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What are your thoughts on fully remote product teams? Can they work long-term?

Melissa Ushakov
Melissa Ushakov
GitLab Group Manager, Product ManagementMarch 6

Working at GitLab for the last three years has shown me that fully remote teams can work and be highly effective. Teams at GitLab are remote and highly distributed and work asynchronously first. For example, we run all the typical agile ceremonies (refinement, spring planning, sprint retrospective, standups, etc.) asynchronously. This way of working provides a high degree of documentation for all decisions, allows for greater collaboration, and more thought to be put behind critical decisions. 

Read more about how to approach remote work in GitLab's remote team playbook: https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/ 

871 Views
Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Chief Product OfficerFebruary 28

There are very few hills from a professional perspective that I would be willing to die on, but this is definitely one of them. I absolutely believe that fully remote product teams can work in the long term. I currently lead a fully remote team and I've seen some of the best product management work of my career being produced by this team. 

The challenges I've seen with remote work for product management have been when the structures of the team are not consistent (i.e. some people work in an office together consistently while others are working remotely and visit the office on an intermittent basis). Even in these scenarios, the challenges are all driven by the challenges of managing interpersonal relationships.

In order for a product delivery organization to work efficiently and effectively together there are a few* elements that need to exist:

  • A strategy the team believes in
  • A realistic understanding of the product and market status quo relative to competitors and customer needs
  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for R&D functions as well as cross-functional partners
  • An agreed-upon process for how new products or capabilities are explored, initiated, built, released and communicated/sold
  • Aligned artifacts for information sharing, documentation, and to facilitate discussion
  • Ceremonies to ideate, share, review, iterate, and make meaningful progress on the initiatives at hand
  • Honest and collaborative culture with assumptions of positive intent sprinkled in
  • Team-level empowerment and accountability
  • Opportunity for failure, growth, and learning
  • Goals are oriented around metrics
  • Alignment between product management, design, and engineering functions from the leadership level to the team level.

I touched on external factors that aren't specific to the skill set each functional team member embodies. However, it goes without saying that if team members don't have the skills to execute their roles, it will be challenging for the team to succeed.

Very few teams and organizations can say they have every element on that list throttled to 100%. And regardless of whether teams are working together in a co-located office space or fully remote, without those components, some elements of efficiency and/or effectiveness are diminished.

Spending time together as a team is important and I'm sure there is a mathematical equation that can help us figure out how much is the right amount, but the pieces listed above are more important to the outcomes of product management teams than being in an office together most of the time.

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Sharad Goel
Sharad Goel
Homebase VP Product & DesignMay 11

I don't believe those can work effectively - the nature of product is that it is very cross functional in nature and that requires a lot of interaction and I have found technology to be a constant barrier here. Nothing beats a good old fashioned whiteboard discussion or scribbling together on a design board.

Is there a healthy hybrid model - yes because there are periods when you need to focus on getting stuff done by yourself.

448 Views
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