Product Management across Flavors of Remote Work
Episode 019: Joao Craveiro (Cravvie)
" I would say that's the main thing in common across the teams that are best in navigating remote work, even if they were not Remote First teams or Remote First companies is being bullish about documenting things. And that is, I think, an essential building block from where everything else about remote work grows."
JJ: Hello and welcome to Product Voices. The world is remote at least in product management. Most of us are working in a virtual remote environment these days. Some of that was the nature of the work before 2020, but the global pandemic has certainly hastened our journey into remote and virtual work. What that looks like may vary by organization and team and culture, but most of us are trying to find that optimal balance of what is the right way to work in this virtual remote world. This episode is dedicated to exploring the vehicle, various flavors of remote work, and how we can get the best of this environment to make sure that our team is set up for success and ultimately our products are successful.
My guest today is Joao Craveiro, also known as Cravvie. He has been working in software for more than 13 years across different duties, researching, building, teaching. He specialized in B2B and platform products. He's done product discovery and delivery for products in multiple industries. In the past seven plus years, Cravvie has held product management and leadership roles with global reach and impact at companies such as Onfido, Farfetch and Remote. Cravvie, thanks for joining me.
CRAVVIE: Thanks for having me, JJ. Yeah, I'm excited about this conversation.
JJ: So I love that you actually work for Remote, and we're talking about remote. That's perfect.
CRAVVIE: That's true. Yes, absolutely.
JJ: Cravvie is also the author of a very great book, so stay tuned for that. I'm going to ask you a little bit about that. I just got my book and I'm loving it so far. So stay tuned for that.
Let's talk about remote work first. So lots of product managers have worked in remote settings prior to again, as I said, the last couple of years, but things are certainly changing and becoming even more important to embrace and understand this remote work. What are you seeing and what did you see through the different flavors of remote work that you've worked in as a product manager?
CRAVVIE: Yeah, that's indeed true that a lot of product managers had been working in remote settings already because the distributed nature of remote work already existed in other ways, such as multinational companies or just the fact that you have salespeople who work in a more mobile way and not in the office all day.
So that's indeed true that a lot of this already existed. But what I've been seeing, especially more recently, is that there are way more companies than before opening up their horizons and hiring in different locations, even if it's not a location where they're considering of opening a hub. So being open to be more distributed, there's still a relevant number of other companies who end up passing on great talent because they end up basically having the commuting distance from an office, being a deal breaker over sometimes more practical and more tangible criteria for choosing talent.
Although a lot of companies are going hybrid, whatever hybrid means, it does still leave a lot of the value from remote work on the on the table, right? If you still have to commute in, even if it's only twice a week, your life doesn't fundamentally change. And remote work does allow to bring fundamental change to with the opportunity that brings to people. So yeah, it's not all roses with remote work. Companies will struggle differently with adopting it in full. But one thing is for sure is that remote work is not going to go back to what it was before.
JJ: We're seeing some companies try to get us back to a world where it's an in person environment and they're touting the virtues of in person collaboration. But I think those companies are going to struggle more so than the ones that embrace, as you said, at least a hybrid environment just because the talent is dispersed across the world. And if organizations aren't going to embrace that, take advantage of that, then I think they're probably going to maybe be left a little bit behind.
You mentioned it's not always that easy to navigate and to make it work the best. So tell me how you've seen teams best navigate remote work? What are some things maybe that you see that the best remote teams do to ensure that cohesion and that collaboration?
CRAVVIE: I would say that's the main thing in common across the teams that are best in navigating remote work, even if they were not Remote First Teams or Remote First companies is being bullish about documenting things. And that is, I think, an essential building block from where everything else about remote work grows. And so if someone asks you something, you answer with a link to documentation to source of truth of that information, not just responding to the person's email or Slack and writing the answer to the thing, but linking it to a source of truth, whether it's a Wikipedia or a video or a slide deck, if you will. And then if you can't do that. So if you don't have something to link to, then create it or update what's you have so that it answers to that question and then answer with a link to it. This is a practice that takes getting used to, but it's definitely the way for documentation to be up to date, to be reliable and. To allow really taking advantage of the other typical ways of working of a remote team.
My case is synchronous work so documentation definitely is an essential building law to build the rest. So I would want to jump in and ask you about that before you move on to some other best practices that you've seen.
JJ: So documentation is an interesting one because in my experience I've seen teams trying to get away from very heavy documentation because they thought that being agile and having agility and documentation didn't necessarily go hand in hand. I think we collectively generally kind of moved too far to the other side of the spectrum. Have you seen in your experience working with teams now relying more on documentation but because of the nature of the remote work, which I totally agree with you and I love that insight. Have you seen teams struggle to get that practice back or to have that practice work for them and have the right type of level of documentation?
