With all the communication tools available today, the problem of geographical distance has effectively been solved once and for all – what in fact remains as a problem is time zones.
Here at EDISON, our clients are scattered all over the globe – from Europe to the US to Australia. And so we've come to realise that it is time zones rather than distance that is the major challenge to overcome. Confusion over meeting times and out-of-sync working hours are just two of the difficulties that can crop up time and time again for the unprepared – but they can all be overcome. We are a company that outsources development engineers and expertise all over the world, which means that we are constantly manoeuvring our way through time zones to keep in touch with both clients and team members alike. This has put us in a unique position where we have had to construe methods and good practices to make sure that all affected members of the communication chain are kept informed of project processes routinely and reliably.
You may have caught last week's blog “How to streamline communication between remote teams” where we revealed some of the processes and tools that we use in order to keep communications flowing between teams all around the globe. This week we want to expand on what we covered there.
We realise that questions over communication when outsourcing to a location like Russia are likely to arise when clients are considering whom they want to hire and from where. So we want to take the time to reassure you that conquering time zone disparities is not only something that we've considered, but have gone at lengths to refine during our lifetime as a company. So here are our top 5 communication hacks that we use routinely to overcome time zone differences.
Use a shared calendar
Whether it involves communicating with the end client or with remote teams, a shared calendar is essential to make sure everyone is on the same page as to when things are happening. Making use of cloud-based apps is of course one sure fire way of ensuring that everyone can see when the big events are, and there are many to choose from. Check out Kalendi or UpTo for some innovative takes on what a shared calendar can help you achieve.
However, for ease and simplicity, you can't go far wrong with Google Calendar. The great advantages of this are that it's free, many people already use it and are familiar with it, and each user sees each event in their own time zone. It's a simple hack, but one that eliminates so much confusion right from the outset.
Keep all communications in one time zone
Consistency is always key to communications across time zones. And so what we like to do is decide on a time zone with our clients from the word go – usually theirs – and stick to it. This means that all meetings that are scheduled and any other references that are made to time will always refer to the same time zone, which results in confusion being eliminated from all communications. When dealing with remote teams, it's also important that a time zone is decided upon and stuck to. Again, we like to take the initiative here and choose our colleague's time zone. This, again, is another simple hack, but very important for meetings to always be attended by everyone, everywhere.
Make efficient use of asynchronous communications
In our last blog, we sang the praises of Slack as being one of the best and most versatile instant messenger (IM) applications available to teams whether working remotely or otherwise. Other IMs are available of course – HipChat is another very good and popular one, but again is best for synchronous communications when each member of a conversation is live and direct.
But, just as important for remote teams and clients is efficient asynchronous communication pathways – and it has to said that good old-fashioned email works wonders in this department. With email, users have the time to read and respond when convenient. One great email hack that should not be overlooked, however, is the Cc (carbon copy) feature. Every time you send an email to a client or a remote team member, Cc the rest of the team in. This way you avoid having to repeat yourself or worry that not everyone is up to speed. Transparency is always important for building great teams as well – and if someone is not immediately available, another team member can easily take up the thread and keep communications flowing.
Don't be afraid to alter working hours
Asynchronous communication is important and very convenient, but, at the end of the day, there are times when everyone involved in a project is going to have to get together for some live chat. When working with geographically distant teams, there is always going to be the trouble with harmonising working hours. Of course, there will always be a few hours of crossover – but this isn't always enough. At times, therefore, this means that once or maybe twice a week it is necessary for a team to shift working hours to accommodate more time spent working with a distant client or team. In the globalised world this is a necessity, and something that our Project Managers (PMs) especially make time for during the week to ensure that there is always adequate time set aside for synchronous communication with our valued clients.
Wikis are great tools to overcome time zone discrepancies, especially between remote teams. Sometimes it can be the case where in order for one team member to progress with a certain iteration they just need quick access to a piece of information – but this information is in the hands of someone hundreds or thousands of miles away who will be asleep for at least the next six hours.
Wikis hold the solution. Within a wiki, key documents that contain procedure guidelines and answers to common questions can all be kept safely in the cloud and accessible to any team member, anywhere and at any time. A good app that we recommend in this regard is Confluence, which is great for this sort of communication across time zones. Others are Trello and also Google Drive – so long as important documents are accessible to all members around the clock, it doesn't matter which clock each team member uses.