A Product Manager’s Guide to Working from Home
It goes without saying that these are testing times for the tech industry. On one side we are constantly keeping a watch on the health impact of the CoronaVirus outbreak. The first and foremost goal is to keep ourselves, our family and friends safe. So there is no question about allowing work and business to take priority over personal safety.
However, for a small or medium enterprise, the company being dormant for weeks together can spell doom. Entrepreneurs and top executives cannot afford to switch their minds off their business entirely. With restrictions on movement during this period of self-quarantine, it’s important to chalk out an effective strategy to handle business affairs from the safety of our homes.
It would serve companies well if they can take this forced opportunity to formally define their “Work From Home (WFH)” policy for employees for future use. Some of the key pointers are covered below:
WORK FROM HOME STRATEGY
- Physical infrastructure and Data Repository – Setting up the infrastructure for all the employees to connect from home and perform office duties is obviously the first step. This involves 2 main aspects – computing devices and data management.
Laptops for all the staff with appropriate VPN installation and user authentication is the company’s responsibility. Arranging for broadband/mobile connectivity and power backup at home to be taken care of by the employees themselves. Use of Bluetooth headsets can eliminate ambient noise present in a typical household. Also employees must be encouraged to have a dedicated workspace in their homes to ensure office-like professionalism.
Reliable and secure cloud based data repositories need to be deployed. This is for the software code base, customer data, on-site deployments and test environment. For example, if a business is running on a SaaS model, having a central repository from where all the user behaviour data can be obtained would be very useful to everyone from product development to marketing to customer support. Cyber security is paramount while working from home because people are working from public, unsecured home networks. Enable multi-factor authentication and keep the firewall systems updated.
- Team communication and collaboration – Since face-to-face team meetings are ruled out, video conferencing must be effectively used. Keep it short, with pin-pointed agendas. No point having more than 4-5 people on a video call at a time, a bigger crowd only causes chaos. All other information sharing needs to happen asynchronously through emails, notifications, in-house messaging groups, customer status reports and so on. When it comes to customer communication, it’s better to present a seamless front to them, they wouldn’t need to know we are working from home.
Managers can continue to hold virtual stand-up meetings in Scrum format. Even a customized dashboard which shows periodic status updates on key activities will be of great help.
Collaborative coding, document review and editing might also be useful, again in very small groups.
Check out some of the useful tools from the collage below:
- Work out task priorities – If activity plans were made earlier assuming normal work conditions, they will all have to be reworked to suit the WFH constraint. Mandatory tasks which will certainly require a trip outside home will have to be factored in. But otherwise, ranking tasks as “Urgent and essential”, “Important but can wait” and “To be done at Office only” will help a great deal. Assigning priority codes (Eg. colour codes on documents or email subjects rated 1-5 on importance) is very effective.
- Mandatory activities – Since the present lock down has coincided with the last couple of weeks of the financial year end, there are some added complications to deal with. Governmental obligations such as GST clearances, Income Tax deductions for employees, Self-assessment Tax payments must be completed first. Then comes the year-end financial accounting and audit procedures. Product Managers would have to deal with consolidating data for the annual reports. Salary credits to staff, small vendor payments is also a must-do top priority.
- Manage your On-site team – With travel restrictions in place for both domestic and international travel any staff members posted on-site are forced to stay where they are. Managers need to arrange for their extended stay and health precautions. However, on-site staff can continue to contribute to the team remotely.
- Contractual obligations – Many customer contracts might have fixed time SLA clauses for customer support and deliveries turn-around time. While working entirely from home, it is difficult to meet these SLAs at times. We need to coordinate with the customer and revise the response ETA accordingly. For physical deliveries and other obligations which cannot be met because of the lock down, companies may consider the “force majeure” clause in their contracts.
- Work Ethics – One of the first barriers to overcome is the non-seriousness towards work while at home. Employees need to be mentally conditioned to keep clear working hours, maintain work efficiency, keep video meetings formal and away from family. Probably a cool dress code is the only exemption!
- Employee motivation - There may be downsides to not working from office spaces. Working in isolation requires a high level of self-discipline and personal motivation. But a big plus is the time saved on traffic and travel! Product Managers must impress upon the benefits of working alone. And HR teams can also plan innovative team activities to keep the morale and team spirit high.
- Managing distractions - One thing that is bound to occur while working at home is intervention from home affairs. Family members moving around or talking, visitors ringing the door while you are on a video call, the cooker whistle going off! The list is endless. However, with proper planning and mental conditioning, their effects can be minimised. Isolate the workspace from the rest of the family. Plan clearly marked hours for home affairs and office affairs. Avoid working in front of the TV! Self-discipline is the key here.
Working from home is not a selective privilege anymore. It’s fast becoming a necessary policy for conducting urban business. The IT industry has the rare and powerful ability to conduct business remotely, which is unthinkable for many industries such as textiles, automotive or pharma. Let’s leverage the tech advantage and make the most of the comfort and safety of our homes while conducting business as usual!
What is Apxor Doing During The Lockdown Period – Keeping in view the safety of our employees, Apxor proactively declared that all the employees should be working from home even before the lockdown was announced.
This is the time when user behavior is changing because of the changes in lifestyles. Hence, Apxor is helping clients in actively monitoring user behavior and giving powerful insights based on the data.
Apxor has also been helping customers to understand the market situation and develop strategies to engage users based on that.
Apxor's customer success team is always ready to churn out numbers and reports to help all our customers achieve success always.