Life as a product marketer’s pretty awesome - but it’s far from plain sailing.

Granted, we love nothing more than writing riveting product messaging, conducting competitive intelligence to understand the market landscape, and analyzing metrics and OKRs to ensure our efforts aren’t in vain.

Yet, despite our undisputed efforts, it’s often the case that other departments don’t understand what we bring to the table, so much so, that we’ve taken the bull by the proverbial horns and wrote our very own book, MisUnderstood, to debunk widespread misconceptions surrounding the role.

Product marketers worldwide have invested copious amounts of time and effort to make their presence felt in their organizations.

However, with COVID-19 and the subsequent growth of remote work forcing PMMs to change tact, the execution of product marketing jobs is being reevaluated, with professionals collaborating with their teams using methods that’ve deviated from the norm.

While many have successfully adapted to the new ways of working, challenges remain for some product marketers who’ve yet to adjust to a new way of life.

This article will serve as a pillar of advice and support for the latter, focusing on:

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, companies across a variety of industries have introduced measures to ensure employees continue to perform to their full potential, irrespective of the challenges to the status quo.

Speaking at Product Marketing Off-Piste, Daniel Kuperman, Head of Product Marketing for Jira Align at Atlassian, outlined product marketing plays to boost remote working efficiency.

NB: Since his presentation, Daniel has since changed roles, and is now Head of Core Product Marketing & GTM, ITSM Solutions at Atlassian.

Methods for improving remote product marketing jobs

I’m Daniel Kuperman, Head of Product Marketing for Jira Align at Atlassian.

I want to discuss some product marketing plays that you can use to boost your remote work efficiency.

I don’t think I have to labor to the point that we’ve all felt the impact of having to work from home during the pandemic.

Whether we’ve been working from home with family, or in isolation, this has impacted us all in terms of higher levels of stress, particularly if you’re on your own, as you can’t interact with people.

The remote working situation that many of us find ourselves in today means we have to think differently about product marketing jobs.

The impact of remote work during the pandemic

Whether it’s discussing ideas at the water cooler, getting together with colleagues to do some whiteboarding exercises on an ad hoc basis, swiveling your chair to ask people questions, or getting together for an impromptu meeting, these things have been halted by COVID-19.

The remote working situation that many of us find ourselves in today means we have to think differently. You also need to have better coordination among your team, and better collaboration among all the team members.

I think the traditional team forming stages that we’re so familiar with can now be translated to the new remote working format on Zoom:

  • How do we collaborate?
  • How do we become more effective when we're all working remotely?

There are three things I want to address with you today.

First of all, let’s focus on how to establish a good remote working culture with some templates that you can use with your team and also cross-functionally.

How to establish a remote working culture using work plays

1) Your user manual

I call the first play the user manual. Imagine if you came with a user manual; before working with you, people could browse your manual and see which methods may be useful to work most effectively with someone like you.

This is a great exercise to do with your entire team, as well as with people that you work across functions on a day-to-day basis, especially today during the pandemic. You can look at things such as that you may have family situations or have to take pets for a walk or take care of them that might be impacting your traditional normal working hours.

Also, consider adjustments that need to be made to working hours, especially if you have team members who’ve decided to move across the country to stay closer to family or friends. This’ll have an impact on their schedules.

It’s also worth preparing for potential disruptions due to work-at-home situations. For example, every Tuesday at 10 am, my neighbor mows his lawn, so I don’t arrange important meetings around this time because there’s noise outside my window.

The goal here is to communicate with your peers about the best ways to work with you: how do you work best? How should you best receive feedback? Are there particular times when you need to break to make dinner or lunch for dependent family members?

These are all important conversations to have and will open up new ways of communication and opportunities to collaborate with other team members by better understanding their situations.

2) Virtual meeting ground rules

Something that’s often overlooked as part of running an effective team and effective meetings is looking at virtual meeting ground rules:

  • How can you best run those meetings?
  • What are the external factors at play?
  • What are the best times to have meetings, in the morning or the afternoon?
  • Should it be mandatory to have cameras on?
  • Who is the designated note-taker?
  • Where are the notes being stored after the meeting has taken place?
  • How are notes shared, post-meeting?
  • How can you and your team make sure you’re collaborating?
  • Does the same person host the meeting all the time?
  • Will you skip chit chat at the beginning of the meeting and go right down to business?

3) Work-life impact

Now we’re going to talk about the third and final play: work-life impact. This play is very interesting, and when I applied it to the broader team, it was eye-opening.

So, what does that mean for you and your team?

As you and your colleagues across the organization try to adapt to remote work, you can now invite team members to participate in these sessions.

This exercise will help them understand what’s happening in terms of your home office life, your rolling requirements, and the support network that you and your team have around you.

