In March 2020, the workforces of pretty much every major city in the world found themselves working from home. The shift from workplace to home office was as swift as it was sharp – there was hardly any time to prepare for what would become the globe’s greatest remote working experiment.
Here at Cogent, we’ve been transitioning to a ‘remote-first’ culture for a while, with some of our most senior team members working from homes across different states of the country. However, our beloved office (The Treehouse) is still the home to some of the best parts of Cogent; it’s where we invite our clients to see exactly how we do things, and it’s a space that our people genuinely enjoy working from.
Dan (pictured on the left) works remotely from his home in sunny Queensland, a short 2,800-ish kms from the Cogent office in Melbourne.
As we start to transition out of this remote work experiment having had nearly a full 12 months of results to investigate, we couldn’t help but ask ourselves which Product focused pandemic habits should we take with us into the new year, and which should we leave in 2020?
To answer, we’ve collated some of the top tips from our Product team with the hope that these insights will smooth our collective transition to a new ‘COVID normal’.
Psst…if you’re looking for some quality data on how remote work has impacted product teams across Australia and New Zealand then head here for our recently published report.
Communication is King – Scott, Principal Product Manager
Communication is more important than ever, as we need to keep everyone informed. The casual conversations that take place in shared space don’t happen as easily when we’re remote. We can’t see what’s happening in teams we’re not part of, so broader company comms are extremely helpful to keep us all connected. Plus, make sure you have a good laptop! There are different needs when working remotely, with a reliance on many more online tools (at the same time), which requires a better performing machine.
Realign your thinking – Romesh, Product Manager
Pictures still tell a good story – drawing up a concept or visual, whether digitally or on a piece of paper is still a good way to align people on a remote call. It doesn’t need to be pretty, just sketch what’s in your head, take a photo, share it with your team and discuss!
It can be tiring for both the person running a remote session who is coordinating and taking in all inputs, as well as participants who might feel disconnected by just sitting and listening – so find ways to share the facilitation responsibility and make sure everyone is involved in some way.
Get your team really comfortable with online tools – The more comfortable your team is with tools like Mural or Miro, the better their participation. I liken this to a whiteboard session where you give each person a whiteboard marker – it gives them the sense that they are a participant, not just an audience.
Make space for deep thought – It’s ok to have alone time to come up with a plan or strategy and then regroup to discuss with your team. Remote sessions aren’t always the best forum for creativity, and the environment can play a big part in idea generation. Think about the best place, seating, sound/music, etc to give you room to think, and then come back to the table with the team. A favorite of mine is jazzy background music for remote group meetings.
Keep it short and sweet – Eadaoin, Lead Product Manager
We used to hold full-day workshops in our office. We would break up the day to stay productive, but they were tiring nonetheless. Since working remotely, we’ve cut workshops down to a maximum of 1.5 to 2 hours. Keeping meetings short keeps us super focused and prevents people from getting too tired. When we are all back in the office, I’d like to try 3 shorter workshops across a few days rather than whole day sessions.
Checking in at the start of meetings is more important than ever. We don’t get to have the morning chit chat over coffee when working remotely. My favourite check-in questions on a Monday is now “What brought you joy over the weekend?”. Through this, I’ve learned some lovely things about my colleagues, and I’ve also learned about some really tough things my colleagues have dealt with. No matter what, they have always found something to be joyful about.
Electronic boards have real advantages over physical ones – Kath, Lead Product Consultant
Firstly, electronic sticky notes never fall off the wall! Digital tools are also a really efficient way of organising and storing cards in your backlog. It saves having to take photos of walls of post-it notes, which end up stored in office drawers filled to the brim with workshop paraphernalia. Digital boards also allow everyone to focus on the parts of the board that are most relevant. Being able to zoom in and out means people can get all the detail and content they need, without having to physically grab or move cards to be in their line of sight.