CRAVVIE: Yes, I think well, in some cases just getting used to documenting things. And I always joke that in a lot of places that the Wiki or the internet is a place where half the company put stuff that the other half won't bother searching before asking on Slack. And definitely it gets getting used to. It's not just getting used to. I think there needs to be not just the culture but also structure for the documentation that allows it to be the path of least resistance. Because if answering with a link, if creating documentation you can link to means that you're going to take significantly longer to respond, then it's no longer the path of least resistance. And that's what happened a lot in companies is that updating a Wiki page would be slow. Sometimes you then face, oh, maybe I don't have permission to update this thing so I can't update it right now. So this person is waiting for an answer and I'll answer on Slack and not document what I just said on Slack and then it gets lost. So that's how it used to go.
So I think we need and we've been bringing up documentation in a more borrowing your term in a more agile way, in a way that documentation needs to be easy to update. So no silos ownership documentation is everyone's place. There is no such thing as Siloing who can update each page so that anyone is empowered to keep the documentation up to date. And it also needs to be easy to access. Otherwise, when you do this, when you answer, oh yeah, that question, the answer is here. And then a response is oh yeah, this link is great, but I don't have permission. Maybe I'm not added to the right group. I'll have to ask it to do that. So these barriers need to be removed for this to work.
But then another struggle is the other way around, which is when you document so much that you just have a lot of information and it starts not being that easy to find what you need or not easy to search to really know whether your question is answered by existing documentation. And that of course also also requires work and probably dedicated people to manage that knowledge. Otherwise it can grow uncontrollably. But at least if you default to using to text for documentation rather than slide decks, it tends to be easier to at least find what you want by searching.
JJ: That's great advice. And I think it's one of those things that the best remote teams are going to optimize and find that balance of the right old level of documentation without going overboard. That's great. Thanks for adding that context.
So are there other best practices, if you will, that you've seen remote teams do really well to ensure that cohesion?
CRAVVIE: Basically, it's the ones that then stem from this. And this is already a big thing, because not only it promotes a sync work, but it also fosters a Noble and important value, which is transparency. If the information about anything is available to anyone at any time, then everyone feels included. No one feels out of the loop. Everyone feels one and the same. And so this is another way of doing what might be thought of as something that you can only achieve by getting people together, which is for people to trust each other and to feel included in a group. So I think it's a really important thing that this feeling of transparency bridges a gap from a team being more distributed, even benefits fully office based companies. Right?
JJ: True. That's very true.
CRAVVIE: Do you know who's the remotest employee of them all?
JJ: Who's that?
CRAVVIE: The one who already left the company.
JJ: Oh, wow. Yes.
CRAVVIE: And when people leave the company, because documentation is seen is not part of the day to day. It's something that it's an added effort which tends to derail easily. And then when people leave the company, there's a lot of information that is knowledge that is simply lost. So any company, even a fully office based company, benefits from it. Receipts, for instance, asynchronous work. Because what happens is that when you start getting used to documentation, you start going, oh, wait, I didn't need to wait for an answer for this. This was great. I didn't have to have someone on the other side responding to me because I could just get unblocked on my own. And then next thing you know, you're thinking, oh, maybe people don't really need to work the same hours as everyone else because we don't depend on others being in the same place at the same time as we are because.
We can rely on documentation and block ourselves. And each of these things is like it's a precondition to the next one. And then you can only really have the freedom of remote work, can have a fully distributed team if you don't depend on people being in the same place at the same time, or especially even just in different places at the same time, because then you'll have time zones. And again, without documentation, you have people stuck all the time and you don't want that. So then fostering the Async with working is key, and only with Async you can be fully remote and allow people to control their own schedule.
JJ: I think that's such great insight. In my experience so far, the companies that struggle the most with really embracing and optimizing remote work are those that are stuck in that synchronous work environment that we've all lived in. I mean, I have not really at any point in my career other than the exception, not the rule, working in a real true Async way, starting to now, as many of us are. But I think that Asynchronous work is really game-changing. And as you said, those few things documentation and doing it the right way, transparency, that's really the groundwork for success in that environment. And I think the companies that embrace that are really going to be the ones who find the best talent, because I think that's where they're going to be able to find them from literally anywhere in the world. And I think that's such good advice.
So I want to pivot a little bit or talk a little bit about how that Async work or just kind of remote work in general at least has a preconceived notion in many people's minds that it's going to negatively impact creativity. So we think of creativity as the big brainstorming sessions sitting around the room or other types of things where we're working in a synchronous way. How do we embrace remote work but keep creativity from suffering?