Let's dive into that in a little bit more detail.

The work-life impact will help them understand what’s happening in terms of your home office life, your rolling requirements, and the support network that you and your team have around you.

Home office life

There are four quadrants for each of those different aspects. For example, if we focus on the first, your home office life, the angles that we have here, the axes are talking about whether you have significant house responsibilities or fewer household responsibilities.

If you have kids you have to look after, you’ll have significantly more household responsibilities than someone who lives alone. It may be that you just have a dog, in which case, you’ll have fewer household responsibilities.

You also need to consider what your workspace looks like. Is it a personal space? Do you have your own office? Perhaps a place you can lock yourself in and forget about the outside world? Or is it a shared space that you're sharing with a spouse, kids, or other family members?

Your respective position within those quadrants will give others a better understanding of your home office life and what to expect.

Role requirements

The next quadrant is related to role requirements. This follows the same dynamic as the home office quadrant.

You need to look at whether you're someone that's working on complex workflows or independent workflows. On the other axes, you need to have several social interactions for your work together, or fuels/social interactions frameworks.

Again, placing a small dot within each of the quadrants will represent your situation and help other team members understand your circumstances.

Support network

Finally, we have a support network. This is interesting because it addresses what you need to do to be successful.

Is your work related to strong relationships or weaker relationships? Do you have a stronger workplace network? Maybe you’re a recent hire at a company and have a weaker workplace network?

This is particularly useful if you’re a people manager because it helps you get a better understanding of the type of support that a certain employee might need.

As you run these plays with your team, it’s also interesting if you start bringing people from other sides of the organization into the equation. Collaborating with product managers, sales enablement, marketing, etc. will provide everyone with a better understanding of each person's life situation.

While all this is interesting, you need to transform all of those insights into a discussion addressing specific action items that you and your team can incorporate into your product marketing strategy.

Ask yourself: what’s something that you can do or change because of your situation? Similarly, is there something you can do to provide greater support for your colleagues?

Perhaps there are methods you can apply as a team, to support your company in improving remote working and productivity?

For example, maybe you’re getting video fatigue when you have more than three video calls per day. As a solution, ask your colleague, “Hey, I don’t need to share any visuals - can I just dial in with my phone?” If you're managing a team, instruct your direct reports to apply the same practices and everyone will thank you for not having to log in for unnecessary Zoom meetings.

Also, block out time amongst your team during which time they can focus time on their priorities. For this to be successful, you need to respect each other's focus time and not arrange meetings that coincide with these time slots.

Your company itself needs to provide staff members with suitable equipment to improve their productivity. For example, you may need a larger monitor, a stand-up desk, or a second screen. If needs be, get everyone involved and feedback on what your company can do to increase productivity whilst working remotely.

How to structure remote product marketing jobs

William Chia, Director of Product Marketing at Osano is no stranger to the world of remote work.

During his time working as GitLab’s Senior Product Marketer, William answered questions from the product marketing community on how to manage and structure remote product marketing jobs.

Q: How do you maintain focus on the goals your team is trying to achieve and keep them focused on strategic outcomes when you have little physical contact?

A: “One of the most successful tactics for remote work is to write everything down. This is especially true for strategic outcomes.

“At GitLab, I’ve found I’m more aligned with my team and the company than I've ever been because everything is documented. We’re also uniquely transparent in that we publicly post almost everything.

“When working remotely, transparency isn't required, but the documentation is. Writing things down can even help co-located teams. Nothing’s more frustrating than missing the meeting and not knowing what's going on. When you write it down you scale the communication.”

Q: Product marketing requires cross-functional coordination and often influencing those who don't report to you to do things that align with overall goals; how do you accomplish this remotely?

How do you build those relationships and keep a pulse on how other departments are moving and figure out when you need to step in/coordinate?

Last, but not least, what methods do you use to make sure your work is visible to your manager and other key stakeholders?

A: “In some ways, this is easier in an all-remote environment, and in others, more difficult. Maintaining a high amount of cross-functional ‘surface area’ is needed for both. So, the same tactics of spending time and attention building relationships that work face-to-face work remotely as well.

“Remotely, you have to do it a bit differently. I schedule a lot of ‘coffee calls’. This is a video call where you don't talk about work. You ask about people's hobbies, their friends, family, pets, etc. If you get sucked back into work discussion you redirect to make the personal connection.

“The other part is that you can't eliminate the value of face-to-face time. At GitLab, the whole company gets together every nine months. These company all-hands meetings drive the context for the next nine months of remote work. Day-to-day can be async or video calls, but face-to-face is needed at some stage.

“Keeping a pulse on other departments is tricky. At GitLab, everyone writes everything down. It's easy to poke in on other parts of the org because you just go look at their project planning and documentation - it's all accessible.

