Episode 116 of The Collaboration Superpowers podcast was all about working across multiple timezones. It started me thinking about how I’ve been working across timezones for the last ten years.
The podcast makes ten points:
- Make it fair — Inevitably someone will be getting up early or working late. Don’t let it just be one team all the time. Share the pain around.
- Organize well — Instead of going from East to West, try organizing from North to South. I presume this makes sense for larger teams with multiple sites. Even though there may be greater distance, timezones are close if you go North/South. Related point is to not overlap remote teams (if you can). That is, have the teams work on separate problems, with overlap when convenient.
- Prioritize overlap time — When you have 1 or 2 hours of overlap, prioritize the time together. That’s the time for meetings, and make it video for bonding.
- Talk in one timezone — This is an item from the Team Agreement episode (42). Pick a timezone, and everyone is responsible for converting themselves. This minimizes confusion.
- Use a shared calendar — This also helps minimize mistakes with scheduling.
- Record meetings — Not everyone can make every meeting. Record them. Useful to see and hear the conversation, and feel like part of the team even though you’re not there.
- Standup tools — If you can’t overlap, use tools to stand up asynchronously. E.g., Standup bot (but also I Done This).
- Double check your times — You get timezones wrong. Get in the habit of double checking. Use: The Time Zone Converter, World Time Buddy, and World timezone.
- Think in multiple timezones — Be aware with your team timezones. You’re starting your day, but that might be dinner for others. Try: Timezone.io or Every Timezone.
- Meet face to face — Every once in a while, go and meet up. Rebuild the human connection.
The comments specifically about timezones (4, 5, 8, 9) are spot on. The rest all make sense to me, although I probably have slightly different priorities, and don’t practice them all.
The one idea I’m least tempted by is recording meetings (6):
- they can change the tone of a meeting (although that can be in a good way, and might not be na issue with practice);
- gives those not there the burden of having to listen or watch it. A good short summary would seem like a more beneficial.
Recordings are very useful for explaining across timezones. Plenty of times I’ve used screen recordings or annotated photos to leave an explanation for colleagues. On those occasions a short video is more effective than a long description.
Default to over-communication
I don’t think you need specific stand up tools (7), but you do need to say what you’re doing (and what you’ll do next).
Without this, no-one knows if you’re around, need to take some time out, or are stuck, or frustrated, or a thousand other things that might be wrong. Even if nothing much has happened, you have to check in.
If in doubt, over-communicate. It sucks not knowing what someone is doing. Not everyone will see every email, phone call, Sococo conversation, PR, commit comment—and they don’t have to—but if you think it should be heard, say it somewhere everyone can see it.
It can seem like noise, especially in a busy chat environment. But if it’s like that, create a special room/channel for it (email, if that helps).
Even if you do say what you’re up to, it can be met with silence. That is probably OK, in that everyone is happy. But prolonged silence isn’t great. Maybe you’re ignored, maybe no-one understands what you’re doing but doesn’t want to say anything. You need to solicit some kind of feedback.
Just a +1 or the occasional clarification question from others can help smooth these daily communication habits.
Talking, in real time, when you have some cross-over, is wonderful. It clears up so much, so quickly.
Laptop microphones and speakers are pretty good, but I still use a headset. The main reason for a headset is that typing sounds and trackpad clicking are less intrusive that way.
I also like to mute a lot. Applications tend not to make this as easy as they could (especially if they are not running at the front of your screen). To make muting easy, I use Shush which gives me a key I can press to toggle audio on and off. I love it, but it doesn’t let anyone else know you’re muted, which can be annoying.
Pretty much every other call someone tells me I’m muted (when I thought I wasn’t). So more practice needed for me there.
I like to know what’s in my queue, and what other’s have lined up. Dropping something we’re supposed to be doing is bad.
At the moment I’m using pen and paper for many of my small TODOs. But for items I need to share, such as technical items, I’m enjoying Github projects and task lists in issues.
There’s lots of great stuff from The Collaboration Superpowers Podcast. If you’re working across timezones or remotely, do check it out. And share your tips and thoughts too.