Working with teams across multiple timezones
Host: Gareth Keane (Ansira)
28th February, 2019
Increasing number of companies now have dispersed teams that work across multiple time zones and/or locations. Smooth communication is difficult enough when everyone’s in the same room, let alone when your colleagues are working from all imaginable corners of the world and schedules for handover cross over for only several hours a day.
When communication in the company is broken and not everyone’s on the same page, operations teams are oftentimes the ones picking up pieces (=stress, overtime, opportunity cost, etc). Having said that, we’re also in a fortunate position to be able to fix many of the issues that lead to broken communication.
How to maximise the overlapping window as well as “dark periods” when there’s no overlap? How to manage the unknown: what is the remote team doing? Are they happy, fulfilled, do they know what they’re doing? Did I deliver the right training?
“You have to accept that it’s going to be less than ideal no matter what you do. You won’t get the same as if you were in the same room with everyone”
1. Frequently get everyone together
- Start of the week: all hands to get everyone on the same page. Meeting structure: forward thinking, what to expect this coming week
- End of the week: presentations on what teams have accomplished over the week
- Always aim for video vs calls – let them see your face! (Both for team an 1on1 meetings)
2. Reliable tech solutions
- Invest in:
- TV screen and camera. Audiovisual companies will often spec out your space before you decide to invest in their tools – use that!
- Microphone/speaker, such as:
- Jabra (needs to be passed on)
- Performance mics – good but need to hold correctly and repeat audience questions
- Big Logitech setup doesn’t work, picks up everything in the room
- Software. "Zoom completely transformed the way how we work”
- Awesome Internet connection
- Non-echoey meeting room (consider sound absorbing panels). Even the best equipment will suck in an unsuitable room (glass offices = sound bouncing around)
- Establish digital working environments / telepresence:
- System which is always on in every office, with live feed
- Doesn’t have to be expensive. E.g. “Zoom rooms” – big screen, decent camera, really good noise cancelling speaker/mic, tablet to run it
- You can give a wave to the other team as they get into office every morning
- Beneficial if you want a quick chat with someone in another office – everything’s already set up
- More spontaneous than a ceremonial pre-meeting setup
- £2.5k per setup with Zoom
3. Conscious meetings facilitation
“You cannot forget about it!”
- The person presenting must:
- Be inclusive and face both teams (in the office as well as camera). Never turn your back to the camera!
- Speak clearly into the mic
- Repeat any audience questions
- Constantly think whether everyone can hear
- Share their presentation in advance if possible
- Be careful of certain euphemisms; not everyone will get it as English might not be everyone’s first language
- Option: present from your own desk so that you don’t exclude anyone and remote teams have the same access to you as in-house team
- Meeting facilitator (different person to the one presenting) must:
- Proactively seek out and solve issues during the course of meeting
- Remind everyone presenting of the above guidelines just before the meeting, all the time ^^
- Always be immediately reachable by any remote team member via other means e.g. Slack in case connection drops
- If someone’s mumbling, don’t be afraid to interrupt and tell them to speak up
- Aim to create an atmosphere where it’s normal to stop people if something’s wrong (e.g. bad connection, presenter not speaking up, etc.) – need to push for it and get people to convert
- Make sure people are not talking one over another
- Find a counterpart facilitator/moderator on the remote teams’ side doing all the same as above
- Have local staff, especially the ones that disrespect the above rules, to dial in to the meeting from home so that they see what it feels like to be “on the other side”
4. Effective meeting agenda
- If there’s no good content, people will stop turning up
- Build effective meeting agenda as you go: have a shared running doc with notes so that you don’t forget as the week goes by. Before the meeting, sort the doc into agenda points and add whatever’s missing. If someone’s not in the meeting, they will have access to the notes afterwards.
- Have someone take minutes/notes during meeting
- Follow up with summary/notes/minutes after meeting for those who were not there – fill in all the possible information gaps!
- Note on dialling in to company all-hands outside office hours:
- Different opinions on whether employees should be made to dial in to company all-hands that are outside working hours for them
- If participation is optional, people will dial in “if company gives a crap”, e.g. if you have great working relationship with your staff. There’s always FOMO to rely on too.
