Netguru has clients scattered across the globe, from Singapore to the United States. Our team members also travel a lot, so we're constantly navigating through time zones to communicate with clients and co-workers. This leaves us uniquely situated to help you figure out how to best communicate with team members located in a different time zone.
No matter where your team members are, they need to be to updated regarding every project. At netguru, we love to use JIRA as our default project management tool. When working across time zones, it's important to keep JIRA topped with tasks, so that nobody is ever in a situation where they don't know what they're supposed to be doing. Tasks should be prioritized during each weekly call to avoid that situation.
Create descriptive user stories for each ticket so that your team can quickly see what's happened so far and what needs to be done next (user stories are short blurbs that describe a feature your team is going to be implementing). A perfect user story uses clear language and a bulleted list of requirements, screenshots, videos and links to make sure everybody understands what they are doing. You can take a peak at our previous post that gives a more in-depth explanation on Doing Features and User Stories the Right Way.
During the weekly call about the project, make sure everything is clear and that tasks are understood properly. Put the results of the discussion in JIRA so that everybody can see the project's progress.
Email is a required tool that helps improve communication across time zones, as users can read and respond when convenient. Using email is indispensable for helping the project flow smoothly.
The best way to navigate time zones using email is to make your CC box your best friend. Set up groups in email for your project, and each time you send an email, cc: the appropriate groups of people. That way, you never have to repeat yourself and you'll always have the right people in your email chain. In addition, if a project manager or other email recipient is not immediately available, using CC ensures that others on the team can get messages and step in to help. If you plan to email often, make sure to teach your group members how to use filters so that they don't get overwhelmed with messages, and always reserve the "high priority" button for messages that really need to be answered immediately.
Another great tool we often use is Confluence. It contains documentation that outlines Netguru procedures and quick solutions to common issues encountered while working on a project. Confluence is invaluable for communication across time zones. If team members are awake at times that project managers and the rest of the coworkers are fast asleep, they can use Confluence to get answers to some of the frequently asked questions and proceed with the project rather than waiting until they can talk to the PM. The golden rule here is: 'after receiving a clue, you can update the Conflu webpage!'. You'll also find more tips on sharing knowledge across the redistributed team on our blog.
In addition to using user stories, email and internal wikis, you'll also need to talk to your team members in person on a regular basis. When you set up weekly calls or other meetings, make sure you label your time zone so that users can easily figure out their corresponding time. Have your team members use a time zone converter app and mark the call in Google Calendar so that everybody is ready to meet at the right time.
Time zone differences can be difficult to navigate, but nothing beats having a worldwide team full of quality developers. If you take advantage of technology, there's no reason you can't communicate effectively with your team, no matter where they are located.
For more hacks on managing redistributed teams, read our previous post summarizing what we’ve discovered in the last few years about working with teams across many borders.