Brett McKee

How to manage teams across different time zones; 4 tips for managing them

Teams across different time zones ; they are on the rise! The embrace of remote work has meant that when applying for jobs, location is no longer a big restriction. For many, this has meant that candidates can apply for jobs across borders, without the need to relocate.

However, when firms are recruiting team members across borders, this can bring complications. One study found that ’88 percent of remote workers are struggling with inconsistent working practices and miscommunication’. This is only enhanced when you bring the issue of different time zones into the mix.

At Remotings, we like to consider ourselves experts at helping people adapt to remote work, we aim to make it enjoyable and fun! So, we have put together some tips; How to manage remote teams across different time zones.

Consider ditching email communication

Communication between team members is a vital part of any organisation. If you are struggling with communication in your international team, it may be time to rethink and set out a new strategy.

Some firms may like to adopt asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication is where the group has a dedicated channel to talk on, where ‘conversation isn’t always live, but people can chime in when it’s best for their workflow’. Think teams chat, slack or what’s app if you are not familiar with the term.

This method works well for teams across different time zones, as it lets members report back to each other, keeping a steady flow of communication. At the same time, this allows each team member to work at a time that is convenient for them. There is no need for one or more people in the group having to adapt their sleeping pattern or working hours to accommodate for meetings.

What’s different about asynchronous communication? There are a couple of benefits, firstly it is more like a conversation, there is no signature block (like email) so you are more focused on the conversation and you can quickly scroll back through conversations making it often more efficient. Secondly it is more productive. No it is not just me saying that, if there have been 10 people commenting on a conversation all day you can scroll through the entire conversation in seconds rather than having to open each emal. Think how much time you waste just opening email messages.

So can you get rid of email? Well for most companies probably not, and particularly large corporates where other organisations need to contact you. Email is after all a common standard that allows different organisations to transact regardless of technology infrastructure. Usually more regulated companies will struggle as email is considered a formal channel of communication.

So can you get rid of email? The answer is probably not yet but there is no reason why these tools can’t be the primary method of communication in your organisation increasing productivity and output.

Changing over to these tools can be difficult, particularly in large organisations with an entrenched culture. We recommend you start with maybe a team or two switching over internally to see what challenges there are and finding solutions to these. This is a great way to get the international team into the mix and trial new technology at the same time.

If this is useful then your international teams should naturally gravitate to the new way of working. In your organisation you can also consider holding an ‘email free day’ across the organisation, division or team and ask people to focus on your chosen tool for all internal communication. This should provide the platform for moving to full roll out not just in your international team but across the organisation.

We haven’t addressed language but usually you will need to adopt a language and often that is either the language of the organisation (e.g. a French based company will likely gravitate to French or English as a common standard).

The thing to remember here is that initially you may have some team members who are completely familiar with the language or who need some support. Generally we find that this can make the first 3 months a bit more challenging but after 3–6 months communication improves.

Just remember that you may need to put more time into supporting those people who the language isn’t their native tongue and consider writing down your meetings and outputs so people can digest after the meeting or comment on between meetings. You may want to choose technology platforms that support multiple languages which is also a big help.

Adopt an agile mindset

We have found that many of the techniques associated with agile project management work well for remote meetings regardless of industry.

The agile method allows workers to be more flexible with their working methods, working as a team to produce the result that adds the most value. This is not the strict interpretation and many agile purists will no doubt comment but you will see the similarities with making remote teams effective, even with teams across different time zones.

This approach is particularly useful when managers can no longer see the worker in the office and so get concerned about productivity and outputs. By empowering the team manage their own output and self report within their team, a greater level of trust and output is often the result.

Agile work is different to flexible work. We often hear she/he is working agile. Where flexible workers will be able to work their preferred hours, agile workers will work in whatever working style their team prefers to achieve the best result.

Agile working includes using frameworks like kanban boards and agile ceremonies such as sprints (time boxed deliverables), sprint reviews, and daily stand-ups.

Agile ceremonies usually occur at the same time every day, week or fortnight. By making them at the same time, people know what to expect and by providing a document or board around which all meetings take place, all team members can contribute and even if someone can’t attend, their contribution can be included.

Adopting this approach will provide regularity, documented outcomes and increased team ownership of goals and progress.

Work with time overlaps that work for everyone

If you are working in a fast paced industry, asynchronous communication might not fit your team. If you are running the type of business that needs instant responses, using asynchronous communication might seem out of the question. In this case, when working with global teams, you should consider arranging time overlaps that work for everyone.

For example, with teams across different time zones, if half the team is based in the UK and the other half in the US, then hold a daily meeting at 5PM UK time, which would be at 12PM say in the US. The important thing is to speak to the team and get their input on the times for ceremonies that suit everyone the most.

Keep up with the latest tools

It is important to keep up with the latest tools.

“Last year our company which specialises in helping companies to run remote workshops and meetings didn’t even exist. Today we are helping remote teams every day to come together and collaborate online. And we aren’t alone, the big tech companies have all expanded and new start-ups are focusing on niche offerings.”

“The key for managers is to listen to their staff, leverage what you have and spend a small amount of time being open to looking at new tools. New tools can provide real benefits but it can also be distracting constantly looking at the market. Listen to your staff and see what they are saying.”

For managers trying to juggle employees in different time zones, if you struggle with communication you might be worrying about the teams workflow. You may be worrying about if they are synchronising their work correctly, or if individual goals are being met. You can sort this out by using a common team platform. See below two examples of new remote technologies which we think are worth a look:

Discord: Great for messaging. We recommend using Discord for basic messaging. This platform is great if you choose to use asynchronous communication. You can also use this for calls and screen-sharing.

Remotings: Great for work layouts. Remotings is great for visual collaboration. Use Remotings for agile method working, for example weekly sprints, daily stand-ups and kanban boards. Boards move in real-time, meaning you can see your team mates move around the board. Boards also auto-save, so you don’t need to worry about losing files.

Summary

Ultimately, although trying to manage teams across multiple time zones may be stressful, a bit of preparation can take a lot of the stress out and increase team outcomes. The main points to consider are communication, goals, collaboration and keeping abreast of the latest technology to make everyones lives easier.

Founder of Remotings.com the visual online tool for moving your team to remote working.