by Carlos G de Villaumbrosia

Is it Possible to Work Remotely as a Product Manager?  Some think that a discipline based on close contacts with products and stakeholders demands that you remain in the office. They’re wrong: it’s possible to be a remote product manager.

Do you feel sometimes like you are physically tied to your seat?

Even though product managers are supposed to engage various teams during the day, chances are you are not moving that much. Worse: you might even be stuck in a “presenteeism” vicious circle.

Presenteeism can happen for a variety of reasons, not just the obvious negative one that you are forced to stay by external pressures. Your own passion for the job and desire to show leadership, the feeling of being irreplaceable; these can be strong arguments to hang around way after you are truly needed.

But in some companies, management can just be too adamant: they would prefer to see all employees, in their seats, at all times.

No surprise, these are the old-fashioned ways, and the old-fashioned businesses. Because a new trend is quickly gaining traction in tech and product management: remote work. And not just for freelancers.

Keep reading to see how you can work remotely as a product manager.

Bad news first: the reasons for not working remotely

OK, let’s be honest for a second. Most job descriptions assume that you’ll be sharing physical space with your peers and colleagues. Do you know why this is? There is a historical, and a practical reason.

Let’s kick off with the history. Some time ago, most jobs had to do with the land: tending crops, animals and making simple tools necessarily required a physical location. Then, factories were actually based on the bonus that a single space offered: by concentrating as many workers and processes as possible, one could multiply the manufacture of physical objects.

Of course, this was at the same time that communication technologies were being deployed across the world. Starting with regular postal services, the telegraph, the radio and, of course, the telephone, distances were dramatically shrunk.

A lucky few could now conduct business at a distance: think of early twentieth-century managers of the first multinationals, who relied on complex combinations of couriers and gadgets to manage their vast transcontinental holdings.

Thus, the “spell of space” was slowly broken. The generalization of these technologies over the 1950s and 1960s, with the acceleration of IT from the 1970s onwards, did the rest. We are still living the consequences of the Internet revolution!

At least on paper, now one could work from anywhere.

At the same time, there are other, more practical reasons that emphasize working in the same spot. Let’s look at four.

First, besides a few experiments, most companies still have hierarchiesAnd, while we are all good professionals, we sometimes require supervision. Whether you are a manager or you are being managed, being side-by-side is the quickest way to answer a question or reformulate a task.

Secondly, while there are many workflow methodologies, all of them involve gathering as a team at a certain point. Obviously, team meetings are much simpler when sharing the same room, even if we rely on the best software out there. The most creative companies even rely on the kind of bonding that takes place in a busy room full of brilliant people. Hard to transmit that energy over a fiber optic cable!

Thirdly: presence is simply faster. Until we all have implanted chips helping us communicate via hive mind, speaking to a colleague next to you will be much quicker than setting up a conference call, Skype meeting or hitting send on Slack.

And, finally, you cannot overlook the informality bonus. Sharing the office, the kitchen… and even the parking lot! This is something that, while it might not build friendships, it can lead to professional camaraderie and greatly increase productivity.

The particularities of product management can make these problems even more acute. You need to address stakeholders, solve technical problems and deal with commercial requirements can actually make you feel “irreplaceable”.

This is often tied with the issue of “presenteeism” discussed above: if you or your managers feel that everything collapses if you are not there, how are they going to give you the opportunity of working remotely!

Not to worry. There is a way of justifying remote PM work. Keep reading.

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