In 2019, remote working was something many of us dreamt of, some of us had already sampled it, and a few of us simply had no interest in doing it at all. Now, at the end of 2020, we’ve all spent most of the year honing our home-working style and in this post, we’re recapping what we learnt about remote working from some incredible product leaders.
All of this content was originally published exclusively for Mind the Product members earlier this year but, in the spirit of the holiday season, we felt like sharing a slice of premium content with the whole community.
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Remote Working Isn’t All or Nothing
In October, Colin Pal joined us for an AMA session where we discussed how product in APAC has adapted during COVID and along with many more great questions, we asked if he thinks we’re likely to see more companies going fully remote now.
“I think it will be slower, but I definitely do think that a lot more companies are reevaluating their position in terms of how strict they want to be about geography and time limitations as well. Covid has forced us to reevaluate our long-held dogma about having to work synchronous times or synchronous communication.”
Covid has forced us to reevaluate our long-held dogma about having to work synchronous times or synchronous communication
“Companies are also understanding that the conversation doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I mentioned this earlier in the year when I was on The Product Experience podcast with Lily and Randy, that a lot of companies seem to be thinking that everyone goes to the office or everyone goes fully remote and fully distributed with no middle ground. And I think what we’re beginning to see, as the pandemic continues to draw out, is that we may have to be flexible with solutions. There are some people who are literally dying because they cannot get work done at home, that they just need that solace of the office to do work. And then there are some people who are reinvigorated by working at home. So I think that conversation is the other frontier that really is beckoning us – maybe you don’t need that much floor space, but you may still need an office space where people can just go and find a place that suits them best to be productive.”
Originally published in How Product in APAC Has Adapted During COVID: In Conversation With Colin Pal
Working Remote Has Advantages
In September, Teresa Torres covered a long list of juicy discovery topics. From how to keep track of your team’s discovery efforts and why the process of discovery is just so damn hard, to effective ways to share discovery results and tips on taking your stakeholders along on the discovery journey with you. She also tackled the question: What discovery synthesis challenges have you seen for companies going fully remote?
“I’ve worked fully remote for seven years, and I’ve worked with a number of companies that have worked fully remote. So, when the whole world went remote I was like ‘yeah, welcome to my world’,” she told us and she had some words of advice for successful remote work. “Here’s what I will say – if your business culture is to be in meetings all day long, then remote is not going to work, because Zoom fatigue is a real thing. But here’s the deal, if your business culture is to be in meetings all day long, your company wasn’t working in person. Nobody can get work done. Period.”
When the whole world went remote I was like ‘yeah, welcome to my world’
Teresa also highlighted the advantages of discovery when fully remote. “Because I coach remotely I have worked with teams using these digital tools while during the ones that were in person, we used stickies on the wall. We had to create photos and then we were working from photos which you can’t edit. We now all work out of a Mural, and people tell me regularly that those tools are better than being in front of a whiteboard because when you’re in front of a whiteboard, not everybody has a pen, not everybody can edit and collaborate at the same time, and not everybody can throw out ideas. You have to take turns. So, in some ways, there are some huge advantages to remote work.” In many cases, she continued, being remote has increased access. “I’m also seeing a lot of industries have better access to remote customers. Instead of just talking to customers that are local, they’re talking to customers around the world.”
Originally published in Teresa Torres Answers Your Product Discovery Questions
Communication is Key
In August, Mina Radhakrishnan, co-founder of Sydney based property tech startup, :Different, highlighted the importance of communication when working remotely.
“We’ve always had a fairly flexible arrangement around how people work because we have teams in Sydney, Colombo, Melbourne, and Brisbane so we’ve always had to deal. I actually just published a Slack etiquette guide and it’s in the same format as my product outline. It’s small things that allow us to work more productively,” she said.
“The written communication piece has always been such a critical thing for us, especially because, while our Colombo team speaks English well, it’s not always everyone’s first language, and when that’s the case, written communication is very important and you just have to put a lot more time and attention to it. We also have these fun things we do as well like virtual wind downs on a Friday afternoon.”
