds. To course-correct for distributed teams, always err on the side of caution and adopt a straightforward communication style that’s less verbose, clear, and conscious of your audience.
Which tools need to be used with caution when working remotely?
Both Elad and Arif agree that Slack (or its less sexy sibling MS Teams) is a powerful yet contentious communication tool if misused. Primarily because if everyone is using it based on their own rules and needs, it creates a never-ending amount of noise that instead of boosting productivity, has the dire potential to squash it. The more channels you get sucked into, the more teams that use it, the less cohesive the information you can glean from it. So using it effectively requires everyone to be on the same page with regards to how they’re using it– is it a synchronous or an asynchronous communication tool? Should responses be instantaneous? Or is it more of a thought repository, a tool that allows Arif, for example, to create ‘self-serve’ channels where common questions are answered and allow for quick, almost automated problem-solving.
The problem I have with Slack is that there is no uniformity of understanding of how to use it – it’s become the Jira for communication – everybody uses it differently.– Arif Gursel
Similarly controversial as a communication tool is email: a tool that is asynchronous by its nature, but is stuck in a hybrid space where instant responses are secretly (or not so secretly) expected – leading to dissonance and potential friction. Elad’s rule of thumb is that any thread over four responses needs to be taken off email and discussed over a tool better suited to nutting out the details and unpacking obstacles, whether that’s an old fashioned phone call, a video call, or finally, Slack. And never assume that just because you’ve sent an email, the information has been read, digested, and understood. Putting information out into your remote working universe is the first step, not the last, and always requires follow-through.
The bottom line is that as with any tool, processes have to be clearly established so that everyone in the distributed team is clear on how to use it. This transparency needs to proliferate across the organization so that ambiguity can be stamped out and expectations are aligned on what tools to use, when to use them, and how.
What role do product managers play in the shift to remote working?
Covid-19 has forced everyone into the future of work, whether companies were ready for it or not. While this has been challenging for teams predominantly used to working in physical offices, it has also provided those who are familiar with remote working an opportunity to step in and show their resourcefulness. If your organization is lucky enough to have someone dedicated to defining and implementing a remote work policy, great, but if not, consider how your current role as a product manager has equipped you with the skills to support and influence during this time of change.
There is a huge role for PMs to play as part of transforming companies to become remote.– Elad Simon
Considering product managers typically act as the glue between leadership, design, engineering, finance, and legal, it makes sense for us to take our unique understanding of each team’s communication style and join this knowledge with a remote working approach. It’s an organic extension of what product managers already do: connecting the dots between strategy and execution, liaising across departments and leadership, and translating the information so that everyone can understand and get what they need from the data. This last point is the golden ticket when it comes to implementing remote working policies that work.
So finesse that knowledge by thinking through how asynchronous tools can be of benefit your coworkers and consider taking the initiative to start an internal working group to set the ground rules for more efficient remote working. Because like Arif aptly puts it: “Every company is now a remote company, they just have to determine how remote they are.”