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Being a Remote Product Manager

Product Team
Remote

17 December, 2020

Amrita Thakur
Amrita Thakur

Director of Product Management at D2L Inc.

Amrita Thakur, Director of Product Management at D2L Inc., taps into her experience of being a remote product manager and the only remote person on the team.

Problem

When I started my current job it was my first ever remote PM job and by that point, I’d been doing product management for six years. I was very much used to being in the same physical space with my developers and designers and using a whiteboard and other tools available in physical space. I benefited greatly from being able to walk over to people’s desks or have quick conversations as I would stroll the hallways.

When I started working remotely I was obviously unable to rely on these things anymore. In addition, I was in a different time zone while the rest of my team was co-located and had the opportunity to interact in person.

Actions taken

I took the time to build relationships with people and get to know them also outside the day-to-day work context. Once I would establish a personal relationship with someone it was much easier to engage in business-related conversations and reach out if I needed anything. Having to set up meetings with everyone was time-consuming but it paid off and I managed to meet a lot of people cross-functionally.

Online tools have been our teams’ biggest ally in our efforts to make me feel as physically present and all of my teams use Zoom and Slack proactively. For example, when I am in meetings with them, they would all log into Zoom from their desks. They wouldn’t gather in a meeting room leaving me to be the only one on the other side of a Zoom screen. If sometimes they would need a whiteboard, I would be the only person dialing on Zoom, but my company was well set up to support many of those processes. My teams also started communicating more and more on Slack, even the people who would be sitting in the same room would Slack each other making communication much more visible and transparent. Over time we found more tools that could advance our collaboration. We would also use a tool called Mirror which helped better collaborate with our designers.

I would also have some face time with the team four times a year. I would go at least once a quarter, spend a whole week with the team and maximize my in-person presence to do the planning and everything else that would go more smoothly in person. We would be spending the daytime doing planning and then in the evening, we would organize social activities to compensate for the lack of office socializing.

A time zone difference is one of the challenges that often accompany remote work. It made it all easier for me by being a bit more flexible. I would be willing to take calls at 6.30 in the morning, and when my team would see me making that effort, they would be more appreciative and responsive. If I would be reluctant to make any concessions and would stick to my business hours while having someone stay till 7 pm every day, I wouldn’t be able to gain the same respect from the team.

Lessons learned

  • While relationship building is crucial, especially within a cross-functional remote team, available means in a remote context are fairly limited. Building relationships can be boiled down to scheduling a Zoom meeting. You won’t be able to bump into your colleagues in hallways or chat over coffee with them.
  • You want as many communication channels to be/stay as open as possible. While they are a prerequisite for building relationships without solid relationships they would be used with reservation.
  • For me, the thing I missed the most is the hallway conversations. You can have multiple two minutes conversations collecting feedback on the go. You can do it through Slack, of course, but it will be an explicit, deliberate effort that would take away the spontaneity and genuineness.
  • Your company should build a culture that embraces remote work. If you don’t have support from people across the board who will understand that you are not physically there unlike everyone else, your individual efforts may not be sufficient.

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