PM while WFH during the COVID-19 pandemic

Family Looking at a Laptop

The Coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately affecting our community’s health and economic outlook, and has once again made stark just how systemically racist America is. These are the issues we should be discussing and acting upon, and I hope you are finding ways to support your community.

Though it is a much less grave and dire an issue, it is important to address how the nature of PM changes when many of us are now following shelter-in-place (SIP) orders and working from home (WFH). Product management is challenging to do remotely when so much of the role is ensuring you are there to fill the gaps. Here are some tips and strategies to improve your efficacy as a remote PM:

More informal modes of communication, and increase your responsiveness

Gone are the days when you would be able to quickly swing by someone’s desk, or catch them after a meeting. As a result, the friction to start a conversation has grown. As PMs, we need to make sure we not only create channels for the team to communicate, but also create a culture of responsiveness so the team can be as efficient as possible:

  • Go beyond email. Create group chats on specific work streams or initiatives
  • Create status docs you update and share with others so they can stay abreast of what is going on
  • Not every video call or meeting needs to be 30 minutes or an hour. Create shorter meetings to help the team stay effective
  • For yourself, establish a time-to-respond requirement for each mode and hold yourself to it to role model the new norms in this dynamic environment

Be more considerate

I think sometimes we let whatever we have going on drown out our empathy for other situations in this time. If you have kids, it’s good to acknowledge the difficult aspects of social isolation your colleagues living alone may be going through. If you do not have a family, it’s important to remember that, in many areas, childcare is no longer available so your colleagues may be balancing writing that doc with teaching their kids their daily lesson. Showing more empathy to others and yourself is critical to ensure this new normal is sustainable:

  • In the beginning of your meetings, ask the attendees how they are doing. Recognize and affirm others while in meetings
  • Label your communications with your expectation on time-to-response to help your colleagues triage and not feel like they need to respond ASAP in certain cases


This is usually the name of the game for product managers, but is even more so in these times:

  • Prioritize your calendar. Do you really need to be at that 100-person meeting? Does that 1:1 need to happen every week? Having people add agendas to calendars can do wonders for opening up space on your schedule
  • Prioritize your team’s efforts. Is everything you and your team were planning to do truly important? Are there areas that can be punted to later? How can you help shield the team from feature creep in a time where efficiency is already lower than normal?

Maintain or better define your work/life balance

This is an area everyone talks about, but I’m not sure anyone’s fully cracked. It’s critical, especially in these times, to avoid burning out. This could be perceived as being in direct tension with the increased responsiveness point above…to which I’d say it’s a balancing act based on your company, workload etc. but there are still concrete actions you can take to improve it:

  • Set a recurring invite for some longer activity you do around 6 or when you get off to really help you physically separate from your work devices
  • Set do-not-disturb routines on your work devices to keep that late-night ping from bringing you back into work mode
  • Set daily checklists and do not let tomorrow’s actions leak into today’s

Lighten the mood when you can

Everyone’s going through a lot, and sometimes it can be your role to pick up the mood 🙂

  • Set virtual happy hours for your team. Perhaps have a theme for every week, e.g. bring your favorite drink or share your favorite SIP TV show
  • If kids emerge on screen, play along! This is the new normal, so make it feel cool. Make a joke or ask for their insight into this feature