CRAVVIE: It's a great question. I think creativity can suffer if one is dogmatic about remote work and in particular what Async collaboration means. Because then if you're too dogmatic, what happens is that collaboration, even the creative collaboration, may become too transactional. And think of it Async doesn't mean that meetings are forbidden or that you cannot absolutely have any sync interaction with more than two people ever. Otherwise, you'll get fired. No, it's not that Async means that you save the time and energy that is spent on sync interactions for people and for interactions that really benefit from that synchronous tax, from the extra cost of time and energy and the dependencies and the scheduling hurdles of Asynchronous interaction.
So I would say that the main thing is you find who those people and what those interactions are, the ones that. Need a little bit of sprinkle of sync interaction, if that's what benefits that the interaction between those people or that specific interaction between those people. And you deliberately invest more sync time on those people in those interactions than on others. And the fact that you're generally as sync, that you cut on status meetings and update meetings and that kind of meetings that can perfectly be replaced with transparent documented status, or just async communication, you leave room for those basically, you leave time and energy for the ones that really cannot be fully replaced by the synchronous thing. In this sync time. It's not just for the sake of itself, not just to collaborate synchronously, but also to build trust and to build rapport so you can better work asynchronously also on creative stuff.
JJ: I think that's a really good point, because one of the things it's the creative work, but it's also the relationships, right. We all know that product management relationships are kind of bedrock to what we do, or at least to be being successful in what we do. And so I love how you said find the right balance and kind of sprinkle in the sync work as needed to not only be creative, but also to continue to foster those relationships, because I think that's I have a feeling that some companies will try to go too far on the other spectrum and then kind of have to come back and find their way. And that's how we work. We learn from the mistakes we make. But I love that advice on making sure we don't become dogmatic in one way or the other.
With that said, what generally do you believe or where do you see the future of remote work going?
CRAVVIE: That's a great question. I don't think I'm the best visionary to answer that. I would say that if I were to answer shortly and vaguely that remote work is here to stay, as I mentioned earlier, is that. For any company, even companies who don't fundamentally change themselves to become Remote first company, nothing is going to be the same as before. People saw the flexibility that they had when, even when they were forced to not be in the office, especially when they started being able to socialize while not being forced to go to an office every day. And so that flexibility just became more table stakes than it was before. And a lot of things I see is one, is Remote work enabling society change, and at the same time, society changes that need to happen in the face of this unavoidable trend towards the Remote work. So one thing is that we'll see companies hiring more distributed without wanting to have considered concern with geopolitical borders, because talents and skills and human capital doesn't really respect borders. And so it's not only through services that make that possible.
Like the company I work at Remote, but also through the countries themselves creating new ways of enabling this hiring without Borders, not just in the country itself, but also between countries, around the agreements, between countries, around labor laws, around labor practices, taxes, even pensions. So a lot of that will have to evolve into I'm. To react to this trend towards Hiring Without Borders. So that's one of the avenues I see remote work going in the future. And that's the good part. In terms of challenges, it's easy to buy is that when you ask about the future, that I would only talk about the bright things.
But there's also significant challenges. And one I do agree to some extent that I hear every now and then is how working remotely is harder for those who are starting their career. What do you think about that? Do you also think it's harder?
JJ: I do agree because of my own bias. I'm not just starting my career. I'm very old. No, I'm just kidding. I'm not that old. But I didn't think about that in the beginning of this. And as I was thinking about remote work and the changes, I too had rose colored glasses on, it was just kind of this is all good stuff. This is going to add diversity. It's going to add to the talent pool. It's going to be wonderful.
And then I thought, wow, back when I started my career, I remember, of course, we were all in person way back in the olden days. And we went to happy hour and we talk to each other and we knew each other and we bonded professionally. And then also somewhat personally, I remember having those conversations, and I remember building those networks that ultimately helped my career. And I agree. I think that's one of the things and I'm glad you brought that up.
I think that's one of the things that we all need to be cognizant of is how do we still allow people to build and learn early in their career, not only for them individually. I mean, that's an important thing that we need to do for them. But it's also important for organizations. Right. And societies and all of us to help still sow those seeds in the right way. I don't know what the answer to that is, but hopefully we collectively can figure that out.
CRAVVIE: Yeah. I think part of the problem is that even before you start your career, everything that you know about work is from an office based lens. Whatever you learn about work in school or College, it's from an office based lens. How much as a kid, as a young person, you've apprehended about work from just seeing and listening to your parents or your family talk about how things went at work was in another paradigm of work. Think that's the part the part of the challenge I agree with is that whoever is starting their career now. Their background didn't typically make them ready to embrace starting a career in a remote work environment. On the other hand, they also get access to opportunities that in the previous paradigm would force them to sail to another city or to another part of the world altogether. They would have to go to London, New York, to the Valley, to Berlin, et cetera. And now they don't really need to do that. But there's this challenge of how to bond, how to create working practices, et cetera, in the remote working environment when that was something that you didn't have contact with throughout your whole previous life.
