Over the past year, workforces everywhere have largely gone remote. Today, it is looking as if this may become the norm, at least for the near future. There are certainly benefits to this. Remote workers enjoy the flexibility and lack of commute. Remote team leaders are more empowered than ever to recruit talent on a global scale. That said, some clear challenges have arisen.
If you manage a product team, you may have faced some of these difficulties. If not, you likely will. Unfortunately, without proper management, these challenges can truly derail your progress. On the other hand, there is some good news. There is a clear solution for each of these problems. Just take a look at the three challenges you will face leading a remote product team and great strategies for solving them.
What is Behind Most Remote Team Struggles?
Your remote team may face some complex challenges, but the underlying cause will nearly always be a lack of good communication. It’s easy to see why this would be a problem. Product teams thrive on communication. When that goes away or is complicated in some way, team members will struggle. Further, team managers may struggle to stay on top of things. This can lead to things going off the rails and makes it nearly impossible to create a clear roadmap to follow.
It’s certainly hard to create a marketable product in that environment. Fortunately, there are technologies that can help bridge these communication gaps.
Collaboration Can Suffer And Slow Progress
When teams are centralized, it’s easy for different members to quickly stop by one another’s workstations. They can ask quick questions, share a bit of information, or briefly clear up a small misunderstanding. These microinteractions don’t seem important at the time, but the impact is clear once those opportunities go away. ‘Clearing something up real fast’ becomes an impossibility.
Consider a simple text message that one of your team members may send to another. It could be a question requiring nothing more than a yes or no answer. Unfortunately, the person on the receiving end of that request could be busy in a virtual meeting or in an entirely different time zone.
Those are certainly valid reasons for not giving an immediate response. At the same time, the sender is left waiting and wondering. Their own work may come to a halt, or a decision may be left up in the air. Team members could become frustrated with each other, and important matters could be left ignored. All of this can truly make collaboration suffer.
How to Solve it: Use Shared Docs And Files to Facilitate Collaboration
You can’t eliminate time zones or expect team members to be available to one another on demand. What you can do is find other ways to make collaboration work seamlessly.
As a product manager, you can introduce shared documents as a means for team members to follow one another’s progress and share information.
Not only can your team work on things together, shared documents often have features such as versioning and changelogs. This introduces a layer of transparency that is very important when dealing with remote teams.
At first, all this may seem like overkill. But the truth is that when team members are spread far and wide, it can be easy for one team member to feel as if they are carrying more than their share of the load. Conversely, another team member may not get the credit they deserve for their contributions. That changes with everybody can see the others are actively contributing. Hopefully, it won’t come up, but this can also highlight somebody who isn’t contributing as they should.
As a product manager, you can access these files as well. This allows you to track progress, make your own contributions, and quickly identify when things could be going wrong.
If your team is missing deadlines, or it’s clear there are other issues, you can also track these using shared documents.
In addition to sharing work documents, you can also invite team members to share core documents such as product roadmaps. This makes it infinitely easier to bring everyone up to speed should you have to make a strategic change.
Meeting in Person is Virtually Impossible
It’s important that your team is able to have formal and informal gatherings to ensure that everyone is kept up to date. Unfortunately, you can no longer arrange an in-person meeting on short notice, if at all. Digital solutions are available, but the quality isn’t always optimal.
In fact, most people have experienced the frustration of having meeting participants drop out of online meetings, audio quality issues, and cross-talk caused by delays. It’s difficult to accomplish much when folks are focused on troubleshooting tech problems or growing impatient with those who are. These same issues can even crop up when team members hold breakout sessions or even try to communicate one on one.
How to Solve it: Choose a Reliable Suite of Digital Communication Tools
One way to eliminate many of these challenges is to get everyone to adopt the same communication and collaboration technology. With team-wide acceptance, you will know that everyone understands which tools they are expected to use and to master.
Ultimately, choosing the digital collaboration tools is an executive decision. However, you should get useful feedback from your team before making a final choice.
Once you’ve chosen the tools you will use, stick to those choices. This keeps everyone on the same page and creates a situation where productivity is the focus, not troubleshooting.
After you’ve solved the issue of conflicting technologies, there’s just one more thing to consider. Be mindful of varying time zones when scheduling digital conferences. If possible, arrange times that are within working hours for everyone. If team members have to participate in the evenings or early mornings, spread that burden around by rotating meeting times.
Information Silos Inhibit Exchange of Ideas
An information silo is created when a team, sub-team, or individual becomes the holder of important knowledge, and that information doesn’t reach others who need it. This can happen for a couple of reasons. First, someone who is ‘elbows-deep’ in whatever task they are working on may simply not think to communicate what they’ve learned to others. The second is that people often become territorial about their knowledge. This is often due to the perception that holding onto that information ensures they are valuable to the time.
The problem with information silos is that efforts to solve similar problems are often duplicated. This can stunt productivity and increase frustration.
How to Solve it: Create a Centralized Knowledge Base
Get your team to view information as a shared asset. Encourage them to share ideas and showcase anything they’ve learned that will benefit the team. Next, create a centralized place where this information can be accessed. A knowledge base might include any or all of the following.
- Shared best practices documents.
- Demonstration videos.
- Troubleshooting guides.
- Tables and diagrams.
- Frequently asked questions.
- Reference guides.
If you can provide the leadership your team needs to overcome communication difficulties, you will see productivity and collaboration improve immensely. This will lead to your remote team members working together like never before and creating better products.