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How Remote Product Teams Can Operate Successfully

Alignment
Remote
Leadership
Internal Communication
Productivity

4 April, 2022

Balaji Sivasubramanian
Balaji Sivasubramanian

VP of Product at OpsMx

Balaji Sivasubramanian, VP of Product at OpsMx, shares the best practices for gaining alignment in remote teams.

Leading a Remote Team

It took some time for me to get used to the remote working environment, as my previous experience leading teams took place primarily in an office. In my current role, my entire team is based out of India, while I am in the US. I’ve never met any of my colleagues in real life, and the twelve-hour time difference only allows for a couple of hours where our schedules overlap.

With such a short overlap in our schedules, it can be difficult to have visibility into what my reports are doing. For example, when I wake up on Friday morning, my team members have already left for their weekend. It’s been difficult to manage working relationships and interpersonal connections with my team members that I can only talk with for 1-2 hours a day.

Improving Productivity Within Remote Teams

Empower Your Team:

The most important thing when working with asynchronous teams is to enable each team member. Even a junior product manager or engineer needs to be more independent and self-deciding than when they previously worked in an office. Each team member needs to work autonomously when in a remote environment. Pair up senior members in the same timezone as a mentor for a junior report if necessary.

Set Communication Expectations:

Leaders need to set expectations and guidelines for internal communication for remote teams. The goal is for teams to work in sync even though they are asynchronous. From a product perspective, teams need to understand the mission, roadmap, and north star for a specific product. Rather than asking the leader, “can I work on this” individuals should be able to make those decisions themselves, based on current communicated priorities and north star/roadmap guidelines.

Gaining Alignment Without Meetings:

When working with remote teams, it’s essential to limit the number of meetings. In my opinion, meetings are typically inefficient, and there are more productive ways to gain alignment. For example, my team uses Jira to list and track any feature requests, new features, bugs within our products, and even other operational tasks. As long as this data is updated regularly, team members can check these dashboards – rather than schedule a meeting to gain alignment.

Improving Touch Points:

In my previous roles as a manager, I was able to walk around the office and talk with my reports. As this is no longer possible, it can be difficult for leaders to connect regularly with their team members. I recommend having a second level of leadership that manages the team's junior reports=. These can be team leads or principal product managers/engineers, who are able to guide the team on thought processes and day-to-day blockers.

Best Tips for Remote Leaders

  • When working remotely, the success of the team is based on the understanding of expectations. When team members have a strong comprehension of this information, they are able to execute their role to a higher degree of quality.
  • Executives and C-Suite Leaders that touch the same team should communicate in the same way and set the same priorities and expectations. When leadership is not in alignment, it significantly impacts the team – usually in a negative way.

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