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Managing Timezone Differences With Distributed Agile Teams

Managing Timezone Differences With Distributed Agile Teams

10am CET … 4am EST … 2am MST

 

This was the timespan for the most recent PI (Planning Interval) event for the Agile Hive team in April of this year. As was experienced firsthand, managing timezone differences within distributed Agile teams presents unique challenges and opportunities for collaboration, communication, and productivity.

Operating across different geographical locations necessitates the need for effective management strategies to overcome differences in timezones like the example above. In today’s article, we will explore the significance of managing timezone differences in distributed Agile teams and examine a handful of approaches to mitigate associated challenges.

 

Honest and Upfront

As with many aspects of life, most times it’s just best to get the realities of a situation out in the open at the very start as it’s the best way to plan moving forward. Such is the case with team dynamics and workflow as they relate to a distributed team or teams and the effect of timezones.

From the get-go, there can be a disruption of synchronous communication, making it challenging for team members to most effectively conduct meetings, brainstorming sessions, or decision-making processes. Additionally, overlapping work hours may be limited, leading to delays in feedback exchange and task handoffs, thereby affecting project timelines and overall productivity.

The important first step is to be honest and upfront with everyone about the challenges you’ll be facing, and that while it may not be perfect, it’s a work in progress and you’ll all get through it together. The classic Agile mantra of “inspect and adapt” comes to mind.

 

Strategies

So three timezones (or more!), how does an organization not only cope but succeed under these circumstances in delivering incredible products and services while keeping their employees happy, feeling supported, and engaged? While there’s no silver bullet, we would like to offer a few suggestions.

 

Create Clear Channels of Communication

It may be stating the obvious, but if you’re working in geographically dispersed locations in addition to different timezones, communication isn’t going to be as simple as crossing paths on the way to the coffee machine. 

Asynchronous communication, or communication that doesn’t happen simultaneously, will be the norm and you’ll want to take the time to research and make the investment in the right communication tools (email, project management, team messaging, etc.). This will allow in-team and across-team communications and the ability to share updates without the constraint of real-time interaction. 

To toot our own horn for a moment, Agile Hive can be that “single source of truth” when managing the complexities, cross-team dependencies, and measurement of the organization’s shared efforts of development and delivering exceptional value as the final result.

The next step will be ensuring there is at least some overlap in the working hours of your teams. This certainly doesn’t need to be a daily occurrence, but for meetings (within and across teams), critical issues, or even brainstorming sessions, overlapping work hours when needed is important for synchronous communication.

Finally, as we alluded to a moment ago, be transparent. Use shared calendars where team members can post their availability, work progress, and any potential conflicts.

 

Be Agile and Adapt Those Agile Practices

With standard Agile practices such as daily stand-ups, sprints or PI (Planning Interval) planning, and retrospectives, some adjustments can be made.

For the dailies, when possible, conduct dailies at times convenient for all team members, with consideration of their respective timezones. Take it to the next level by rotating those meeting times to ensure an honest level of fairness and inclusivity, distributing or rotating any burden that comes with those middle-of-the-night or early-morning syncs.

In regards to PI’s and retro’s, ensure that these are planned well in advance giving an extended heads-up to all those who will be involved. As best as possible, work to accommodate team availabilities, and for those unable to attend, record sessions while also offering and encouraging staff to share their input using one of the defined asynchronous tools.

Last but certainly not least, implement timeboxing for meetings and other collaborative sessions. This will help to maximize productivity, keep the focus, and simultaneously respect the time constraints as team members have committed to be there and to be present in the work taking place.

 

Technology Is A Beautiful Thing

Technology and team tools have taken dramatic leaps since 2020, when you might recall a certain event that changed the way the majority of us work. 

Many of those developments have occurred with collaboration platforms and tools like Confluence, Jira, Microsoft Teams, Google Workspace, Slack, ZOHO – the list goes on. Today’s collaboration tools are equipped with features designed specifically for distributed teams. This includes timezone-aware scheduling, virtual whiteboards, and integrated communication tools.

Additionally, something as simple as a timezone converter will help to easily coordinate meetings and encourage team members to be more aware of the localities and time constraints of their teammates around the globe.

 

Timezone conversion toolbar

 

Be Flexible, Be Empathetic, and Encourage Others To Do So

The common phrase, “roll with the punches” comes to mind. In this brave new world in which we’ve found ourselves working from all corners of the globe, a key element for success is the ability to remain flexible and empathetic.

Empowering teammates to establish flexible working hours that align with their timezone constraints and as well as their personal needs, helps everyone focus more on outcomes versus rigid schedules. Hand in hand with that should be encouraging a high level of respect for everyone’s working hours and personal time. Only when absolutely necessary, should meetings be scheduled outside of agreed-upon overlap hours.

 

Bringing It Home

While not a walk in the park, managing timezone differences within distributed Agile teams is not only possible nowadays, it can also be practical and purposeful. Requiring a combination of effective communication, adaptability, and technological support, the strategies we’ve outlined above help foster a culture of collaboration and empathy.

Organizations can overcome the challenges posed by geographical distance and leverage the full potential of their distributed teams. You and your organization can embrace the diversity and flexibility inherent in distributed Agile environments, and turn timezone differences into opportunities for innovation and growth.

We offer Agile Hive as one of those technologies making it all possible. To learn more, feel free to reach out and schedule a discussion or a demo with one of our team.

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Joshua Brock

English content and technical writer, SPC

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