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For product teams, the shift to remote work is a challenge - but one that pays off! With the right methods and tools, and a little time to get used to them, the many benefits of remote team management can be achieved in any organization. I have been working with remote teams long before the pandemic. In the process, I've learned countless lessons about what changes should be implemented transparently and what is needed for successful agile product management with Remote Teams.
Remote Team Management - An Overview
In the following article, I would like to show you how to manage your team remotely - and thus increase its success. The following points are essential:
- What is Remote Work?
- Remote team management and workforce development
- Advantages of Remote Team Management
- Structural changes and challenges posed by Remote Work
- Five good reasons for remote product management
What is Remote Work?
Remote work is when employees work from home - or another location of their choosing. While the concept has been around since the dawn of the Internet age, it really became popular with the onset of pandemics. If an entire team is managed remotely, we refer to it as remote team management. If the team's task is product development, we talk about remote product management.
Why does remote team management solve staffing problems?
Skill shortages and unfavorable team dynamics are keeping many companies from reaching their full potential today. There is a fierce battle for the best talent in the labor market - one that is almost impossible to win. The solution to all these problems lies in remote team management. Some of the best teams today are self-organized, cross-functional and agile. This is possible thanks to remote work. It allows people from all over the world to form a team - no matter where they are. This makes it possible to bring the greatest talents from more than just one geographical region into one's own team. There is also the advantage of the time difference: work can be done 24 hours a day without bypassing any protective regulations.
Remote work may seem threatening to many long-established managers: How can hierarchies be enforced? How do I maintain control over my team? How do I know if work is really being done right now? However, it makes much more sense to see remote work and home office as an opportunity - in fact, the biggest opportunity in decades. Of course, the switch to remote work involves significant changes in the company. And these changes do not happen by themselves, but must be actively initiated and supported. But all this work is worth it!
Advantages of Remote Work
Decentralized organizations have proven to be the more successful ones. One of the reasons for this is that there is a fundamental shift in communication and work structures within the team. Remote work requires transparency and clear communication. At the same time, all team members gain considerable autonomy - which not only triggers a boost in motivation, but also means that all resources can be deployed away from rigid schedules. All of this, in turn, ultimately serves the success of the product!
This is especially true in the area of software development. In the age of SaaS, agile software development is no longer a foreign concept even in traditionally oriented companies. Even more so than in other industries, highly networked work in the digital space is established here and recognized as valuable. So if software is your product, you as a product manager have a clear advantage when it comes to remote work.
But how do you manage to establish a remote work structure and remote product management in your company? What hurdles do you have to overcome along the way and what are the most important steps? I will explain it to you using various best practice examples. But first, a basic rule: organizational development should be considered in the same way as product development. Nobody assumes that a product will become a success by itself. No one considers investment in a product to be wasted. No one sees a product launch as a no-brainer. All of this applies to team changes as well!
Structural changes in remote work team management
In concrete terms, this means asking some basic questions first. So find out what issues your remote work team members are facing. Develop solutions that are truly fit-for-purpose. Ask, listen, collect data. Only in this way will you succeed in creating a pleasant and thus effective working environment.
As a team manager or product manager, you will also be faced with some difficult tasks. It's particularly tricky when it comes to new hires: How can you select the best employees for your team? How do you make a bond with new team members you don't meet in person? How do you mediate in a team of people spread across the globe? I'll tell you: Communication is key! If transparency and skillful corporate communication are important in the ordinary office, they are essential for survival in remote team management.
Now, however, to the essentials: How can all this be implemented in concrete terms, and what is particularly important? How can you, as a product manager, lead your team to success in agile software development remotely?
Remote teams that adhere to the agile gold standard are more successful than traditional teams!
Why are remote work teams more successful?
All this sounds too good to be true? I've been watching the market closely and can tell you the top five success factors in remote team management. In concrete terms, this means that if these agile techniques are implemented consistently, success will not be long in coming. But why and how exactly do you manage to cope with the challenges of remote work in product development?
Remote teams are happier
In remote team management, it is still true that personnel are the company's greatest asset. Consequently, success stands and falls with the team members. The latter, in turn, are more satisfied in the home office than in the on-site office. According to OwlLabs, 50 percent of respondents in the U.S. said they would no longer accept a job that could not be done at least partially remotely. 77 percent even said it would make them happier to be able to work in a home office, even after the pandemic.
In terms of sustainable human resources development that aims to prevent burnouts and high turnover, remote work is thus a real success model: it frees up employees' resources, increases motivation and provides the opportunity for a better work-life balance. Best of all, as a remote product manager, you don't have to take any special measures to benefit from your team's increased satisfaction.
Dealing with customers more efficiently
Product teams in software development operate in B2B. Here, contact with customers is generally kept to a minimum, which makes the switch to remote work much easier. Nevertheless, such contacts cannot be completely avoided even in B2B - and must be digitized accordingly. But this also represents a great opportunity to increase the productivity of the team and thus the success of remote product management. This is mainly due to the following aspects:
- You now need to be proactive and seek out opportunities for contact.
- You need to reflect and consciously adjust your communication strategy.
- Customer conversations are bound to be more targeted than before.
