According to Owl Labs, 18 percent of the current workforce has worked in a remote setting. Globally, 52 percent of people work from home at least once a week.
Not convinced yet? How about this:
- Upwork predicts that by 2028, 73 percent of all teams in a company will have remote workers.
- Companies that offer remote opportunities have 25 percent less employee turnover
- 16 percent of all companies only hire remote workers
In a world where remote work is offered more and more often, a question remains: can product managers work remotely?
The short answer is: Yes.
The long one: Yes, but it depends.
We will look into both the challenges and opportunities of working remotely as a product manager. But first, let’s get one question out of the way.
Can Product Managers TECHNICALLY Work On A Remote Basis?
The answer is a resounding YES. In this day and age, we have a plethora of tools available to remotely organize our work teams.
On the communication side, we have:
- Slack or Microsoft Teams for instant messaging
- Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts for virtual meetings
- JIRA, Confluence or Trello for project and task management
- Microsoft SharePoint, Google Drive for data storage
Furthermore, most of the technical applications (e.g. InVision, databases software or simply Excel) we use as product managers are hosted in the cloud and allow access from every place with a good internet connection.
What it comes down to is your ability as a product manager to organize your team and stakeholders around a common vision.
There is certainly a debate to be had whether or not remote teams are more productive and successful than their on-site counterparts. A lot of it depends on the nature of your business as well as the products and services that you offer.
To assess whether your team is ready to work remotely, it is important to be aware of the challenges remote product management offers.
Challenges In Remote Product Management
Aligning stakeholders. Product management is a highly collaborative job. You have to align yourself with your development team, designers, marketing and sales, customer service, operations, and the company’s management. In order for remote product management to work, everybody in the organization has to be made aware
- that it exists
- which colleague is working remotely
- and the challenges it entails.
And to make things even harder, the have to end up supporting the initiative. Your task as a product leader is to convince everybody in the organization to follow along.
Varying time zones. Sometimes, distributed product teams work in different time zones. This may lead to scheduling problems. You and your team have to find common meeting times that ensure the continuous flow of communication. It therefore becomes crucially important to communicate timelines and schedules concise and clearly.
Nonetheless, distributed will face times in which night sessions (and other uncomfortable work schedules) will be unavoidable. Your job as a product manager is make your team aware of any potential problems arising.
Assessing team fit. If you’ve never seen one of your potential hires in person, it may become harder to assess team fit and qualifications. Aspects such as team player capabilities, communication skills, or humor (trust me, it’s important!) are difficult to grasp in 2 or 3 video interviews.
It thereby becomes essential that you implement certain processes to standardize your interview process. This may include things such as group or (if physically possible) on-site interviews, personality tests, or specific question about ones past experiences in remote and/or international teams.
Maintaining team morale. Every one of us suffers from periodic motivation holes in which every task at work appears to be cumbersome and dreadful. On those days, having friendly colleagues around can help and lift ones spirit. Working in a remote setting, on the other hand, can be lonely at times. This may affect an employee’s mood and ultimately his/her ability to perform.
Making sure to meet every couple of months for enjoyable on-site events can act as a great morality boost. Next to letting loose, it helps your team members get to know each other better.
Opportunities In Remote Product Management
Greater talent pool. Now that your company is not physically limited to local supply, it can tap into a global talent pool. Furthermore, finding qualified employees can be much faster. According to Owl Labs, companies offering remote work opportunities find qualified employees two times faster.
Cost savings. Remote work not only impacts the quality of employees you can get, but also the budget you can save along the way. Now, you don’t have to pay locally price-adjusted salaries (think of San Francisco or New York), which can potentially cut your payroll expenses in half.
Other cost savings include less demand for office space, hardware (e.g. printers, projectors, monitors) and operations (e.g. cleaning lady, guards etc.).
Greater focus. 75 percent of people prefer remote work because they can focus better. And that’s no surprise: we all know the chatter and long coffee breaks going on at work. And to make things “worse”, we can now even play table soccer or PlayStation at work. In such environments, being laser focused can be very hard.
While remote work can feel lonely at times, it can definitely enhance your ability to focus on a given task. Fewer distractions often mean more work gets done.
Outside inspirations. When being at a place for too long, we can develop a tunnel vision like view of technology. After all, if you use the same applications every day, how can you be inspired to develop products that break the norm?
Travelling continuously and having team members all across the world can allow you to tap into a much greater pool of outside inspirations. Employees can present the local versions of their favorite applications and maybe spark some new ideas. Furthermore, visiting local meetups can foster outside exchange and increase the network of your product team.