- Communication is more successful once working relationships already exist
- Real connections matter even ore when you’re working remotely
- Bring everyone together, e.g. annual company get-together once a year: week of strategy including breakout time, travelling together.
- “Cannot even describe what the ROI is – yes it’s expensive, but ROI is incredible”
- “The best money spent for company overall”
- “Long term investment; only people with short-term mindset don’t see how valuable it can be”
- Mindset and encouragement for that must consistently come from senior leadership team
- As a manager – go out to meet different teams formally and informally
- Make sure everyone spends some time in each other’s offices
- Force team leads to work from each other’s offices so they could understand one another’s point of view
- After doing all of the above, telepresence will become a lot easier
- When all team is together, important to talk about how different we are and put emphasis on making sure that everyone understand that cultural differences exist and how they impact the way we work with each other
- After the annual company meeting: the momentum lasts for ~3 months, then you have to continuously reinforce it via constant effort and awareness
- Ask. We don’t ask enough. How do your colleagues across the pond like to work? How do they like to communicate? How do they like to have these calls? How do you like to write these emails? Short and sharp, or…what’s your preferred way? We assume so many things; it’s easier to just ask.
- “As operations managers we don’t mind bugging people because we’re immune to ‘being intrusive’”
- How do you encourage your team to do the same and create environment where asking questions, instead of assuming, is the norm?
- If you don’t like something you have to tell it because how else will anyone realise?
- Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity thoughtlessness” à people always assume the worst in each other because they don’t really think where they’re coming from
- Need to be really conscious of what you write/how it expresses your feelings. E.g. straightforwardness may and will be misinterpreted; everyone takes in the same information differently.
- “You cannot make someone feel a particular way. They choose how they want to react to what you said. It’s their choice.”
- When communicating with remote colleague, you always have less context about their circumstances
- E.g. maybe they have a very hierarchical culture in their office
- Even if you try to explain cultural differences, it will not really matter unless the person had a chance to meet that culture themselves. There has to be a personal relationship.
- Business leaders need to be aware and lead by example. When a leader is faced with cultural difference and react in a certain way, that translates to the rest of the team and gives everyone else the same permission. If the reaction is good, it trickles down the organisation and everyone else works better.
- Create prompts: actual physical clocks to hand on walls to serve as a reminder for everyone and for quick reference points
- Telepresence also helps
- Create urgency frameworks: Email -> Slack -> Call -> Meeting.
- Decide what’s communicated via email, Slack, call or in person meeting; have everyone in the company follow these guidelines. E.g. all handovers to happen by email, anything more urgent = Slack
- If there’s no urgency framework, then everything is a priority = they’ll come to you for anything.
- Don’t burden your team with unread messages first thing in the morning / don’t bury them under avalanche of little things that aren’t really urgent
- On some level, working remotely simplifies things because you have to really follow the processes that are established for certain situations (e.g. escalation, new feature suggestions, etc)
- Create boundaries for yourself and your teams
- Allocate your own time carefully
- Are your teams empowered enough to deal with their workload?
- Do you have people locally who can be your representatives on the ground unless the walls are coming in?
- Don’t make yourself available 24/7. It’s all about the expectation/precedent you set.
- Consider not having work related apps on your phone; team will know to only contact you if something’s on fire. When you don’t reply to a message quick enough, people will start solving their own problems.
- Let go
- If you’re bombarded 24/7 from teams all around the world…you have a huge problem. It’s no longer communication issue; it’s training, ownership and trust issue.
- You have to move into the mode of leading people. Your job is to lead/coach people and get the best out of them.
CULTURAL AWARENESS & EQ
When we live/work somewhere, we think that this is the only place that exists.
1. Consciously create working relationships:
2. Asking all the questions:
3. Cultural miscommunication:
4. Don’t forget about other teams:
Busy is the new stupid; stop busy-bragging"
1. Effective communication
2. Keep your sanity
TOOLS / BOOKS
Zoom – video conferencing
Donut – app to pair people together and have some face time, helps onboarding too
Sneek – human contact for remote teams
High Output Management by Andrew Grove – management 101. Explains philosophy of things that we might take for granted.
by Erin Meyer – if you’re working with international teams, it’s a must read. Covers the entire globe; any culture you might face. How to deal with time, how everyone perceives that, helps to distinguish whether it’s a cultural thing vs personal/individual.