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Bring Smart Product Development Home With You

Travis Hinton
Travis Hinton
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Three Quick Insights for Product People in Remote Environments

These are unprecedented times with unprecedented challenges. It doesn’t matter if you find yourself still commuting to the office, self-quarantining and “social distancing” by choice, or your company has enforced a strict work from home policy to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19)—we are all facing new challenges in an extremely different landscape from what we were experiencing just a month ago.

Since working from home is becoming the new norm for so many, we’re seeing in plain sight an increased use of online communications and collaboration tools. In my role here at Bandwidth, I’ve had the privilege of road-testing many of the features and benefits that these communications platforms offer. After all, our network, communications APIs, and teams of telecom & software experts have been powering many of the leading employee collaboration platforms behind the scenes for years. 

Now that I can’t just lean around my cube’s partition and ask my co-worker a question, or walk upstairs to get a quick perspective from our sales leaders, I’ve become even more reliant on our company-wide remote communication and collaboration tools. Here are a few ways that I’ve adapted my daily workflow to stay productive and focused on our mission—to develop and deliver the power to communicate—despite the impact of COVID-19:

The virtual stand-up

Under normal circumstances, our department holds a weekly team standup on Monday afternoons to provide updates on products, sprint progress, campaigns, deliverables, blockers, and things that impact everyone in the group. It’s a simple way for our team to stay tuned-in and agile. Our usual speed is to meet up around a digital whiteboard where we share a brief update in a round-robin format, moving from one team member to the next. Usually, we have about 10% of folks join remotely, for various reasons. However, today was very different.

We kept our team standup, but this time the scene was reversed. The number of folks that joined remotely hit about 90% of our team, and yet our virtual standup meeting thrived! It was a success due to clear expectation setting and proactive organization. Our project manager called on each team member giving them the floor when it was their time to speak. One of our team members who works remotely each week said, “This was the best Monday afternoon standup yet! It’s amazing how easily I could hear everyone on the call!” We’ll call that a win for collaboration, communication, and adaptability. Consider your own team and try adding a virtual team standup with your immediate developer pod. We had about 30 people in the meeting, and we still made it efficient by keeping it organized and staying focused on updates that impacted everyone on the team.

There’s no such thing as “over-communicating”

Now more than ever I offer you a thought about communicating with your team, with your clients, and with your community: there is truly no such thing as over-communicating. Share updates with your co-workers often, not just when you need something from them, but also when you might be able to offer help or insights to them. Our own Director of Product Marketing at Bandwidth made the call to set a recurring 15-minute check-in at the beginning of each workday to keep us informed and connected. It’s just another simple way for each of us to reach beyond our own work and inboxes to help remove obstacles and provide insights for the rest of our team. With that said, keep in mind that different communication channels are more appropriate for different situations and needs. Slack can get pretty noisy during a time like this. Our team created a couple of new channels to isolate the COVID-19 chatter, keeping our project channels open for business-related priorities. Pay attention to your use of virtual communication channels during a time like this, when everyone is being confronted with extra digital noise. Find the right owner, communicate directly, and iron out swim lanes so that you are able to stay focused on priority action items in your work.

Think creatively about how your product could help others during this crisis

As I mentioned above, I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand how many of the major collaboration and communication platforms solve the biggest communication challenges of today. During this crisis, there has been a great deal of creative thinking from product teams around the world. They’re digging deep and asking questions like, “How can our product enable safe social distancing?” Or, “How can we leverage our existing platform to solve new challenges, like food delivery and remote education?” 

The leading virtual collaboration platforms have ramped up their trial capabilities and “freemium” feature sets, offering businesses and organizations of all sizes the chance to check things out for themselves during this ongoing health crisis. Google announced that it will begin rolling out free access to their advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing globally. Microsoft and Zoom have made plans to help schools and universities connect with online education in place of face-to-face instruction. Cisco’s WebEx has communicated its support for customers during this outbreak. During this season when we’re all a bit weary of spreading germs, even on-demand delivery apps like GrubHub have made it safer for their customers and their drivers with contact-free delivery. 

The challenge for all of us is to think outside of the box. How can you position your product’s value in innovative ways to help your customers and partners in this new normal?

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While I’m personally using different tools to accomplish different tasks, each one plays an important role in keeping me connected virtually. Whether it’s messaging via Slack, collaborating on a new proof of concept presentation via Google Hangouts or Drive, or connecting with a customer on any of the collaboration and conferencing platforms listed above — this holistic communications toolkit helps me stay in touch and remain efficient during my day at home. Yes, it’s still unclear what the exact impact COVID-19 will have on our day-to-day and for how long, but it is becoming increasingly clearer that virtual connections, clear communication and creative problem-solving is making a huge difference. As I mentioned above, consider adding a virtual standup, don’t shy away from over-communicating with the right communications channels, and think creatively about your product as all of our new normals are changing daily. We publish a newsletter with communication industry updates. Sign up to stay in touch with us.