Product management doesn’t require in-person collaboration to be effective

Remote product management is something I’ve written about before, so I read Julie Caprio’s Four Keys to Successful Remote Product Management with interest. In general I agree with the advice she gives in the article, but there is one section that I wanted to respond to briefly:

Product management, on the other hand, was more of a struggle. A PM needs to set strategy and come up with a vision for the product. Without the potential for spontaneous in-person conversation and even inspiration, this part of the job gets a bit harder. Creating a vision for a product is a collaborative effort involving several stakeholders; when the team is distributed, it’s more difficult to align on goals, tasks, and project ownership.

It’s a common criticism of remote work that it’s more difficult to collaborate remotely. But I think this is the conventional wisdom only because we try to recreate the office experience for remote work. Since offices rely on synchronous interactions, we use the same lens to try to make remote work effective, and that’s just not going to work.

If we optimize for asynchronous communication instead — which is what remote work is so good at — collaboration can be extremely effective. Perhaps even more effective than office collaboration, because everyone can provide thoughtful responses on whatever topic they are discussing on their own time. As Brian de Haaff points out in Remote Workers Are Outperforming Office Workers — Here’s Why:

Without being able to lean on physical proximity, remote workers must reach out to one another frequently and with purpose. This leads to stronger collaboration and camaraderie.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, this has been my experience as well. As long as we shift the way we think about collaboration away from the office mentality, and use the right tools, I don’t think remote collaboration is less effective than in-person work at all.