So maybe schools and universities also need to do something about incorporating the challenges and the practices of remote working to the same subjects as other professional competencies, but not as not as an exotic variation on work, but as an intrinsic part of it. Talking about remote work and remote work practices not as you know, at the end of the end of the semester class just talk 15 minutes about the thing, but really as being part of what work is in whichever aspects of the curricula of that work is talked about.
JJ: Right. I actually have thought about that a lot. I teach a class at Johns Hopkins University here in the States. It's a grad level product management class. And this semester has been in person. Next semester in the fall, it's going to be virtual. And I've thought about how to make that work. But I've also thought about, as you said, how do we set our students up for success? And that entails, at this day, that entails how to work remotely and how to start from a remote perspective. So I think that's, again, going to be incumbent on those of us that teach and the universities and organizations to onboard new people and give them some sort of foundation on which to build. So I think that's really amazing advice.
I always like to ask all of my guests. So you yourself are a resource, and I love your work. And I'm going to link to some of your work at Product Tank London and your own website. And you've done some stuff that's just amazing. But what other folks do you follow and what other resources have you found valuable as you've tried to learn and navigate this new way of working, if you will, or how to learn about optimizing this remote work world that we're in now?
CRAVVIE: One thing that has been tremendously helpful throughout these years is that, again, because the great remote working companies practice documentation heavily and have an associated value of transparency, and they practice that with the world as well. So that means that their ways of working are typically open source. You can know how they operate remotely. And so throughout the years, for instance, GitLab GitLab always had a public handbook about every aspect of how they work remotely as a fully distributed company. So that was always a reference. My current company, Remote, we also have a public handbook. And I definitely read it a lot, even before joining the the company. And yeah, so those are two. Examples. And there's probably many more about companies who share with the world how they work with radical transparency. And you can draw inspiration from there. For instance. That's also so at least true in the Remote Company handbook is that we share everything, even the challenges that each approach has.
So you're also able to abstract and extrapolate and to adapt that to particular circumstances of your reality, to try what works and what doesn't. So public handbooks of Remote First company are definitely great resource that we are lucky to have available for free. I love that. That's such good advice. So we're going to link to your work and some of the other resources that you mentioned, but just learn from the world around you. As you said, a lot of these companies have kind of open source transparency. And so for those of you listening who want to learn more about us this just look towards those Remote First companies and those who are doing it well and try to take inspiration for them.
JJ: Good advice. So one final thing I want to talk about before I let you go. So I mentioned earlier you've got a new book out. It's called The Platform Business Strategy: A Practical Guide for Busy Product Leaders. I've got the book. I've started reading it. I love it.
Tell me a little bit about the books and what led you to wanting to write this book.
CRAVVIE: So about the book, I try to have a descriptive subtitle, so it's a practical guide on how to think on product strategy for multi cited platforms or marketplaces. But think of it from the right foot. And basically it was born out of sensing that a lot of companies that had a multi sided platform in their hands, we're thinking about it in the right terms, and we're leaving opportunities on the table by just looking at their platform from a linear lens because the interactions between these participants and the network effects between them are not just a powerful growth mechanism, but also something that can act counter to the platform.
And so if you don't think about it in this dynamic way and only think about it as growth, growth, growth and economies of scale, you're not really thinking of it as a platform. And at the same time, the references that I learned from about this were exhaustive and thorough and at the same time hard to get into because it was just a lot to apprehend. Like, how do you convince an executive level person that you need to think about a platform business and about a product for a platform business in a different way? And so that was the idea here. And basically this is the collection of the way I try to in my head, even from my own understanding, to simplify and to create metaphors and ways of thinking about these particular types of products and put them in a practical way.
And create the examples of what platforms are examples of the concepts that bigger reference have, and just have a small, short, quick read, step by step guide that you can either share with executive folks or you can use it as a guide to build something that you can use to share with your stakeholders about thinking about your specific platform in a more robust way.
JJ: That's wonderful. And I love the book. So again, it's called the Platform Business Strategy. We will link how to go buy that book on ProductVoices.com along with some of the resources that you mentioned about remote work. You can also check out Cravvie’s website and the book at the PlatformBusinessStrategy.com.
Cravvie, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on remote work and also a little bit about your new book. Thanks for joining me.
CRAVVIE: Thank you, JJ. It was a pleasure chatting with you.
JJ: And thank you all for joining us on Product Voices. Hope to see you on the next episode.
Personal website, points to all my writing, talks, etc.
Recent talk at ProductTank London on Product Management and Remote Work
Mind the Product blog post on remote/distributed team work, back in May 2019.
My offering on product strategy for platform businesses — canvas (FREE!), book (ebook and paperback) and workshops.
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