Originally published in MTP Prioritised: AMA with Mina Radhakrishnan
There’s No Playbook for Remote Work
In May, we kicked off our membership AMA sessions with our very first guest, Ken Norton. Ken is known by some for his idea of ‘bringing the donuts’ – his way of describing the dedication product managers have for their teams and their work and how product managers are usually first in line to do the grimey un-fun work that would otherwise fall through the cracks (read more about this on his site). We asked him how we can still ‘bring the donuts’ while remote and working in new and uncertain ways.
“Today, probably more than ever, everyone is challenged with dealing with COVID and being distributed. Even if you were already remote. Things are very different, your business is probably challenged, your team is probably challenged and there’s no playbook for how to deal with this. We’re all figuring it out and so my first piece of advice is – if you’re doing your best you’re doing fine! There’s no right way to do it. There’s no wrong way to do it – everyone is struggling,” he said.”
If you’re doing your best you’re doing fine!
“In terms of what this means in relation to bringing the donuts, I think it’s really understanding what people on the team are dealing with right now. What are their individual needs? Ask people, ‘how do you want to be communicated with?’ and ‘how often you want to be interacted with?’ or ‘how can I help you?’, ‘what is it that you’re worried about that’s fallen on the floor and that I can pick up to help make your life easier?’ A lot of teams have a fun budget or an off-site budget. Those dollars might not be being used right now. So, if you have access to this, maybe see if you can use it to send out some goodie bags or gift certificates.”
Originally published in MTP Prioritised: AMA with Ken Norton
It’s the Little Things That Count
Also in May, our first MTP Leader panel tackled leading teams in uncertain times and featured CPO at Chopra Global, Josh Wexler, Senior Product Director at Intercom, Jane Honey, VP Product Management at Sterling, Darlene Miranda, and COO / CPO at Tide, Laurence Krieger. They shared the tools they’ve found most useful for remote work throughout the Covid crisis and a few helpful tips.
Along with many of the familiar tools such as Slack, Google Meet, Zoom, Confluence, Notion and Coda, Laurence Krieger recommended Lattice, an HR tool designed to develop engaged and high-performing teams. “What’s nice about it is that people can tell you how they’re feeling just from smiley faces. They just click on how they’re feeling today (which integrates into Slack as well), so I can get an email saying that my team member is feeling unhappy because he’s put on the sad face. That means I can then go and check in with them to see what’s wrong. I think that’s incredibly useful.”
Jane Honey explained how her team made changes to help people set themselves up with a physical space for remote working and settle into remote working. They helped people to get better Wifi and routers, better chairs and kit, did some training around building resilience and shared some best practice on remote working in a blog and from some team members who’d worked remotely for years. “We’ve also been deliberate and considerate around engagement and trying to drive positive fun interactions with the team so that it wasn’t just all about getting the work done,” she said. “We’ve had lots of fun. We’ve done virtual museum treasure hunts, and people have been sharing their fridges each day. It’s been really critical to make sure everyone’s still having fun.”
Originally published in MTP Leader Panel: Leading Product in Uncertain Times
How to Engage with Your Customers
And we’ve not only relied upon our AMAs and panels for advice on remote work. In an APAC Digital talk by Audrey Cheng, then VP Product at Pushpay and now CPO at Snapcomms we got some great advice on engaging with customers.
“You have to find unique ways of actually engaging with your customers in order to bring that level of insight into your product development so that you can focus on the real problems at the heart of your customers,” she told us. Those interactions, she continued, need to be great when they happen, because Audrey’s learned that the barrier to quality interactions with customers is not distance but rather the practice itself.
“The feeling that your customers are inaccessible to you makes you very intentional about the way you go about interacting with them,” she said. “It’s that feeling that your time together is so precious that you actually focus on how you can get the best results out of it. It’s taught me about sharpening our practice so that we can get the best insights from our customers.”
You have to find unique ways of actually engaging with your customers
As a result, Audrey’s team has made some adaptations to help them make the most of the engagements they can have. “All our product managers and designers engage with customers,” she said. “We work collaboratively. We’re still working on our process of working together, but we work collaboratively. It’s a team sport.”
Originally published in Engaging with Remote Customers in Discovery by Audrey Cheng