Hey there! You’re reading Chapter 1 of The Hybrid Product Management Playbook: Thoughts for People. Check out the rest of the playbook right here:
So, you’ve been told by your company that you’re all going to work with a hybrid model, spending some time in the office and some time working from home.
Maybe you’re allowed to work from home as much or as little as you like, and maybe you’ve been prescribed set hours. Either way, you’ve now got the challenge of making hybrid work for you and your cross-functional teams.
What is a hybrid Product Manager?
As a Product Manager or a Senior Product Manager, you probably won’t be involved in setting the hybrid work policy at your company – unless you’re the Product Manager at a startup of 5 people.
So what are your responsibilities when it comes to adapting to the new hybrid model?
Most importantly, you have to figure out how to make hybrid work for yourself. If it’s new to you, you have to switch up your habits and your schedule to make sure that you’re still doing your best work, and having a good time doing it too.
But even entry level Product Managers are leaders, so you have to help make hybrid work for your teams as well. While you can’t set your company’s hybrid policies, you can use their benefits to your advantage when it comes to guiding cross-functional teams.
If you’re moving from remote to hybrid (the most common transition in 2021), that’ll change the way you run meetings, the way you collaborate, and the way you communicate with your teams.
Why do Product Managers like the office?
First off, let’s examine why Product Managers benefit from having access to an office environment. Because throughout our conversations with product people throughout the last 18 months, many have talked about how excited they are to get back to an IRL location. At least in part.
So what is it specifically about Product Management that makes it easier to work with people in the same room?
One of the most important elements of a PM’s job is to influence without authority. Part of the magic of Product Management is being able to use data and storytelling to influence people from different disciplines to build in the same direction. A Product Manager doesn’t need to tell people what to do, as they’re able to build trust and gain alignment.
For many, that’s much easier to do when you can look them in the eye and not through the screen.
Building a digital product (or any product!) is a largely collaborative effort, which requires creative problem solving and making the most of opportunities for innovation. Those lightbulb moments still happen over Zoom, but most product people seem to agree that they’re more frequent and quicker to act upon when everyone is in the same building.
The same goes for building relationships, especially with new hires. Onboarding and welcoming new team members is a crucial part of their journey with your team, and it’s usually better done in person. So having access to an office space and offering new hires the opportunity to meet their new team in person can help get relationships off on the right foot.
Some of the bigger considerations when it comes to choosing a hybrid model (like security and budget) are out of your control. We’ll dig into these and what they mean for product companies in Chapter 2.
For you, as a Product Manager or Senior Product Manager, there are plenty of things that you’ll need to figure out to keep the day-to-day running of your product teams as smooth as possible. You’ll also need to keep an eye out for opportunities to maximize the possible benefits of hybrid…
1. Keeping everyone in the loop
Depending on the hybrid model your company has chosen, it may be difficult to keep track of everyone’s movements. For example, your engineers may come into the office Monday through Wednesday, and your marketing team may only come to the office on Thursdays and Fridays. Or every individual employee may be able to come and go completely as they please.
If the home/office split is left down to people’s preferences, it’s important that those who personally prefer to stay home don’t miss out on key information compared to those who prefer to come to the office.
So your challenge as a Product Manager is to make sure that the lines of communication that you established during remote work remain undisrupted. You need to figure out how to make sure that teams that are now here, there, and everywhere, stay in the loop.
Solution: Maintain communication channels and set expectations
Even when working in the office, for many companies most information and communication was kept online. Conversations still happened on Slack, email threads with partners were still endlessly confusing, but centralized.
If remote work still makes up a significant chunk of how your team operates, maintain those channels as your main source of communication. For things that happen in the office, like an ad-hoc conversation between yourself and your head engineer that leads to a realization,consider using something like Slack’s Huddle feature to bring people together so nobody misses a beat.
For more regular meetings, you should also start out by setting expectations for meetings. Which ones are going to be online, which ones will take place in the office, and who is expected to be there.
Depending on the flexibility your teammates are offered by your company’s chosen model, it may be possible to wrangle your teams into being in the same place at the same time, whilst protecting their sense of freedom. The key to doing this is to be democratic and not dictatorial. Choose the methods of communication that work the best for the most people, and don’t shy away from feedback.
If enough people say “this isn’t working”, it’s time to think outside of the box and come up with a new solution. For example, if too many people routinely can’t make the in-person all-hands meeting, work with everyone to find a better time, or consider moving it online.
If hybrid is completely new to your company, there are going to be some meetings that don’t make sense at first, and you’re going to make decisions that you’ll need to change later. It’s all part of the process!
2. Equity and office politics
Having people in different places doesn’t just have an impact on communication. There’s the risk of office politics coming into play. Those who more frequently come into the office may be seen as ‘team players’ more so than those who stay home, without taking into account the reasons why people may choose to stay home.
