Remote work is rapidly growing in all industries. Some professionals might try to push away this new way of working, seeing it as simply a current necessity. They might not think it's fit for a product manager who’s constantly managing team members, strategies, client and partner communication, and upcoming challenges.
But let me tell you this:
Product management can be even more effective when done remotely.
No need to fear going for this career path.
I’ve put together this detailed guide to help you understand the challenges of remote work and its implication on your product management career.
First, let's have a look at a remote product manager’s core duties.
What it means to to be a remote product manager
I’ll just say this from the start:
There’s not much of a difference between what a remote product manager does when compared to someone who works from the office.
In fact, you’re probably already doing part of your work remotely. Like conducting user interviews or holding meetings with your stakeholders.
Your role in remote product management
So what does a remote product manager even do?
Different companies and products have specific needs. Your daily activities as a product manager or owner can be similar though. Remote PMs have the exact same roles as their office-based counterparts.
Here are some of the duties a product manager has:
- Lead the development of the product and its strategy across multiple lifecycles
- Discover user requirements through user interviews
- Develop the positioning and vision of a product
- Use a variety of tools to produce wireframes and mockups, gather feedback, and deliver results
- Establish clear timelines and feedback patterns
- Define quantitative and qualitative metrics and use these to evaluate the success of the product and review delivered work to ensure alignment with the specifications
- Build actionable user stories
- Create and manage the product roadmap
- Maintain consistent client and stakeholder communication
- Partner with other teams to ensure a unified product development and delivery process
- Lead the product team and take full responsibility for its actions
- Create new feature announcements and content
Who hires remote product managers?
To find a new remote job and make the first step towards this ideal lifestyle, you can simply look under the Product category of these remote-exclusive job websites:
- Dynamite Jobs
- Working Nomads
- Remote Age
- Remote Global
Good news is that more and more companies are starting to consider switching to distributed teams and even accepting remote workers for highly skilled professionals. If you need an overall look at some of the companies who are hiring remote product managers, here’s a list to start with:
Keep an eye on their job boards to see when a new opportunity pops up.
Note: You can always just ask your current employer to let you work remotely or reach out to companies you’d love to work for and inquire into any available positions.
Why working remotely might not be right for your product management career
Just like the skills of an in-office and remote product management expert are similar, there are a couple of personality traits and habits that will influence whether or not you’re the right fit for working remotely.
To get it out of the way, it’s safe to say that bad communicators will never make it as remote employees. These are those people who can’t take feedback, always have to contradict other team members, and just don’t want to answer your inquiries on time.
Product management is fast-paced. ? Especially in small teams who are commonly the ones looking for remote members anyway. So communication needs to be done in detail and accurately even when you’re not face-to-face with the rest of the team.
There’s no time to nudge people into sharing their thoughts or asking questions when they don’t know how to move forward with a task. Even more so, the product manager should be the one to tie together all team, user, client, and other stakeholder communications.
That’s why most remote product management jobs start with “X years of experience in a cross-functional product design or product management role”. Companies want their product managers to be dependable. Sometimes even more than what they expect from the rest of their team since they’re literally handing over the product to you.
If you’re a constant slacker who’d rather scroll through Reddit for hours than create one more ticket, you’re better off somewhere else.
What are the skills you’ll need to land a remote product management job
A product manager in general needs to have some of the most varied soft and hard skills in a team. Honestly, besides exceptionally good communication and organization skills, the traits and abilities you need to develop are roughly the same as for any office job.
I had a look at 100+ remote product manager jobs on Glassdoor so you don’t have to assume what the top skills for such professionals are. Next are the results that prove my point. ?
Here are some of the most commonly mentioned skills that employers are looking for from their next remote product manager:
- Strong leadership skills
- Organization and prioritization capabilities
- Critical thinking
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Strong client management abilities
- Ability to manage multiple, simultaneous projects
- Time management and budgeting skills
- Command of diverse product development frameworks, strategies, and/or rapid prototyping solutions
- Ability to troubleshoot customer issues and create detailed bug reports
- Ability to work autonomously
- Passion for working cross-functionally
- Problem-solving skills
- Strong technical understanding of how software products are built
- Ability to collect and structure qualitative and quantitative research that will be used for making product and design decisions
- A clear understanding of key metrics and ways of measuring a product’s success
All in all, the requirements depend on the company you apply to. Some will prefer a strong communicator who is able to work cross-functionally and bring the entire team together. Other employers will have specific needs such as programming language knowledge or stronger experience when it comes to user interviews or focus on a specific stage of a product’s life cycle.
What you’ll need above any of the above skills is product sense. This means you’ll first have to become a subject matter expert and learn all the ins and outs of the product. You’ll then own the entire creative process around generating new ideas, spotting challenges, and creating the whole roadmap along with doing user research, keeping track of metrics, and prioritizing tickets.
Simply, you need a complete product-oriented skillset along with dependable traits that will allow your employer to trust you with their product’s evolution and fixing potential problems.
Where to start your remote product management career preparation
There’s no training in particular that you need to go through separate from your usual product management courses.
However, before jumping into this entirely new work style, I recommend you test it out for a couple of weeks or months. Try a side project or get a part-time job that will have you interact with clients and other team members through multiple time zones. Having this kind of beforehand experience will show you if you actually like collaborating this way, if remote work is suited for you, and where you need to improve.
You might not like using multiple tools to maintain communication or maybe you’re just someone who only feels productive in an office environment. For tiny problems like the latter, try to find an actionable solution. In this case, go to a coworking space daily or set up a fully equipped work desk.
