Is time zone difference preventing your remote developers to function as a team? Luckily, we have a few great tips to share that we've picked up over the years.
If you gaze at Earth from outer space, it looks like a pale blue dot. It seems so small that someone once called it "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." You look at it and you think: It might be a small world after all.
Try telling that to a team working remotely across several time zones!
You might be working from an office in New York, have your team of software developers in Prague, and your end-client somewhere in Hong Kong. Needless to say, working in three different time zones can lead to downtime, delays, and work planning problems.
But not if you master an organized collaborate approach to work! As complicated as it may seem, time zones can be easily handled. All it takes is a well-organized team that can effectively operate around the clock.
Let’s dig a bit deeper.
How do you work across time zones in software engineering?
When you work across multiple time zones, you have to trust your remote workers. Each employee must be competent to work under minimal supervision and manage their time effectively. Not everyone is an ideal employee to work remotely. And that's why you have to be careful when putting together an engineering team.
Invest time into hiring reliable and professional software developers who are self-managed and self-motivated. They should be willing to be flexible when necessary to sync with team members and get the project done.
In our case, apart from a technical assessment, we make sure the developer:
- has excellent communication skills
- has the right aptitude for working in a distributed environment
- knows how to handle stressful situations
- has the ability to work independently
- is organized and able to manage multiple priorities
- takes action and delivers what’s expected on time
- is able to work alone
Maybe that's why only 1% of applicants pass Adeva's thorough screening process. ?
Making sure you have overlap
To start with, make sure you know the times when your development team is available. Even if you have a major time difference, you can always find at least two-hours of overlap daily to keep processes in sync.
For example, if part of your virtual team is located in the US, and the other part in Europe, you can still have a few hours overlap between the two teams. The team in New York would be available from 10 AM to 12 AM, while the team in Amsterdam from 4 PM to 6 PM. The New Yorkers would explain their tasks for the day, and the Amsterdammers will talk about what they did in the morning.
At Adeva, we’ve agreed that we need four hours of overlap to stay in sync and feel closer as a team.
As challenging as it may seem, you do need that overlap. Use it to hold your all-hands meetings, daily standups, and video calls to maximize the team's productivity. This overlap might require sacrifice from team members, but it's critical.
Another option is to rotate up-time. Meaning, one week, your overlap hours can be from 10 AM to 12 AM, and the next one from 12 PM to 2 PM. It's something you and the team should discuss.
Using agile practices
Many remote teams love using agile approaches. They like it because agile methodologies help improve team performance, increase customer satisfaction and increase project versatility.
If you want to manage your time zones more effectively, agile can help you with that. Here's what we do:
- We divide tasks into sprints.
- We hold regular meetings during development sprints (sprint planning, daily scrum, spring review, and retrospective meetings).
- And we use an agile project management tool like Jira to ensure an optimal delivery of our digital products.
Using synchronous and asynchronous communications
We live in a technological era that has developed so much. When it comes to communication, it doesn't matter whether your team is in the office next door or on the other end of the world. With tools like Slack and Zoom, you can hold online daily standups, do online presentations through a screen share, and chat 24/7 with your team.
Our team at Adeva counts more than 80 remote employees, scattered across 11 different zones. And we've been functioning smoothly for over three years.
Do you want to know our secret? A variety of must-have tools such as Slack, Asana, and Zoom.
We use tools for synchronous and asynchronous communications, and we take full advantage of both.
Asynchronous tools help us know who is working on what, and when. They ensure the project runs smoothly, roadblocks are always addressed, and delivery is always on time.
We've found that the most effective way to keep asynchronous communication running smoothly is not to complicate things. That's why we use only two or three asynchronous tools. We decided on Asana and Slack. Asana's the tool we use to track our projects. We love it because it keeps tasks from slipping through the cracks. We use the Asana boards to visualize upcoming to‑do’s, quarterly goals, and ideas.
Slack is perfect for both asynchronous and synchronous communication. Since we began using the app, our communication between team members across continents exploded. We use it to have virtual water cooler talks, report bugs, celebrate successes, and discuss ways to improve our work.
For real-time synchronous communication, we've decided on Zoom. A developer can be in a coworking place in Barcelona and the team lead can be on a business trip in Singapore, and the two of them can organize a face-to-face meeting in less than two minutes. The best part? You can always record a meeting and send it to an employee who missed it.
Taking advantage of time zone management tools
Was Tel Aviv 5 hours…ahead? Or was it 5 hours behind? If it's 12 AM in Beijing, then in Los Angeles it's … is it PST or PDT?
If you don't want to spend another minute doing time zone math and converting time, you should use a time zone management tool. Time zone management apps are a great way to know which employee is drifting off to sleepland and which one is available at the moment.
There are plenty to choose from, each one with a set of cool features.
- Timezone.io is a great tool that comes with an easy-to-use user interface. It visualizes which cities your team members are currently in and see the local time in those cities in chronological order.
- Spacetime.am is a tool that allows people to add their location and set their work hours. You can integrate it with Slack and the bot will automatically translate the time zones in chat as you type. There's a Mac desktop app as well.
Keeping shared calendars up-to-date is tip #6
When you have people working from different countries in the world, that means different holidays.
To increase transparency and to simplify your meeting schedules, you can use a tool like Google calendar.
Let everyone put vacations and national holidays and other days when they won't be working on the calendar. Once you have that calendar at hand, you'll stop wondering why that developer hasn't responded to you in over two days.
Nobody said that working in different time zones is painless, effortless and doesn't require sacrifices. Reality is that sometimes, someone will have to stay up late for a meeting. At other times, someone will have to wake up earlier.
So, to avoid burn out in one employee, switch meeting times weekly and make them more convenient for people around the globe. Or, you can have two different meetings in one day at two different times so that everyone can get a chance to join.
Ensuring thoughtful planning
The key to a well-organized team? Thoughtful planning!
Your employees should not wake up on a Tuesday morning, wondering what they have to work on that day. They should know what's expected of them and what needs to be completed before the end of the sprint.
Only by communicating their responsibilities clearly will the team be able to deliver the software product successfully and on-time. You'll reduce your development costs and meet all deadlines, regardless of roadblocks.
Being part of a remote team, we've seen it all. One developer getting ready to wind down for the night, and another getting started for the day. As every day ends somewhere, a day begins somewhere else.
Yes, we've had our fair share of challenges along the way, but not after we learned how to manage the team effectively. Once we established a culture of communication and collaboration, we've never had to search for “what time is it in London?” again.
Now we know when our team members are sleeping or eating dinner. If they're celebrating a national holiday, we have that on our calendar. Finally, we can say that we've become a team that's productive, respectful, and engaged.
We wish the same for you! Good luck!