This could end up affecting who advances in the company and who ends up struggling to get that next promotion.
Solution: Put conscious effort into company culture
Company culture isn’t something that just happens. It’s something that you have to put effort into and consciously think about. It’s also not something that’s the sole responsibility of c-suite.
It’s in your best interest as a PM to ensure that company culture stays strong, as it’s one of the greatest aids to cross-functional collaboration– the bread and butter of product development.
So what you can do is…
- Keep tabs on which voices are the loudest and which are the quietest. If the person who stays home the most is also the last person to give an opinion, check in with them.
- Run team brainstorming sessions. If time allows, invite everyone in a specific team to a brainstorming session, to casually chat and spitball new ideas. It’ll help recreate the magic of ‘water cooler’ ideas and help your teams get creative together.
- Plan casual catch ups in the office as well as remotely. Organize afterwork drinks on a Friday or mid-week coffee breaks. You can’t force people to come, but those who have been looking for an opportunity to connect with their colleagues will appreciate it. Pair this with online casual catch-ups to make sure those who stay home don’t feel left out. One option is to alternate between an onsite and a digital meetup every week.
- Keep motivation and energy high. This means recognizing hard work and celebrating small wins. Climb Credit’s CEO, Angela Galardi, spoke about this topic on the Product Podcast. [16:35] “
“We have a value at Climb – succeed together – we’re all in it together. Even when a company gets bigger and has more products and is doing more things, it’s still one company. I always try to instil in everyone that there isn’t a reality where one person is successful at a company and another one isn’t. Success is a shared experience and something that we’re all gonna do together…”
3. Managing your own time
It’s a well-earned stereotype that a Product Manager’s time is not their own. With more meetings than there are hours in the day, working remotely seemed to give some PMs a brief moment of respite. You just had to update your Slack status to ‘busy’ or ‘in a meeting’ and you were free to do some deep individual work of your own. (Oh, people would still ping you wanting to chat, but now you could ignore them without being rude!)
One of the much-loved benefits of remote work is that it allows people to create stronger barriers between their work life and their personal life, giving them some much needed balance. Having this extra time led to better self and professional development, and kept employees happier and healthier.
In moving to a hybrid setting, you run the risk of upending your me-time. Whether that means missing out on your morning yoga class because you now need to commute to the office again, or because people will be passing by your desk “just for five minutes” when you’re in the middle of something else.
As Raiza Abubakar will tell you, “guard your free time just like you would with a key deliverable at work, because it’s this balance that keeps you going and will help you persevere through mental and emotional hardship.”
Solution: Set expectations of your availability
You need to set some expectations of when you’re available and when you shouldn’t be contacted unless the building is on fire or Tim Cook is calling for you.
Even in a hybrid setting, you can continue to use your Slack/Google Teams status to gently communicate your availability. This helps to keep everyone generally aware of whether they’ll get a quick response from you or not.
When coming into the office, openly communicate with your team, and set a general ground rule for everyone that being in the building doesn’t mean that a person’s time is a free-for-all. Some may have come to the office to concentrate and get away from noisy children, and they may not necessarily be free for an ad-hoc meeting. Make sure that the same rules apply to everyone and not just you. (After all, it’s not just PMs who seek an escape from endless meetings!)
Solving this pain point for yourself and everyone in your team will be another step in the right direction for making hybrid work for the company as a whole. Happy teams build better products!
Questions to ask yourself
The key to getting your hybrid model right, is to see it as a test for your organization, across all levels. That means you should treat it the way you would any test, by assessing the results and asking yourself important questions about the key pillars of your work…
Yourself: How can I leverage the benefits of hybrid to help me do my job better/more easily?
Your teams: How can we, as a team, make the most of hybrid for team building and collaboration?
Your tools: Do our remote tools still make sense for a hybrid model?
Your product: Which development pain points can hybrid help to ease?
Your customers: How can we use the way we work in hybrid to add value for our customers?
By routinely asking yourself these questions, you cut through the noise and excitement of moving partially back to the office and focus on what really matters. And that’s working well together as a team, using the right tools in the right way, building a great product that helps your customers to be awesome, and enjoying doing it!
Summary – The Play:
- Make hybrid work for you by communicating your availability.
- Make meetings more efficient by setting precedents for who needs to be where and when.
- Pay attention to the quietest/least present teammate and check in with them.
- Review your tools and communication processes, to make sure they still make sense for hybrid.
- Be open to feedback on the chosen model, and adapt it to work with your teams and not against them.
Coming up in Chapter 2…
This one is for all of the decision makers in a product company. We’ll be looking into how big tech companies are leading the way in terms of compensation, policy, process, and methodologies.