JournalMay 2014

Working across timezones

Clearly, we’re huge fans of how being distributed team gives your team versatility, diversity, and unique cultural perspectives, which can be a big draw for clients. Not to mention, being able to provide greater work coverage to clients can be nice. We used this to our advantage while in Hong Kong, with a few of the team back in Europe — we had around 16 hours of ‘working time’ in a day, which was great for our clients.

It can also be rewarding for the individuals involved, who are each able to build a routine and a schedule that works for their own situation.

Although working remotely requires extra effort from everyone involved, it’s not as difficult to pull off as you might think. While we Hannoians don’t claim to have come up with the perfect formula, we’re constantly improving, and over the past few months in particular, have made plenty of fresh discoveries about how we can do this thing a little better.

Find overlap with your teammates.

It’s harder to collaborate when you’re all on different time zones, since you have less time to do it. So, work up a consistent routine to help your teammates to predict when you’ll be around, and carefully plan your collaborative efforts. Our ‘core hours’ while the team are in their home locations, are 9am-6pm, UK time. We say to all team members that they’re responsible for ensuring at least 2 hours of overlap with these times each day, regardless of where they’re based.

But figure out what works best for you.

I find a few hours of uninterrupted focus, outside my teammates’ working hours, to be really valuable, if used correctly. For example, I try to split my day in two halves whenever possible. Being 2 to 4 hours ahead of most of my teammates and clients gives me an opportunity to have a focused work sprint before they get online in the morning. Then, I’m able to share what I’ve done, and let everyone else review it while I’m out for lunch or running personal errands and so on. The second half of a day can then be spent doing more of the focused work, having received feedback from everyone, or I could engage in internal matters, safe in the knowledge that my productivity will not get adversely affected by any of it.

Facilitate great communication.

It’s easy to feel disconnected from the rest of your team, even when you’re co-located and working from the same office, let alone when you’re thousands of miles away.

Great communication is the cornerstone of a successful distributed team. So communicate a lot — doing everything you can to improve communication between your remote team members, regardless of their location, is key. Generate a sense of community and team.

Share your wins.

We’re using tools like iDoneThis to share a quick recap at the end of each day, of what we’ve been doing, what we shipped, and just share our personal achievements and how we feel about everything.

Give props to your teammates.

The other side of sharing your wins, is that your teammates can help you celebrate them. This goes for both your professional, and personal achievements. It’ll make everyone feel valued and keep the team spirit high.

Share your worries.

The risk of burnout on remote teams is well known — it’s simply harder to spot. So you have to be even more careful when you don’t share the same time zone. Make sure your team don’t overwork themselves. You’ve got to be prepared to open up to your team and to be honest with them when you’re struggling. Don’t assume that they’ll spot your struggles from afar, no matter how well you know each other.

Organise your time responsibly.

Odd working hours, disruptive meetings and lack of careful planning can seriously affect work productivity, as well as people’s personal lives. Respect other team members’ time zones and appreciate that they value their own flexibility just as you value yours.

Be flexible.

Occasional late-night, or early-morning meetings can be necessary — here, everyone involved should be aware of their teammate’s needs, and look to reach a compromise. If you’re the one working from 9-11pm one evening, your teammate should return the favour, getting up for an early morning meetup next time around. And of course, don’t forget to thank each other for your efforts.

Pick a single time zone for all internal communication.

Choose one ‘default’ time zone and stick with it in all your internal chat. We use UTC, internally. This helps us to avoid constantly converting times across different time zones, and cuts down on confusion.

Having all your teammates’ locations easily viewable makes things much easier

Having all your teammates’ locations easily viewable makes things much easier

Use an app that shows you time across time zones you need. Several of us are using this little app called The Clock to show a second set of clocks on our menu bars. It’s unobtrusive, and constantly helpful — you’ll thank yourself too many times for installing it.

We’re eager to hear how other teams have figured out ways to solve their time zone troubles. Why not share your experiences with us on twitter at @wearehanno

Posted by
Sergei Tatarinov

With the team since 2011, Sergei is a creative technologist who bridges design and engineering at Hanno.