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Remote Workers Weigh In: How do you manage working with teams across time zones?

In a bid to cover some remote worker FAQs, through our new series, ‘Remote Workers Weigh In,’ we’ll be asking our team some of the most asked questions about what it’s really like to be a remote worker

When you decentralize the workplace, employees and new hires can be totally location independent, meaning your colleagues can work from wherever suits them best. This opens up a whole world of talent and possibilities for remote companies. 

At Shield, we have teammates living and working in over 15 countries across the world. Many of them work from their homes, others prefer to prioritize traveling (at least in safer times), and some like working in co-working spaces. Whenever teammates are in the same city, they might get together to work (or more likely eat!). 

Having a distributed company means our team is full of diverse people from many different backgrounds. I think it makes us better to be surrounded by so many cultures, experiences, and ways of thought. We can be more accommodating, more innovative, and solve problems more creatively. 

But with our team spread across all these different countries, it also comes with vastly different time zones. 

In many cases, teammates are logging on just as others are logging off or meeting have to be scheduled outside of traditional work hours to catch everyone at the same time.

So how do we manage? 

What does collaboration look like? 

Does everything have to be asynchronous? 

Do we ever get to work together in real-time?

To answer these questions, I asked our Shield team to weigh in on their thoughts about time zones and whether they think having teams across the world makes their work harder or easier. 

How do you work with teams across different time zones?

“It is harder and easier in different ways,” says Anna Duncanson, our Salesforce Development Manager and Head of Tech, who manages a team of five across four time zones. 

“As a manager, it is harder to be connected and supportive of team members,” she says. “Particularly stuff that is hard to emulate asynchronously, like team building and collaboration that foster a sense of belonging and shared purpose.”

Coordinating calls where each team member can contribute isn’t always easy, and relying on asynchronous discussion can sometimes make workflow slower. 

“When we have a feature to release that needs to go through the Development > Quality Assessment > Release workflow (which involves everyone on the team, stakeholders, and users), there are lags between tasks being completed,” Anna says. 

This means releases tend to come out in clusters rather than in a continuous stream. 

“For our users, this can be challenging, as things can appear to be “quick and easy”, but the actual time to go through the workflow takes time with the back and forth and waiting periods.”

But that’s not to say asynchronous communication doesn’t have its place.

“Async communication tools make life very easy for information sharing and collaboration,” Anna says. “Discussions and decisions are automatically documented [and] it’s great to come back to if you need to refresh your memory.”

She also says operating this way leads to less unnecessary meetings. 

“[There are no] meetings that “should have been an email” (or, in our case, a Slack/Jira post).”

And she values the diverse perspectives that working with a global team offers. 

“Diverse perspectives and life experiences mean we have more collective emotional intelligence and a broader range of skills,” she says. “We are also more innovative.” 

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For our Customer Success Team, and more client-facing teams, the pros seem to outweigh the cons. 

“I think from an overall work delivery and customer service, [it’s] easier,” says our Head of Customer Success, Givanny Madsen. “We cover more ground across time zones and cultures and can reach and support more of our clients.”

Customer Success Manager, Asia Hundley agrees, “having teams spread across the world means they can step in and speak to a client or local partner when their timezone is more favorable.” 

Though they both add coordinating meetings can sometimes be a challenge.

“Sometimes time zones are tough for meetings (although it’s just something to get used to),” Asia says. 

For our co-founder Tim Burgess, “It’s complicated.”

On the one hand, he says it would be easier to be in the same time zone to utilize “instant communication” and host regular meetups. 

“I’d love to be able to spend time in real life with people over a meal and just chat,” he says. 

But on the other hand, he sees a host of benefits to the business.

“It means we can provide a service in different places. For example, it would be very hard to do our service if everyone was in Australia. And it would be very challenging for me and my family if we had to live somewhere else just because that was where the clients are,” he says. 

“I love being able to work with people from different countries and learn about different cultures and ways of working and thinking. I love that people (like me) can work in an international environment without having to move to a different country.”

It also means there is more possibility to design your workday unconventionally. 

“I love having large chunks of my day free for deep, focussed work,” Tim says. “I’ve appreciated this since very early on in our business that clients didn’t email me during the day because they were asleep. So my inbox in the morning was my inbox for the day (until the Europeans came online in my evening).”

And having teams across time zones means there are multiple people to work on problems at various times. 

“Many times I’ve woken up to find that a problem was already solved by a teammate on the other side of the world. And that is a huge benefit!”

How to work well across timezones

While there are challenges to working across time zones, there are ways to work around them and make working remotely more enjoyable. 

As Anna mentioned above, asynchronous communication can be an asset to collaboration, especially as documentation is in-built into the communication style. 

At Shield, we use several different methods and apps to help online collaboration, and I recommend you try a few before settling on what works. Apps like Slack act as team notice boards and connection points, and countless others formalize processes, track workflows, and store information. 

Despite much of our work happening asynchronously, we still try to prioritize meeting over Zoom regularly. Whether that be weekly team meetings, one-on-ones with managers, or our monthly All Hands calls. 

With our flexible work policy, many of our teammates choose to structure their days outside of the traditional 9-5 timeframe (even if it is just shifted an hour or two forward or back). This means most of our team can be more flexible with meeting times. However, some timezone combinations make meeting incredibly difficult. In these cases, Zoom calls are less frequent, and managers may split sessions up and record them for those who can’t make it. They may utilize video recorded messages to walk through training or idea generation or purposely plan the workweek around early mornings or late nights. 

But above all these practical tips, I would say one of the biggest reasons Shield thrives in a global team is our value system, particularly our value “Own It.” Our values are fundamental to the Shield team and make up a significant portion of our hiring process. Having the value, ‘Own It’ means our team values autonomy, independence, and taking ownership of our part. Knowing every team member shares this means we can trust that our collaboration, projects, and service work even when we can’t be together physically.  

 

 

— Bree Caggiati

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