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Summary:

Lots of web workers are used to building up virtual teams with little concern for where people physically live. With the wonderful connectivity tools at our fingertips, shooting design comps and meeting agendas halfway around the globe is as simple as sending them to the next […]

Lots of web workers are used to building up virtual teams with little concern for where people physically live. With the wonderful connectivity tools at our fingertips, shooting design comps and meeting agendas halfway around the globe is as simple as sending them to the next block. But as we get further from our college years, most of us tend to keep “normal” working hours. This can lead to unique challenges with a team that crosses timezones and cultures. An article at TechMag offers some tips for team building in this situation, including:

  • Use e-mail and online tools to link people asynchronously
  • Schedule telephone or VOIP calls to bring the team together and review status
  • Watch out for cultural and language differences
  • Use informal exchanges about sports, movies, and family to increase bonding

Currently I’m working with a virtual team that includes people in Seattle, Idaho, Cincinnati, Vermont, England, Germany, and Bulgaria. That gives us a fairly wide spread of timezones to deal with: when it’s 7AM in Seattle, it’s 5PM in Bulgaria. Based on this experience, I can offer some advice of my own to help you deal with the mechanics of the situation:

Make sure everyone knows what time it is. If you’re using Firefox, the FoxClocks extension is great. The World Clock web site is handy, and there are tons of client-side apps such as Qlock for Windows or World Clock Deluxe for the Mac.

Share the pain. Scheduling those team meetings so that they’re at a good time for everyone gets harder the more spread out you are. If half the team has to get up early one week, let them sleep in and make the other half of the team stay up late the next week.

Experiment with telecom. Especially if you’re spread across multiple countries, compare notes on where it’s cheaper to originate those conference calls and see which way you get better quality. Sister site GigaOM can help tip you off to the newest money-saving services in this arena.

Leverage time for your advantage. When the team is firing on all cylinders, having people spread across ten time zones can be a blessing. It’s nice to wake up in the morning and discover that my fellow developers in Europe fixed a bunch of bugs overnight. The key here is to make sure that people don’t spend time waiting. Keep project plans and bug-tracking databases up to date. When your day is ending, send a “here’s the next three things” e-mail to your counterpart who’s just waking up.

Break the bottlenecks. There’s nothing worse than discovering that a server is down and realizing that the only person with the password to fix it just went to bed. When your operation spans timezones, you need to make sure that your redundancy does too. Cross-train people so that you can keep humming smoothly along no matter where the sun happens to be.

How do you deal with partners in other timezones? Let us know what tricks keep you productive in a global 24-hour economy!

  1. rick gregory Tuesday, March 6, 2007

    Mike,

    Good article. Two thoughts for you…

    1) see if relatively minor adjustments in meetings/calls make it much easier for the team as a whole. For example, if you’re in Seattle and you have weekly calls with a European office, 7am for you might be 4pm for them (depending on Daylight time and their exact location). Can they meet at 5 their time making it an easier 8am meeting for the West Coast participants?

    2) Make the time shifts work for you. I’ve managed people in Moscow (Russia, not Idaho) and London… and I’m in Seattle. Well, sometimes this meant we’d have new code waiting for us in t he morning, could do a quick call with them to talk about any issues (and maybe do a smoke test to catch bad issues ASAP) then test through the day. The end of our day would be the middle of their night… so they’d have new bugs when they got up. That dynamic actually helped efficiency.

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  2. Curently I am on the same position, working from Sofia (Bulgaria) and dealing with management in UK. This makes 2 hours difference, so instead of coming to work at 9am I can do better – 11am and nobody will notice that.

    The solution is strong e-mail communication!!!

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  3. One aspect that I have been struggling with is that mutiple time zones oftentimes force you to be available 24/7. People bombard you with e-mails and instant messages around midnight, call you at 3am …

    At least the wakeup calls stopped once I switched to Skype for all my phone business. Now people can call me around the clock – and I don’t have to stare at a phone display to figure out wheter or not I should pick up.

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  4. [...] Use informal exchanges about sports, movies, and family to increase bonding Source: Web Worker Daily » Blog Archive Teams Across Timezones « [...]

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  5. The unfortunate truth about global team collaboration is that you are constantly re-prioritizing between the ideals of work-life balance and the imperative to avoid becoming a bottleneck to a team 13.5 hours ahead of you. Streaming your work product is fine, but most projects are iterative and there’s no tech workaround for a lack of real-time collaboration. For short or long-term projects, I highly recommend videoconferencing. It won’t overcome all of the laws of physics but it does save a lot of wear and tear on your travel budget and your body. The other advantage of videoconferencing is it helps with tone in communications – you don’t want to send negative messages via IM or email.

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  6. [...] Web Worker Daily – Teams Across Timezones [...]

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  7. [...] Teams Across Timezones This is becoming the norm, especially for open source software. Do we even need offices? The only problem is the money. (tags: web working) [...]

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  8. Daily Report, Mar 8

    Cisco and IBM … Cisco and IBM announced a partnership for the integration of their respective wares to deliver a unified communications and collaboration solution to joint customers. “At the core of the unified communications and collaboration (UC2)…

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  9. Meeting logistics can be especially challenging for remote teams like this. You almost always use a teleconference to get everybody on the line together and then some kind of desktop sharing program like NetMeeting or WebEx to show slides, demos, or whatever. The teleconferences are typically set up by default to beep whenever someone enters the call, so what happens is you get stragglers that cause beeps on the line which interrupts whoever is currently talking. Then that person will ask for the IP for the NetMeeting only to have another person come on, cause a beep, and ask the same question. I’ve seen this go on for almost 20 minutes of a one hour meeting.

    The point is that, you need to be sure to set up your teleconference so that the interruptions are minimized and broadcasting the desktop sharing information in an email or Outlook appointment update right before the meeting starts will save you some time.

    Another aspect of meetings with people from different parts of the world is word usage. English has become a de facto standard for international meetings, but by no means is everybody speaking the same version. Words and phrases can have very different implications in California than they do in India. I recently posted an article on my blog entitled The evils of slang in an International work force that goes into this in more detail.

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  10. I really enjoyed your article.

    Currently I am in the same boat as you. My company is spread between, San Diego, San Fran, Dallas, SC, Georgia, NY, London and Russia. Time zones can be difficult to coordinate for all company meetings, but otherwise it actually works quite well. We are able to service all of our clients because their is someone present in most awake hours of there day. It works well for http://www.protuo.com.

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