Top Things to Know About Coaching Remote Product Management Employees

Intro to Modern Remote Work

Sitting in an office from 9–5 Monday through Friday is becoming a thing of the past. Remote work is being adopted by more and more companies every year. Working remotely eliminates the need to commute to and from work, saving employees both money and valuable time that could otherwise be spent being more productive when it comes to their work or for their personal lives. 

Studies have shown that the number of Americans who work remotely has steadily grown from 4.1 percent in 2008 to 5.3 percent in 2018, and continues to grow. Employers are beginning to find it difficult to find talent locally, and remote work capabilities have allowed companies to expand their searches for qualified individuals well beyond local markets.

The growing popularity of remote work is changing how we work, how we communicate with our co-workers, the tools we use to do so, and even the hours we work on a daily basis, but remote employees are also saying they’re happier and often more productive in comparison to their time at traditional offices. Let’s see why. 

Day-to-Day Workflow for Remote Employees

Day-to-day life for remote employees can vary slightly from person to person and between companies based on guidelines that are set, but a majority of remote employees typically follow a similar routine. The biggest benefit that comes into play with remote work is the convenience of not having to commute to a traditional office every day. Remote employees are usually free to work from wherever they want, so long as they have a reliable connection available. Some remote employees will set up shop in co-working spaces, coffee shops, or even the library, but for others, a designated home office usually does the trick. It really just depends on an individual’s personal preferences and what their employer requires. 

Since employees aren’t with their team in the office, mornings as a remote employee typically begin with a standup/check-in call or video conference to discuss employees’ progress, what they’re working on, as well addressing any questions or concerns about certain projects. These stand up calls — or immediately after them — is usually a good time to grab a team member for a quick chat about something you may need from them for a certain project. 

Arvind Narayan, Product Manager at Ford Motor Company, says they use this time to make sure everyone’s on the same page. “We don’t necessarily consider it an attendance tracker, but our daily standups make everyone come together at the same time every morning so that everyone has a cadence to the day. If there is a problem or something that we have trouble with, this is a time when we can discuss it.”

For many remote employees, these morning calls may be the only time all day that they are in contact with everyone on their team, so it’s important to utilize this time to make sure everyone’s on the same page, knows what’s going on, and is set up to be productive for the rest of the day. The remainder of the day for remote employees is typically very production-driven, and unless something comes up, there isn’t much back-and-forth communication. 

How to Coach Remote Employees

Tools That Can Be Used

Coaching remote employees can prove to be much more difficult than coaching a team of employees in a traditional office setting, but with the help of recent software tools, this has become a much easier and simpler task to navigate. While email will always be available as a communication tool, it’s not particularly productive for quick questions, urgent messages, and so on, as there’s no telling when the recipient will respond. 

To make remote workers’ communication more effective and efficient, there are a few other team communication and task management tools available. These include the likes of Slack, Skype, WebEx, Rally, Linear, Discord, Flock,  Basecamp, and G Suite just to name a few. By utilizing these tools, managers can effectively communicate with and track the work that remote employees are completing in real-time.

Building Rapport to Encourage Idea Sharing

While remote work is trending upward, there’s no denying the fact that there are considerable differences when it comes to levels of creativity among teams, camaraderie in the workplace, and overall processes. 

Michael Sacca, Vice President of Product at Dribbble, says establishing processes is extremely important. “The one thing we try to do is set up a good process for our team to work, and this is how we get the best ideas out of them. You can’t get the best ideas out of people when they’re hesitant, scared, or reserved. It’s important to make sure your team is comfortable enough to share ideas. This usually happens organically in an office setting, whether it’s at the water cooler or while getting coffee. It’s much easier to bounce ideas off one another than to schedule a video call and pitch an idea with a presentation. Everything is slightly more formalized when dealing with remote employees. By building a rapport with your team, you allow them to feel comfortable and free to share their ideas, inspiring further creativity.”

Expectations for Remote Product Employees

Managing Their Work for Your Company

Expectations for remote employees are slightly different than for those who are in the office full-time. “You have to look at their output. It’s the only way. It’s difficult to know what people are doing all day because you don’t see them,” Sacca said. “The only thing I do know is that at the end of the week, I can look at their output. It becomes a measure of performance. Not necessarily the volume of output, but the quality of it. You have to judge things based on the criteria of ‘did you finish what you set out to do?’ And if you didn’t, what was the reason for it? The way I can tell you’re working is if you’re producing.”

Ensuring Employees Are Sticking to a Schedule

Remote capabilities allow companies to set flexible work schedules. Many companies now offer partly remote positions, where employees may come into the office for a couple of days and work for home the rest of the week. This flexibility is nice but needs to efficiently be communicated among employees so that they know what is expected of them. 

A set schedule can be the best way to do this. If this means that in-office days are Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and remote days are Tuesdays and Thursdays, then that’s something that needs to be implemented and enforced just as an organization requiring employees to be on-site would enforce attendance and timeliness. 

Ready to Learn More About Product Management?

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Paul McAvinchey
Paul McAvinchey

For over 15 years, Paul has been building and collaborating on digital products with fast-growing startups and global brands, including AOL and WMS Gaming. Currently, he's a co-founder of Product Collective, a worldwide community of product people. Members collaborate on Slack, meet at INDUSTRY: The Product Conference, listen to, learn at Product Interviews and get a weekly brief that includes best practices in product management. In recent years he led business development at DXY, a leading product design firm in the Midwest, and product innovation at MedCity Media, a publishing startup acquired by Breaking Media in 2015.