Symptoms of Timezone Trauma
One of the first things to consider when outsourcing a project to a business that is in different geography is to consider the topic upfront and decide on the approach for handling the timezone differences. Often people don’t pay enough attention to this key element and consider that as there is some overlap that will be sufficient and dive straight into executing the project which can lead to bigger issues in the longer term. This is definitely a case for “more haste, less speed” to prevent an issue becoming a timezone trauma.
What are the immediate problems with timezone differences:
- Missed meetings
- Rushed meetings
- Missed participants at meetings
- Lack of information at the right time
This is then followed by trauma of:
- Tired staff working late or starting early
- Stress and tension between team members
- Missed deliverables
- Missing or incorrect features or interpretation of requirements
So how do you avoid the build up of these items an resulting trauma?
The answer is by taking active steps to address these before they happen, observe issues as they happen and continually change and improve to keep communication friction free and flowing.
TImezone considerations need to be analysed up front before even engaging a supplier:
- What teams will be engaged on the project, and what timezones are they in?
- How much overlap per day will be required?
- Can either team alter their working pattern to improve overlap?
- Do daily meetings need to be scheduled for optimal information flow?
- At the start of the project does it need increased overlap by some or all of the team?
- Are there any specific recommendations or ideas from either party that should be considered at the start?
- Are there any cultural practices or national holidays that need to be checked/considered for?
Having some tools prepared and available for the teams can also make life easier, these could include:
- An online time zone tool to help plan meetings at optimal times (rather than the middle of the night) for all parties, such as
- Desktop PC software to show several world time clocks,
- Tools for asynchronous communication, where a message can be sent and a reply sent back at a time convenient for the recipient
- Tools for synchronous communication, where the tool shows an online presence indicator
Guidelines and Best Practice
It is a good idea to capture and enshrine best practice, having a written point of reference is a useful baseline for everyone. A wiki, intranet, document or even a widely circulated email with the key principles are worth sharing.
- Agree on use of 12 or 24 hour clock convention.
- Agree on a clear way to write down dates,1 Feb 2020 is clearer than 1/2/20 or is it 2/1/20?
Non Working Days and Holidays
- Sharing national holidays as a list with all parties.
- Adding the national holidays (for all parties) to a shared calendar, either to formally block them out as non-working days or just to be culturally aware.
- Ask team members to use “out of office” auto-replies on emails, to make it clear when they are not working or available.
Working Hours and Out of Hours
- Ask everyone to keep their online messaging presence up to date and reflect if they are available for work, ie ensure they go offline if they are not working.
- Ask people to share their timezone and working pattern on their online status e.g. “GMT 9am-5pm”.
- Understand what is the cultural and regional norms for breaks, late lunches or working breakfasts.
- Use voicemail on phones out of hours.
- Have a clear documented way to handle out of hours calls/emails/request and urgent issues.
- Have an approach to working hours that can be flexible, so if people work early or late for meetings they can adjust their working hours.
- Ensure any key positions have adequate formal cover if it needs more than a normal business hour, possibly shifts, a rota system, or callout process.
Communicate Who The Team Are
- Create an organisation chart for each team and share. Consider adding photos to help recognition on video calls.
- Maintain or swap a full list of contact details, emails, name, role, message and working hours.
- Remember to update and reshare the information if it changes.
- Define an expectation of how much warning should be given for a meeting. 12 hours notice will typically cause problems for a dispersed team, whereas 24 hours is more amenable.
- Follow normal good meeting practice – set out an agenda, share any materials in advance, record any key decisions, share the minutes quickly after the meeting. If you are going to digitally record an audio or video meeting then ensure all participants are aware of this and agree to participate. Have clear roles on who will lead the meeting, write minutes, etc and possibly share or rotate these roles to share the work evenly.
- Share the inconvenience – alternate meetings times so one party is not always inconvenienced.
Monitor and Adjust
As the project progresses it is important to act on any issues that come up, and proactively seek out feedback on ideas and comments on how the current process is working. Once things become established they get harder to change so the early few weeks are a critical time to adjust and fine tune the ways of working.
Be considerate when communicating
Final Word on Avoiding Time zone Trauma
In conclusion, avoid time zone trauma by getting your global project off to a good start you should think about time zone considerations and take active steps to reduce any potential problems and improve communication. Sharing tools and best practice can help manage peoples expectation and reduce friction between teams, leading to a more comfortable way of working. And by going further than just a successful project it is a great opportunity to learn more about people, countries and culture and widen everyone’s horizon.