“I was skeptical at first.”
Head of Product Innovation at InstaShop, Renia Rigopoulou, has an impressive background. Following her Masters in management, she found herself sitting on eBay’s product experimentation team, to then becoming the programme manager of their global team. Her most recent role was managing the B2B experience at Deliveroo. When she joined, the engineering team consisted of 40 people, and by the time she left, it was around 300. The fast paced, demanding nature of the role began to take its toll.
“It was a journey, seeing the company growing so fast. It would feel like a continuous sprint, a 24/7 job. Earlier this year, I felt like I didn’t really have a life."
The decision to leave the traditional office environment behind was a daunting one. But, since May, she’s been working from home as head of product management for InstaShop where most of her team also work remotely.
So… how many of us are actually able to work from home?
Around the world, almost half of companies don't allow their employees to work from home. And, out of 56 companies that allow remote working, only 16% of those are exclusively hiring for remote people.
But, despite this, in the last 15 years, the number of people that work from home has actually doubled. In the US right now 4.3 million people actually work from home 50% of the time.
But let's start with the bad news. Why shouldn't we be working from home?
Oh so lonely…..
You wake up. You log onto your laptop, message your team, type away at your laptop. The project needs serious work, maybe you call onto a quick skype meeting. Before you know it, its 6pm and you haven't spoken to another living thing all day. (No, the dog doesn’t count).
Loneliness is a real issue for those who work remotely. For Renia, it was her most recurring source of pain.
“At first, it happened for me when most people were on holiday. I didn't travel to the HQ. I had to go through my whole onboarding by Skype. It was really hard to get to know the business. Especially if you're a PM, it's all about using the app, meeting your stakeholders, getting used to the product being on the ground. Having to go through my onboarding through Skype was very difficult. You sometimes feel disconnected from the team.
““I was in an office with 3000 people and I ended up being at home alone.”
Renia recommends that you do your own onboarding at HQ or somewhere close to your team.
Honey, I’m on the phone!
Being responsive on slack or a chat is the same as showing up at work on time when WFH.
So, you might feel yourself taking your phone out when you're at lunch or after working hours, because you don't want people to think that you're slacking or that you don't work hard enough.
“You feel like your team won't believe that you're actually working because you are at home.”
I am working!
When working remotely, you’ll feel like you have to show concrete results every single day because you're not in the office. People don't physically see you working and so they may not fully understand how complex what you're doing is. You’ll often feel like you have to prove yourself.
“Being 100% remote, you feel that you need to prove to your colleagues that you work all the time.”
If you work from home all the time, you might feel like you never leave work because you're in the same place all the time. Go to a co-working space. It doesn’t have to be every day, but enough to get outside, see a bit of daylight and just be around other people for a few hours.
Setting up a work room might prove useful, and try not to eat where you work either. It proves worthwhile to be disciplined with this.
In an office where you are close to your engineering team or your colleagues, it is easier to get answers to your questions, or to fix a problem quickly. You don't have to consider the time it might take waiting on the end of a phone, or for someone to pop up online.
The bright side? Don’t worry, there is one.
Statistics say that when you work from home, you improve your productivity by 35 to 40%.
“When I was working for Deliveroo or eBay, I would actually take a day to work from home when I would want to get things done. I didn't have any interruptions!”
If you're good with prioritization, working remotely will work for you. You can manage your own time and get your things done at your own pace.
Time and money saved without the daily commute is obvious and remains a huge draw to lots of those who are considering working remotely. No need to spell out to you how useful saved time in your day can prove.
“When I was working in London before, it would take me at least two hours a day to commute. I now save this time."
This time you save can be spent with your friends and family. In general, working from home is less stressful. Because again, you can manage your own time and you don't have those nagging interruptions that happen in a busy office.
Work to your own schedule instead of your team's
When you are in the same office with the same people, you work together on the same things at the same time. When this team is remote, you have to allow your colleagues to work on their things or their task at their own time. This often makes for better, more comprehensive and complete work.
Renia's Top Tips for working from home:
Communication, communication, communication
You have to be very clear on the work that the team members must complete and make sure that everyone has understood the requirements. Make prioritization and planning a shared responsibility. Everyone has to be on board from start to finish.
“I have a weekly meeting with my CTO and CEO where we discuss everything in detail, I send a weekly update to the business with the things I've done and have regular meetings with sales, operation and support. Everyone knows what they're doing.”
Love your tools
There are so many applications that help when it comes to remote working.
“At IntaShop, we use Slack for internal communications and Github for code reviews. We're also using Balsamiq Cloud and Figma for wireframes or designs. Figma is excellent because they allow the engineers to work very closely with the developers. We use Zoom and Skype for meetings.. They’re all useful tools.”
Even a simple video call will make a world of difference.
“Before, as a company, the engineers used to have calls with just audio. And that would feel really impersonal. So we started having like video calls, you'd actually see the person and it makes it easier to put together a face and a name.”
Face to face
Don’t forget to create and value real relationships with your team and be wary of how different it can be talking to someone in person versus sending them a message.
It’s important to meet your team, not just to work, but just to spend time with them. Have lunch, have a beer, have a meaningful conversation.
“The most important thing for a PM is to keep the group together, not just to be liked by their team, but also to get them motivated about their work. It doesn't have to be every day, but it proves useful to get the team together, to work towards a goal. I try to visit [the Engineers] every two months, spent a week with them, do lots of planning together and team bonding activities.”
Get out and explore
It's key to ensure you are not missing out on opporunities to network or to listen and learn from others in your industry. Demonstrate to your team the benefits of attending conferences, and meeting other interesting companies that are in your area. Lead by example.
Document your progress
And of course, detail everything you have accomplished. Send reports to your management team and to my own Engineering team regularly so that they're all up to date about what we're doing.
So, can I do it?
If you're good with your prioritization skills, or if you make sure that you know you're on top of everything, you know your product, you know your customers, there is no reason why you wouldn't be able to work remotely.
Renia is confident that her product team moves faster because of their remote nature.
“The work we get done within the week is almost double the work we would produce in my previous companies.”
This article is adapted from Renia's speech at the Product Led Summit, London.
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