Customers can no longer just drop by the office, so you're forced to take a more active approach to communicating with them. Specifically, this means proactively seeking or creating contact opportunities in remote product management. This in turn allows for closer and more effective collaboration: you can connect with the sales team or account management and gain new opportunities for interaction with customers. Hospitations in the customer service pipeline or in account management meetings provide unique insights into the world of customers: What do they think about your product? What difficulties do they have? What is most important to them? Such practices are also recommended in the Harvard Business Review: Employees without direct customer contact should be included in customer meetings held by other departments in order to maintain contact remotely, or more precisely, to intensify it.
Of course, such insights would be possible even without remote work. But let's be honest for a moment: who would unceremoniously go to the trouble of rearranging their routines in such a way? In remote team management, on the other hand, we are forced to do so - which ultimately makes remote teams more successful.
Prioritization works better remotely
Every self-management guidebook today is full of praise for prioritization. It's especially important for teams that work completely remotely. As a team and product manager, it's your job to define and clearly communicate priorities. Specifically, this means you need to constantly keep an eye on the product roadmap and weigh the individual aspects. This also applies when working in a traditional office, but now you can't afford to make any mistakes. As soon as your team is spread all over the world and you no longer have anyone to look over your shoulder, quick corrections are no longer possible.
In concrete terms, this means that you have to combine prioritization with the maximum transparent communication already described. So your task is centrally to find a way to prioritize the product roadmap together with your team - and to do it in a way that everyone understands everything. Working with clipboards and post-its, which is still popular in the 21st century, falls out of the obvious way - and that's a good thing!
Probably, the classic work on the product roadmap is a cherished ritual for you, which you consider very meaningful. In fact, however, it is highly inefficient. Remote work forces us to resort to more efficient tools and to set our priorities more clearly. For this, we can turn not only to video conferencing tools, but also to tools designed specifically for this purpose or general collaborative tools like Google Apps or Office 365. Specialized tools like RICE or MoSCoW can also provide good support in the process, where all stakeholders first set their own priorities, from which an overall score for the team is then calculated. Here, once again, the biggest advantage of SaaS becomes apparent: no one has to work on-site at a PC anymore in order to participate. We can and should take advantage of these technical advances of SaaS.
Once again, it is clear that the elimination of personal components does not necessarily have to be a disadvantage; what is important is that everyone engages in a transparent process and takes advantage of the technical possibilities. The positive aspects of the personal level can be established in the video conference - and the distracting, inefficient aspects simply fall away in digitalization. This is how remote teams manage to prioritize more efficiently - simply because they are forced to do so.
Digital interaction is more efficient
In-person communication is replaceable. That probably sounds provocative, especially in a world where everyone has experienced how important face-to-face interaction is. But in the course of my work in remote product management, I have noticed that all aspects of personal exchange can also be realized digitally - and that efficiency increases as a result.
Chats are the absolute classic in completely remote teams, like Slack, Teams, HipChat, Skype or other tools. But in many cases they are not enough. Exchanging ideas in a large team is difficult in chat, and in a one-on-one setting, facial expressions and gestures are also important. At the latest since the pandemic, there are countless solutions to these problems. Video conferences can be carried out in various tools - and optimized for a wide variety of purposes. All that is needed is fast Internet, a microphone and loudspeakers. In most cases, screens can be shared, documents can be edited together, and breakout rooms can be used. So whole-team meetings, small-group discussions and one-on-one meetings can all be implemented at any time. No waiting and distractions caused by late participants or searching for a free meeting room are eliminated.
In addition, there are asynchronous forms of communication via the chats already mentioned. Here, there is usually also the option of sending voice messages and images - which makes communication not only more personal, but also more efficient. Digital communication is superior to personal interaction in the local office because of its diversity and spontaneity: Exchanges can take place here at any time within minutes - without anyone having to travel extra or prepare a meeting room. This saves time, money and nerves. In my personal experience, remote meetings are also much shorter than face-to-face meetings: we waste less time on coffee, long greetings and frantic searching through our documents. Instead, we get straight to the point and work with focus.
The increased flexibility, which also comes from eliminating time-consuming meetings and ritualized small talk, boosts employee efficiency in the process: In a Stanford study, it was shown that the performance of team members who worked from home increased significantly. This was attributed in part to the fact that they took fewer breaks and were less distracted in a quieter work atmosphere. A study from the Harvard Business Review before the corona pandemic also came to a similar conclusion. So face-to-face interaction in the local office is not only replaceable, but in exuberant form can sometimes even be an impediment to success.
Regular Product Roadmap Reviews
Regular Product Roadmap Reviews are the ultimate success factor in agile software development! This is where you keep your team together, set priorities, and review the software development process to date. A wide variety of technical review solutions are used here - regardless of whether the team is working remotely. The advantage of working remotely is that all team members have easy access to the tool. The regular discussion of the current roadmap with all team members is a privilege of remotely working teams: Here, the discussion in the large team can be managed without major effort.
But that's not all. These regular discussions of the roadmap in the large group serve two goals: They promote project-related communication, and they also serve as important get-togethers that foster cohesion among the remote team.
Conclusion: successful remote product management
Product managers can be more successful in fully remote work environments than in the traditional office. Important for this is the orientation to agile strategies. At the forefront are transparent communication and open exchange within the team, using a wide variety of synchronous and asynchronous means. Regular product roadmap reviews and good planning of the various aspects of work are of central importance in product development from the home office. But none of this is witchcraft: customer contacts in B2B, team building and working on the product roadmap can be made far more efficient here with a little skill. Remote work is the work of the future!