Thoughts on In-Office v/s Remote Product Manager Role For Career Growth?

Hey y’all. I’m currently job searching for a new remote product manager role and am navigating various company’s remote work plans for 2022 and beyond. I am earlier in my career (graduated college in 2018, 2 years in PM) and haven’t worked in a traditional tech/product company or PM team before. As I’m considering options for my future, I was wondering what more experienced PM’s felt about remote work. Do you think it’s important for collaboration, mentorship, and learning the ropes to be on-site? Do you think the industry’s best companies to work for will eventually be bringing people back in the office?

I’m currently in a high cost of living area near a major city, but would like to move to a cheaper, smaller city closer to my family and work remotely. However, I don’t want to permanently dampen my career prospects by only working remotely and not being in a city where I can easily go back to an office should I need to.

So my question for the group is - What has your experience been with working from home? What’s your company’s return-to-office strategy? How does WFH life compare to working on-site in your experience? Any advice?

Thanks!

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I was in a similar position and had to start my first remote product manager gig out of grad school, remotely because of the pandemic.

The first year was good, although it was harder to learn and make connections than in a normal office setting. As time progressed, I felt more and more isolated with my growth plateauing. I recently decided to switch jobs for an on-site/ hybrid setting.

IMO it’ll be beneficial for the first 5-7 years to be around people you can learn from. Zoom/ Slack is good, but we discount a lot social/ personal learning/ mentorship that can come from in person interactions. In your situation, if you have a choice either work from the big city or live near your family and commute once in while to the closest big city. It definitely helps being close to, if not within the top tech hubs.

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@BethanyGrey, The problem though is that people 5-7 years into their careers are more likely to be the people who want to work remotely, because they don’t need that in person mentorship and are at the point where they’re starting families, placing less value on socializing at work, etc. Any company forcing people to come into the office is going to be driving away the very people who you want to have in the office to learn from.

I think you’re better off at a company that offers flex / employee choice on whether you come into the office and has a strong, intentional culture around growth and mentorship

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@JesusRojas, Yes! It should absolutely be a choice. As far as I think, most tech companies would not go 100% on-site. Unless it’s a very early stage startup, or a physical product, hybrid can and will work

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@JesusRojas, Thanks for your response! I’m in the DC/Baltimore area so not in a top tech hub, but there is a good amount of tech in DC. I want to move to Baltimore but the economy there is not great if I would need to be in person.

I think my ideal situation would be to go into the office 1-2 times per week to get to collaborate and learn from people in person.

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@AngieGoodwin, Seek out VCs in Baltimore and look to see who they’re investing in and interacting with. You can find your way into a role in a startup by taking time to be consciously aware of who the companies are to work for. Sometimes startups don’t put jobs out in traditional manners, but rely on networks.

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You definitely want some time in the office to network and knowledge share. A good company will give you the autonomy to come in when you need to.

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I have 15+ years of experience working in combinations of face-to-face, hybrid, and more recently fully remote. There are pros and cons for each, and each have their place. For example, when working with international teams, it’s common to do bursts of on-site work (to build relationships, understand context, meet customers, build the team, etc.), followed by PM working remotely and parts of the team remaining on-site (this is hybrid).

I’ve been doing the same type of work, but fully remote, in a big company. In my opinion, or at least, for my style and preference of work, It is way, way, way harder to work remote, regardless of stage of career. Building trust is harder. Collaboration is harder. Communication is harder. Learning is harder. And honestly, it’s just way more boring. There’s less engagement, fewer opportunities to do things in a spontaneous and off the cuff way. And really very difficult to just grab another person and whiteboard a problem or idea. Yes, there’s Mural/Miro/Zoom etc., but that is very different.

Remote is here to stay, but my advice would be to take a bet each way. If you want to move somewhere, make it a place where it’s possible to get into a physical office space with your team when needed. Even if that’s only once a week/month etc.

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@DhirajMehta, Totally makes sense. I’ve actually never worked in an office (small start up, in the field sales, then Covid-19) so it’s really hard for me to imagine what I’m missing. Thanks for your perspective!

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@DhirajMehta, put it really well. I would 100% try it out for 6 months and you’ll see the difference. You’ll never be able to interact frequently in person with international teams, but missing all the hallway cover around and the dynamism that comes with a good conversation that you randomly had is hard to beat.

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Being a Remote Product Manager, is harder for your specific goals but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. You just have to be way more proactive, but you can still hit those same goals. For example, if you’re at a big company invite some local people out to coffee or a co-working session or whatever even if you have to commute in an hour.

Biased, I’m a life > work person so I’d be moving to wherever you wanted and finding a job that fits around that.

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@FelipeRibeiro, Good advice thank you for replying :slight_smile: I’m a work > life person too but I also like money and having a good experience 40 hrs a week so trying to find that balance.

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I’ve worked both on site and remote. Remote Product Manager work is much better for work-life-balance but I learned way more when working in the office with others. If I were young in my career, I would get some experience on-site and then decide from there.

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“Remote work is less effective at building trust and relationships”.
But - there is one other side of the coin here:

I was an immigrant in Germany where, although the team was diverse on paper, it was a mix of White Europeans - primarily French and Germans. I am considered an extrovert and effective communicator by people who know me personally.

But at that workplace I found myself sidelined: I was new, I was a non-EU, I was the only dark-skinned person in the club. I executed a strategic initiative really well, heck I even speak some German, but the fratboys club remained aloof. But what about making some connections with other department? Nope! It was difficult because we sat in a room together and my manager was a master at micro-management.

I ended up moving on from that org within a year. Ever worked on project where you really went above and beyond? I did. And yet, I was received poorly - that experience shed very negatively on my self-confidence.

Contrast this with my recent experience at a remote-only org where people were more than happy to know me, connect with me on Slack. We had a thorough chitchat and I really felt I could connect with the team. And I can reach anyone in the org without some subtle pressure.

So, was the on-site work really effective for me? No, not at all.

We work async so if there are any quick chores, I can do them without issues planning a bit ahead. I have a better work-life balance: I can hit the gym without issues, and I don’t spend my time commuting, I don’t need to rent expensively so as to be near a metro/office, I eat healthy and don’t spend ~€150/month on a poor office lunch. My life does not revolve around the work.

At the end of the day, “the claim that on-site is effective in building relationships and trust” should be taken with a truckload of salt. A positive-sum, remote org can give you above that and beyond.

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Regardless of career field, I know studies typically show that remote workers typically get fewer raises, and promotions - and are also the first to be laid off. 100% it still might be better to be remote for various personal reasons, but if your personal life won’t be greatly disrupted by it, going in office is always best for any career. (I’m only familiar with pre-Covid studies on this so situations may be different now that being remote is more common but personally I think it will always be easier for your management to give you fewer opportunities and lay you off if they don’t know you on a personal in person level.)

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Can you cite those studies?

I believe that might have been true prior to the Pandemic when remote work was not much of a norm. If you’re opting for remote work, it was seen to impact you the same way like it does to female employees who may take maternity leave and hence, aren’t “present” leading to the paygap.

Here is the 2021 study that actually says otherwise:

Payscale’s research also shows that fully remote workers earn more than non-remote workers, even when controlling for job characteristics, and that remote workers reported higher rates of job satisfaction and retention than non-remote workers

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Thank you all for your replies and insights! Definitely seems like the office has some pretty big perks I shouldn’t be easily dismissing.