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Why Remote Work Causes E-presenteeism Among Product Managers?

Translating business models into technical requisites, running user testing, and setting tracking metrics: the job of a product manager is not easy. It involves a lot of movement even when you are physically glued to your seat. 

You are responsible for the outcome and in the process, for the deliverables of your team members. The job draws its comparisons to being the “CEO of the product” minus the complete autonomy. 

One day you are handing out deliverables to the designers, running campaigns with the marketers, the next day you are producing sheets that are technically understandable and replicable. It is like running errands across the earth. How do you do that without sitting face to face? 

Skuad presents you the dilemma of managing a product and a team that’s working on it remotely.

When you are working in a remote setup, there is no one to keep a tab on you. So, it can be difficult to prove at times how much time you are spending on completing and delivering various tasks. After all we believe what we see, right? This brings us to the need of constantly making yourself available online. Even at the expense of personal responsibilities, sleep or some ‘me’ time.

A condition called Presenteeism

We are aware of the term ‘Absenteeism’, and how it has been used at different stages of our lives – be it school, university, and more particularly at our jobs.

But unlike absenteeism, ‘presenteeism’ doesn’t get the attention it really deserves and how it affects us.

So first thing first, what is presenteeism? Do you show up to the office even when you are sick to the core? If so, you are practicing presenteeism.

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Presenteeism actually refers to practice of coming to work when you shouldn’t, such as being sick. It results in productivity loss, exhaustion and workplace epidemics. But, it can take several forms. Such as, doing overtime, answering work emails after logging out, or showing up at work with low motivation. There are many assumptions around presenteeism. First is employees love their job and second, they feel the job needs them. It can also be a manifestation of insecurity related to jobs.

In the era of remote work that 2020 is, it has taken a different form: E-Presenteeism. The need to be online and available all the time.

Why do product managers suffer through it?

With every product or project, a product manager reinvents herself/himself. The job of product manager involves a consistent need to prove yourself. A product manager often presumes that the success or failure of a product is a reflection of his/her professional capabilities.  Due to the pandemic increased layoffs and pay cuts have become normal. Thus, the urge to keep pushing harder and proving time and again why you deserve to stay has heightened. Microsoft reported that Teams chat on weekends have increased over 200% in lockdown.

Why is it a cause of worry?

Unlike absenteeism, presenteeism isn’t always visible. It is easy to note when someone did not show up to work. But, it is difficult to gauge their motivation to work if they show up everyday. At times one does not even realise that they are a victim of this condition. Virtually, it is even harder to take notice. Working remotely is often equated to flexibility. But, in reality it may not be so. Employees may not be expected to work under standard hours but they think they are expected to deliver more. This is because our minds are constantly fed with increased levels of productivity, these so-called flexible hours bring. The fear of being invisible to coworkers makes an employee extra mindful. Keeping our slack status as always active and checking in on team members are some ways to show our availability. The stress and anxiety this causes will have two long term effects- poor health and burnout. The former isn’t good for the employees and the latter isn’t for the companies in the long run.

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Ways to manage presenteeism and be an effective product manager remotely

• Work on your ‘work culture’

The fundamental way to counter e-presenteeism is to check what kind of remote ecosystem you have. You need to sit down and assess your communication with coworkers or subordinates. Is it about too many slack messages? Or unnecessarily long meetings? Could that meeting be a mail? Too much interaction would lead to energy drain, unnecessary stress for the time lost and poor quality of discussions. No interactions can create confusion, duplication of work, and lack of trust among team members. Find a balance between the two. Offer encouragement at every step. Regularly check in with employees about workload or any problems faced by them. Ensure there are interactions that go beyond work.

• Little work and little play

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Develop regular fun sessions that are about anything and everything but work. Play online games, conduct yoga or language classes, talk about mental health. Assign a day or few hours in a week to such activities that bring out a fun aside of each team member. As far as they are open and there is a takeaway for everyone involved, employees will want to come back. 

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• Transparency and communication

The idea is to make clear what you want, and not how you want it. Lead them to believe you trust them enough to do their job right in their way. Be honest with good and bad situations. Tell them exactly what you know, without mincing words. They deserve such transparency. Work on building a trust and communication would automatically flow in. If a person trusts you, they will openly tell whatever you ask.

• A proper break 

We all deserve breaks time to time, don’t we? If one cannot come back to work with decent productivity and motivation levels each day, it will do more harm than good. Vacations and regular time offs can help rejuvenate this loss. Encourage/Approve your members to take time off. Even if it means staying at home and binge watching. If that helps them come back to work 2x better then be it! Communicate that they don’t need to check in on mails or updates when they take leaves. Try to let your team decide how they can adjust their commitments without affecting the chain. Keep your team’s health first and you will see positive results!

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• Let that micromanagement go

As a product manager, you need to ensure all the other departments come together to deliver a product successfully. But, understand that their work is their own. Put trust in the work process of your team members. Resolving confusion between departments about a task is your domain but solving their cat fights or animosity is not. The difference is thin which may lead you to keeping a constant check on your team. As a result, you are constantly online and making sure others are too. Such micromanagement would lead to stress and irritation on both sides. 

• Tools to the rescue

Product management tools like JIRA or Trello can help in overall communication as they keep everyone on the same page. Collaborative tools also help teams work and build tasks together in real time. Constantly trying to stay on top of deadlines by staying online would help no one. So, plan, prioritise and prosper together!

• Avoid bottlenecks by clubbing tasks together 

Your job involves communication of tasks to many departments. Therefore, it would be best to club a few meetings together. For example: Sitting down both designing and content team together to discuss graphics to be delivered. This will save time as any doubts will be sought immediately without going to and fro. This reduces the possibility of bottlenecks wherein one task impedes because of another.

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Once a product manager, always a product manager

Just because you are working remotely doesn’t mean that your job changes. You were a product manager even in an office setup and still are. What changes is the way you work. When working remotely, it can be easy to forget the collaborative behaviour you once harboured in office. Yet, it is important to maintain it to bridge the isolation. Comment down below if you just diagnosed yourself with this condition and if the stated measures are helping you cope up.

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