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Effectively working as a ‘remote’ product manager

Last week, we had an ama session with Irma Mesa, a full-time remote Product Manager and the founder of meetcafecito.com – a community-driven platform for remote workers who are looking for new friends, career advice, or mentorship.With her platform, Irma wants to bring remote workers closer together through meaningful engagements.Irma loves coffee, especially Cafecito, and being from Miami, FL (where Cuban culture is strong) coffee always brought her together with amazing mentors, friends, and clients.

As most of us are transitioning into remote product management because of COVID, how should we make this transition?

As a PM transitioning to remote work I’d focus on a few things: 1) communication, 2) asynchronous and synchronous alignment, and 3) familiarizing yourself with tools to run virtual customer interviews communication – keep having regular communication with your team whether it’s through a daily standup over Slack or a weekly video call check-in.
Alignment – really narrow in on sharing information not only within your team but company-wide. Create release notes, hold Zoom call demos with stakeholders, don’t hold onto information. The more transparent you can be with a roadmap, dependencies, etc. across the org the fewer challenges you’ll face leading up to a release.
Virtual customer interviewing – I’ve had to get used to this one all of my customer interviews have moved online. I use Calendly to schedule and provide instructions on how to join the zoom call. Make sure everyone has their video on to help with reading body language and micro-expressions as you ask questions about your product.

Any tool suggestions on productive grooming/brainstorming

here are many here and I’d experiment with at least 2-3 tools and get your team to try and buy-in. The best tool I’ve seen out there for grooming/brainstorming is Miro, they focus on making the collaboration between remote teams flawless.

What are your thoughts on what a remote PM should do additionally to be successful?

  1. Overcommunicate – by sharing information across teams company-wide it can place you in a great spot. Folks don’t like surprises and if they have a PM on their team who is keeping them involved, updated, and collaborating with them is a huge way to stand out and be successful long-term.
  2. Data is your friend – rely on data and interviews to lead your features and your product to hit KPIs. You can invest in tools to help you here such as Full Story or Hot Jar or rely on Google Analytics

What were the difficulties or challenges that you faced convincing employers to team up with or hire you as a remote PM as opposed to being present in the office?

I’m originally from Miami, FL and I was working as a PM at a digital agency who had a very strong policy in keeping everyone in the physical office. They didn’t really love remote work either. I wanted to move out of the city and so I did research on companies like Buffer, Invision, and Gitlab to learn how they were making remote culture work. This allowed me to prepare for any questions about how working remotely would be feasible for the company :)It was really hard convincing them to let me be a remote PM but I was able to do it. The biggest challenges were building trust before trying to convince them and showing my value to the company. These two pieces of you have them under your belt can help as you work to convince employers.

Product is a function that thrives on communication. Some communications happen very naturally when you barge into your designer’s desk or your Data team’s cabin. With the workplace out of the equation, how do we “lead by influence” in such a setup where you can only have limited face time.

Haha, I totally relate to barging in! And you’re right we totally lose that in a sense when we’re remote. What I found to work well is to use tools like Slack or email. With Slack send daily updates, send slack wide announcements on feature progress – this is how you get in their face. Make sure that your communications and decisions are happening in the open, either through video calls or through shared Slack channels like we’re doing here. The more your team can see how you work, how you think, how you decide, how you lead the more that you can lead by influence remotely.

In your experience how receptive or patient are people to direct phone/voice calls or do people prefer information in text form or links to sheets/docs? Also how often should group calls be done optimally?

From my experience, it’s been half and half. The company I work at now asked us “How do you like to be communicated with?” during onboarding and we have a big sheet with everyone in the company that says if they prefer phone calls, video calls, email, slack, etc. It’s really helpful. What I’d recommend is to ask what your team prefers, if it’s an update it can be done via a sheet or message in your messaging tool. If you need to hash something out or make a decision with that person, it’s probably more effective over a video call then typing back and forth :slightly_smiling_face: Group calls, we do them about 1x week. I have 1 group call with engineering weekly, 1 with our Marketing team, and one with our Academics team. This keeps us all aligned.

If you have been with a company for a long while, how would you get them to recognize your contribution for future evaluation of your role/salary hike, etc…? Do remote PMs get evaluated differently from normal PMs?

Evaluations should be 1:1 between remote and in-office PMs. At the end of the day, your responsibilities are the same. I think in terms of getting your company to recognize a remote PM’s contributions is to take the lead and be proactive. If you see a problem arising with a team, jump in and try to resolve it. If there’s a customer who’s threatening to stop using the product, jump on a call with them and try and save that deal. The more you’re putting yourself on the front lines as a PM the more you’ll bubble up to the top of a manager’s radar for a higher salary or promotion. And most importantly talk to your manager or your leadership team, remind them of where you’re impacting the company (sales, customer retention, team processes, etc.)

Do you think they would allow remote PMs to take the lead over other PMs/ junior PMs?

Yes! Definitely. It’s harder in some ways for the remote PM but doable to still gain a leadership role remotely.

Is a freelance product management role feasible in the industry where I could work remotely?

I have more seen contract remote PM roles. Let me know if I can help here in your search.

Closing Note

Thank you so much for having me! This was really fun and hopefully helpful for your community :slightly_smiling_face:  In terms of final tips for everyone – create your own path. You OWN your PM journey, make it yours. And if I can help in any way, feel free to DM or add me on LinkedIn.

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