For this thought leadership article, I met with Dimos Papadopoulos, a Senior Product Manager and a published author, who is writing his second book. The focus of his second book is one, dear to my heart, remote working and product management. He believes that combining product management, with remote working and with traveling the world is not only possible – but a desired state of mind for many. In a post-pandemic remote first world, his book is coming just at the right time. However, nothing is that straightforward, because as Dimos outlines – even though remote working does work, it is not necessarily for everyone, nor for all stages of people’s career. 

Dimos believes that remote working was a trend even before the pandemic, the pandemic accelerated it and now it’s here to stay for good. He explores whether the data supports that remote is the best way forward. 

“The data is mixed. I cannot really tell you whether it’s the best way forward or if it’s the most effective, because it truly depends on where the publications writing about it receive their money from. For example, if I’m writing a Forbes article and there is a Building Association company that gives me money in order to post that “remote working doesn’t work and people need to rent offices and get back to work right” then I will write about that. On the other hand, if there is a remote first organization is giving me money in order to write that the remote work is more effective and productive I will write an article about that.”

Instead he believes that every organization needs to make the decision, not based on the current public data, but on how the productivity in their specific company has been impacted. Not only that, but there needs to be a clear and objective evaluation – was it the remote culture or is there a bigger, underlying reason. 

“If organizations feel like their productivity has plummeted, they haven’t reached their goals or they have been slow in many product verticals. The easiest thing is to reflect back and blame remote working. What I challenge organizations is to explore other structural or even organizational reasons.” 

Often he believes, remote culture is blamed by leaders who fear it. Leaders who fear the loss of control. 

“A lot of leaders just fear it because it takes responsibility off of their hands. Especially for micromanagers that’s probably the end of them. They are probably feeling like their power is slipping away.”

Still, Dimos is a realist. He knows that there are challenges to be overcome for companies to be successful in this remote first world. 

“It has its own challenges right – you meet people virtually, you build products virtually, you collaborate virtually. You have to write lengthy documentation that sometimes wouldn’t be needed if you were face to face and can explain something in person. On top of that we have the time constraints between the different geographies.”

That being said, the benefits by far outweigh the challenges in the long run. Especially when it comes to underrepresented groups in the workforce. 

“It brings so many more benefits at the same time. We can talk about economies of scale, we can talk about talent and labor, we can talk about tapping into more diverse markets as well for this talent. Remote work really democratizes the work environment. It allows parents, women, and underrepresented communities to join in like never before. This gives a new, fresh perspective into what we’re building.”

Still, for Dimos some elements of the Product Manager job are best done in person. So for these crucial moments, he believes the whole team would benefit from being together. 

“Things like user research, testing prototypes, brainstorming sessions are things that happen much better in person. It’s amazing to present something in figma and have customers click around and have them present their thoughts and capture their thoughts on camera. But of course it’s not the same as having them test the prototype in person, have them click around, to be able to see their actual movements and effectively build this kind of trust and openness.”

Seeking connection would always be part of our nature. So the importance of face to face opportunities to connect with your team in a setting outside of work would have to co-exist. So where does that leave us? What is the ideal future job environment for product teams? Dimos advocates for a remote first culture combined with a cadence of in-person meetings for the moments that matter. 

“The future is a mix, a hybrid. But I mean true hybrid, not the mandatory 3 days in the office hybrid advertised on Linkedin. For me a true hybrid is a remote first culture combined with let’s say quarterly in person meetups, or occasional brainstorming sessions, or conducting user research in person. The same applies for some other aspects of Discovery.

Here we reach the caveat for managers, in this remote first future, employees need to be measured on deliveries, on quality, not on time spent on a task. This however, is not for everyone. 

“I don’t care where you are as long as you effectively deliver what needs to be delivered on time and with quality. But it takes a specific breed, rare breed if you’d like people. People, who are driven, because you don’t have oversight. People who are a bit more senior.”

This observation comes from his experience when he started his career 8 years ago. 

“I’m not entirely sure, me as a junior, eight years ago, if I would have this kind of mindset. I am not sure I knew how to work in a disciplined way, how to be proactive in my communication with people, and how to collaborate effectively. 

I think largely why I enjoy remote working now is because I learned how to work in an office five days out of five pre pandemic. That has really helped me as a junior going into mid and now into senior because I know storytelling, I know presentation, I know how to be with people, how to be social with people, how to build relationships with people. Now I’m just transferring these kinds of skills online and remotely”.

What is his advice then for those just starting out their PM career? 

“I would definitely say that if somebody is starting out now and they are 22-23 years old, I would say get a job that is at least two three times a week in the office. Get to build that solid basis and then after, when you are in your 30s and you are more experienced and you have built your skills and you know what value you bring, then by all means move to a remote first company.” 

It’s one thing to work from home and it’s another thing to do it successfully, these are two completely different concepts that are not necessarily equal. That being said, Dimos believes that if you do build a strong discipline and foundation first, remote working would truly change your life for the better. 

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