If the issues are huge [like when you’re not productive at all without supervision], there’s really nothing you can do.
If you’re at the beginning of your PM career, being ready for remote work is the least of your worries. You’ll first need to develop and grow your product management skills overall.
Some of these skills include learning how to conduct user research and market analysis, knowing what goes into a product roadmap, understanding how PM frameworks can be used within different types of teams, learning how to set and monitor key metrics, and so many more product-focused skills and roles you’ll put to use for real products.
By far the biggest struggle new PMs always have is worrying about their interview process.
What will I say?
What if I don’t know the answer to a question?
I’m not ready for this job.
All natural concerns for any product manager newbie. There’s so much help out there though. ?
I’m a huge networking fan so the best tip I’d have for you is to connect with experienced product managers who are willing to coach and prepare you for your next interview.
If you’re the shy type, you can always opt for classic LinkedIn messaging instead of face-to-face meetings but bear in mind you’ll have to get over your fears to nail the interview. ?
Remote product management best practices
So you’ve landed a new job or you just want to prepare yourself mentally for what’s to come? I’ve put together my 6 best tips I’ve acquired throughout the years from my own experience and talking to other professionals:
Maintain a regular schedule
One of the top perks of remote work is flexibility to work whenever you want to. Honestly though, as a product manager you might have to mold your schedule according to when the rest of the team is online.
Postponing work [and implicitly communication] can cause serious gaps in productivity. If you don’t know when you have to work on your tasks, when it’s time to dedicate yourself to prioritizing other colleagues’ duties, and when you can still fit in time for feedback and meetings, you’ll end up postponing everything indefinitely when you’re really supposed to be one of the faster responders in the team.
As a PM, others look up to you and expect your input and instructions at all times. So compared to the asynchronous communication that remote companies are used to, sending feedback and holding video conferences in real-time works better for product managers and their teammates.
This takes me to the importance of establishing clear communication patterns and methodologies.
You already know the story: communication rules when it comes to remote work. Yet, in this kind of work situation, one-on-one meetings are more insightful than ever. They allow product managers to talk to every single member of a team individually, get feedback, and improve not just their product, but also the employee-company relationship.
Beyond this, you need to understand that working remotely takes extra effort for maintaining those friendly work relations you would in real life.
Managers have a top duty here: to create strong bonds that will eventually build up employee retention.
No ideas? Turn to your team. Hold special opportunities for non-work related activities like get-togethers or just a weekly one-on-one meeting to allow employees to get to know each other better, learn about their hobbies, and make a new friend.
Turn to video tools to bridge the communication gap
Your basic Slack back-and-forth messages or email exchanges create huge information loopholes. They don’t give enough room for clarifying any details and you might end up with results that are totally different from what you’ve expected.
Video, on the other hand, fully replaces your face-to-face office meetings. All remote fun aside, in-person meetings are still an essential part of work for humans as they allow your team members to understand that there are other people who depend on their performance and it’s not just them working from an empty office.
This, in turn, creates accountability, making the entire collaboration process much more effective.
Plus, screen sharing will save the day every single time.
Establish clear review patterns
There’s no such thing as working aimlessly. You need goals and set performance review methods to assess whether the work you and your team puts into a project or product is efficient and spot potential bottlenecks.
To keep everyone involved in this review process, set up a defined timeline for your review tasks and meetings. For instance, decide when and how to hold your daily stand-up meetings. Working remotely you have lots of possibilities for every single review process.
For the stand-ups you can opt for video conferences or use a Slack bot to automate everything and save time since team members can simply write down what they worked on, what they’re taking care of on a given day, and their potential challenges.
The review workflow doesn’t just end here as you’ll probably have to take over and see how and who can help a person with their issues so the product development process can run smoothly.
Address risks ahead of time
While strong communication is a common trait both on-site and distributed teams need to develop, what remote product managers need more than anything are plans. Particularly a highly-detailed action plan for tackling risks before panic installs.
I’m talking here about a common document any team member will access to read and find out how they can manage their own crisis.
Keep your whole team on board
Working remotely is a collective effort. As the person who’s held responsible for any success and failure of your colleagues, you’re in charge of cultivating a desire for remote success within the team.
Here’s the list of everything your team needs to understand and work on before you jump into the world of fully-distributed companies:
- The benefits of remote work
- Communication guidelines
- Risk management techniques
- The importance of feedback and staying connected
- Staying accountable for one’s work
- Get involved in the teams’ overall growth by supporting its cohesion and moving collaboration processes forward
- Developing traits and skills such as discipline, empathy, dependability, and self-organization [in other words, constantly developing themselves on a personal and professional level]
So yes! You can work remotely as a product manager and be just as effective at your work. No performance limitations here.
Product managers still have the same duties and roles when working from home or an exotic beach in the middle of nowhere.
Daily work is quite similar too but your quality of life is highly improved. Here’s what a day in your life as a remote product manager might look like:
- Take care of urgent tasks or team/client inquiries
- Stay updated with any industry or market changes
- Do some networking ?
- Stand-up meeting time! ?
- Work on the product roadmap
- Take a well-deserved lunch break ?
- Answer some more emails
- Respond to tickets
- Client meeting
- One-on-meeting with one of your teammates
- Sprint retrospective! ?
Do keep in mind that product managers have some of the most diverse days with a constant flux of new challenges and opportunities that need to be covered.
Already a happy remote worker? Share your best tips with fellow product managers or people who are considering this career but have been hesitant thinking it’s not suited for the remote lifestyle.