“If your company doesn't have the habit of documenting work then this can be near impossible to manage remotely. The benefit is that, if you get into the habit of writing things down, it makes even co-located work better. Instead of "let me schedule another meeting to get the latest from Ashanti," it becomes, "oh, let me look at Ashanti's project tracker - looks like she's moved into the next phase."

“Making your work visible to your manager and other key stakeholders works the same way - if you write everything down and open up your project planning then everyone can see it.

“One problem with writing everything down is curation. When everything is a focus, then nothing is a focus. I find it helps to point stakeholders to specific places, give them summaries, and even schedule calls to call out initiatives or summarize some for them.

“So, in other words, write everything down so people can look at it and dig as deep as they want, but maintain good summaries and curation so there's no TL: DR (too long, didn’t read).”

Q: Do you employ any visual project management tools as a PMM team that work well, even remotely?

A: “Yes! We use GitLab as our project management solution. Here's an example of something I'm currently working on, and this is the next milestone.

“We do as much as possible asynchronously. I use ‘comments’ on GitLab Issues predominantly and treat chat as an async tool.  We do have weekly team meetings that are recorded and notes are taken in case anyone missed the meeting. Scheduling ad hoc calls anytime async doesn't seem to be working. I still do a lot of video calls but they tend to be the last resort rather than the first.”

Q: What do you find has been the most effective way to roll out new collateral/sales enablement tools/research etc. when you aren't in the room to present and get buy-in?

A: “Async. We make collateral available for download at any time. We also build things async using iteration. Instead of taking a month working on something by myself and waiting until it's super polished to share with my sales team, I share things right away.

“Even if it's one slide or very rough. I find this way I get input sooner. Sometimes I was headed in the wrong direction. If I had waited a month I would have wasted a month's effort. By sharing my work after one day (or one hour) I get immediate feedback and can pivot quickly to get going in the right direction.

“That being said, you can't replace face-to-face time. We schedule on-site sales training especially when folks are new. We do regular "Sales Quick Starts", which are gatherings of the remote teams to onboard new sales reps.

“Finally, we do a weekly sales enablement call where we present and then do Q&A. We record these and put them on YouTube so that salespeople can watch them even if they can't make the meeting.”

Q: Who are the people or teams you have regular check-in or status meetings with?

A: “At GitLab, we try to have as few status meetings as possible. I’ve found a theme that’s often emerged is to write everything down.

“When everything is documented and up-to-date, you don't need as many check-ins. You can just look at the state of the project async on your own time. That being said, we still do a lot of video calls. Regularly scheduled meetings (some weekly and biweekly, many only monthly) are as follows:

  • Product marketing team meeting
  • Product team meeting
  • Product managers 1:1
  • Strategic marketing meeting (what PMM reports into)
  • All-marketing meeting
  • 1:1s with my "stable counterparts" (if I'm doing a webinar, I might sync with the Marketing Program Manager who owns the project, or if a big piece of collateral is in development I'll schedule syncs with my Content Marketing counterpart, etc.)
  • Project kick-off/check-ins
  • PMM <> sales enablement
  • PMM <> sales leadership.”

Q: What’re the characteristics you look at that demonstrate the ability to get the job done even though you're not in the office?

A: “The entire company is all-remote so we were all interviewed and hired remotely, but an extremely important concept for remote is ‘manager of one’, i.e. the idea is that people should be self-motivated and self-sufficient.

“I'd argue that, even for co-located teams, if you need your manager to watch you get the job done, then that is a failure mode of operating. Managers are there to coach, inspire, unblock, and promote your work throughout the org.

"When I interview, I look for strong alignment with our company values. I try to ask for stories of what people have done and then I listen to see if the way they work aligns with what's needed.

"For example, "Tell me your biggest win in the last 12 months?" Then I listen to see how they measured success, or ask openly as a follow-up, "how did you know you were successful?" to see if they align with our ‘Results’ value.

“I also listen to understand how self-sufficient they are. Were they driving the process or relying on others? I stopped an interview in the middle once and just told the candidate, "You will not be happy at GitLab."

“It was clear they relied on their manager to supply directive instructions that they simply executed. They liked it that way. For some companies, this works, but for remote, you need a manager of one.”

Product marketing jobs and career advice

Life as a product marketer has undoubtedly changed, but remote working hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm for existing and entry-level product marketers as they strive to refine their craft.

Built with product marketers from orgs such as IBM, Etsy, TikTok, and more, PMM Hired includes career advice, sample interview questions, mock interviews, and live, monthly workshops - plus much more.

Whether you’re an Associate Product Marketing Manager cutting your teeth in the industry, or an established VP of Product Marketing, this resource will leave you well-equipped to succeed in a range of product marketing jobs.