Teams Across Timezones

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!

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