The COVID-19 pandemic forced remote work into the spotlight. As offices closed down, companies had to scramble to adapt. What many thought would be temporary has become permanent for a lot of companies. A Pew Research estimate shows that over 35% of US employees are now working remotely.

This enormous shift has completely changed how product teams operate. Suddenly, product managers who were once used to in-person cross-functional collaboration and complex product strategy communication had to pivot to a virtual environment. This transition exposed the need for fresh management tactics.

In this article, we’ll share practical tips to help remote product management teams succeed. By adopting the right tools, mindset, and practices, you can build and inspire high-performing distributed squads.

Creating a Remote Product Management Roadmap

Transitioning to remote product management requires careful planning and clear expectations. Here are some remote product management strategies to navigate this transition effectively:

Create visibility

In remote collaboration, transparency is your best friend. It's like having a clear roadmap for a road trip – everyone knows where they're headed. Ensure that all team members have access to essential documents, including product roadmaps, prioritized backlogs, product research, and sprint plans. This transparency fosters a sense of unity and shared purpose, ensuring everyone is on the same path.

To illustrate, let’s look at Buffer. With over 80 employees in 50 countries, the social media company is currently operating remotely - and very well at that. Their biggest strength is transparency, including salary information.

Everyone has access to all the information, which builds trust and allows everyone to work towards the same goals.

Overcommunicate context

Here's a tip to be a successful product manager - never assume that everyone has the same level of knowledge. It's like giving directions for a treasure hunt – providing context ensures everyone understands the goal.

Regularly share background information on goals, user needs, and desired solutions. This continuous flow of information ensures that everyone is well-informed and aligned with the team's objectives.

Set virtual touchpoints

Establish a consistent schedule for meetings – think of it as your weekly team huddle. This includes standup meetings, grooming sessions, sprint reviews, and more. The key is to maintain a regular cadence that keeps the team aligned and well-informed.

For example, Zappier, which is a 100% remote company, conducts a weekly team meeting to map out potential cross-team projects to foster communication and stay up-to-date.

Re-assess timelines

Distributed teams may experience variations in development speed and testing cycles due to geographical differences. It's like accounting for different traffic conditions on your road trip – you need a little flexibility.

Acknowledge this and adjust your timelines accordingly to accommodate potential delays. This ensures your team remains on schedule and avoids unnecessary frustration.

Monitor moral

Isolation and disengagement can be real challenges in remote work. One of the remote product management best practices for this is to keep a close eye on team morale. Look for signs of diminished motivation or disconnection from the team.

When you notice any issues, be proactive in addressing them. This might involve setting up virtual team-building activities or providing additional support.

Fostering Collaboration Across Locations

One of the challenges in remote product management can be building a sense of collaboration. Here are some additional tips to improve remote collaboration:

Stimulate shoulder taps

In a physical office, those impromptu conversations can spark great ideas. To recreate this in a remote setting, use tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Encourage quick questions and casual exchanges by having dedicated channels or spaces for these interactions. This maintains the spontaneity of in-office discussions.

Schedule free-form discussions

Sometimes, the best ideas emerge when there's no agenda. Organize open-ended video chats for brainstorming sessions without predefined topics. This free-form approach allows for creative exploration and idea sharing, much like a whiteboard session in a physical meeting room.

Create virtual watercoolers

The water cooler chat is where connections happen. One of the best strategies for remote product management teams is to establish virtual lounges or channels for non-work conversations. These spaces provide opportunities for team members to connect on a personal level, share hobbies, or engage in friendly banter, just as they would around the office water cooler.

For instance, Hotjar has over 100 employees working remotely. To create space for personal connections, they conduct virtual team-building activities like “coffee sessions”, “10 things about you sessions”, etc.

Leverage real-time design collaboration

Use tools like Figma to collaboratively iterate on designs in real time. Team members can work on the same design simultaneously, share feedback, and maintain a shared vision for the project. It's like having a virtual design studio.

Promoting Accountability and Ownership

In a remote environment, it's easier for tasks to slip through the cracks without anyone noticing. Here are additional best strategies for remote product management teams to reinforce individual accountability and ownership:

Public commitments: During planning meetings, have team members publicly commit to their sprint deliverables. This public commitment instills a sense of responsibility and ownership over their tasks.

Status updates: Encourage team members to provide daily status updates in relevant channels. This practice helps track progress, identify any blockers, and maintain transparency within the team.

Demos and updating docs: Make demos and updating documentation mandatory. This ensures that the work is complete, well-documented, and easily understandable by others on the team.

At Automattic, they have a team of 800 employees distributed in 67 countries - all working remotely. Their biggest hack? Documenting everything so that everyone knows what others are thinking about and working on at all times.

Asynchronous check-ins: For teams spanning multiple time zones, conduct 1:1 meetings asynchronously using update memos. This keeps everyone informed and accountable.

Tools for Remote Workers

Using the right tools in a remote environment is half the battle. Here are some of our best picks:

  1. Communication: Rely on platforms like Slack and MS Teams for day-to-day communication and knowledge sharing.
  2. Task management: Use tools such as Trello, Notion, and JIRA to coordinate tasks and monitor progress.
  3. Source control: Platforms like GitHub and GitLab enable code collaboration with built-in reviews, ensuring code quality.
  4. Video meetings: Conduct standups, planning sessions, retrospectives, and more over platforms like Zoom and Hangouts.
  5. Project boards: Visualize and track complex projects and sprint progress using tool boards, such as those offered by Notion or JIRA.
  6. Time tracking: Gain insights into how effort is allocated with time tracking tools like Toggl.
  7. Documentation: Consolidate knowledge by using wikis, document repositories, readme files, and similar resources for reference.

Building strong remote product management teams requires the right mix of planning, communication, collaboration, accountability, and technology. By following the strategies outlined in this article and leveraging the appropriate tools, you can excel in a distributed work environment.

Remember, success in remote product management is not about the physical distance; it's about the strength of your connections and the effectiveness of your processes.

Also read our blog, Product Management Frameworks 2024