10 Tips for Dealing with a Remote Team and Different Time Zones

Remote team

The age of globalization has brought with it incredible benefits especially in project management. Today you can comfortably run your remote database administration business from Nederland, Colorado while you have remote employees in Hong Kong, Philippines and India.

With internet connectivity and other supporting technology, dealing with a remote team spread across multiple time zones is now possible. However, you have to appreciate the downside; this is not your usual 9-5 gig that you are used to.

As a team manager it is a frustrating experience when you can’t communicate effectively due to time zone limitations. Problem solving also becomes an issue over varying time zones because the client wants prompt resolution which is almost impossible.

A remote team is a broad word because it can encompass a geographically dispersed group of members across time zones or a partnership with a third party such as a client or company to complete your project. Whatever the case, there is no denying that myriad challenges arise especially as regards the issue of varying time zones.

New Set of Project Management Bottlenecks

Proliferation of virtual teams has also brought the problem of collaboration which is a unique challenge that traditional management cannot resolve.

In the U.S. alone the Census Bureau Report on Home-Based Workers shows over 60% growth in this form of work from 2012. This is a trend that is replicated all over the world meaning you are more likely to be facing these unique challenges when handling your remote teams.

A study by PI Worldwide posits that most of the challenges you will be facing will revolve around:

  1. Lack of a sense of purpose across the virtual teams
  2. Over reliance on electronic communication thus losing the human touch
  3. Less trust and cohesion in the different teams as there is no rapport between members.
  4. Less satisfaction with the team experience across the board.

The issue is thus not only about time to connect but the greater impact this will have on the overall productivity. For instance, communication on issues such as program code, schedules, outcome of meetings, strategy plans requires constant communication and interaction. This is not possible across these varying time zones.

Another issue according to Paul Endress arises where power asymmetries cause the weaker members in the team to synchronize their time-related activities to the stronger ones. Such power-play leads to team dysfunction.

Managing Your Remote Team Successfully

According to research 90% of your problems in managing a remote team and different time zones will be people-related. The rest 10% will be technology issues. Working smart in this case dictates that you start with people issues before handling technology bottlenecks. Here are some ideas to help you in that regard:

1. Hire Right

You have to plan well to avoid failure. In this case you have to be very cautious when hiring your remote team members. Make sure to hire the right people with passion and skills to work in the team. By creating a standard on-boarding process for educating new employees you will be creating a solid workforce that will start working as soon as they hit the ground.

2. Set Up a Communication Strategy

This is the holy grail of working remotely. It involves choosing the right communication channel and delineating what needs to be communicated. Consistent meetings according to Will Yakowicz enable your group to do more constructive work across the time zones.

The action plan must also include a meeting structure, what is needed, purpose and format to be used be it teleconferencing, chat or video conferencing.

3. Pick a System of Overlapping Times for Communication in Different Time Zones

To beat the time zone conundrum you just need to organize a system where everyone is available at the time of communication. It is possible to even get long periods where such a meeting can be held and where possible you need to capitalize on this available opportunity to hold a longer engagement.

4. Craft a Decision Making Process

Every member in the team must be aware of the structure to use in making a decision. This makes it easier to reach consensus on related projects faster and in a systematic way. An escalation path should also be created where there sticking issues delaying decision making.

5. Avoid the 24/7 Working Schedule

It is often cited as one of the benefits of virtual technology but practically this is impossible. If you have teams across different time zones it is not logical to manage your team around the clock. According to Donna Flynn in an article in the Harvard Business Review you need to share responsibility across the board by rotating time schedules such that no one has to stay up all night every week waiting for a meeting.

6. Encourage Informal Talk

It is true you are running a remote team but humans are social animals and they need to rejuvenate the camaraderie they enjoyed in traditional offices. Building relationships within your team creates trust among your team members making them feel more motivated.

7. Rotate the Team

Someone who has been in London for 2 years will always complain about the weather especially if they come from the sunny Miami. To motivate the members it is advisable to keep rotating the members in different areas as it also gives them more exposure to different environments and working situations. This also applies to the meeting times. It is prudent to rotate the time when you have meetings to be fair to everyone.

8. Try Different Collaboration Tools

With technology blooming you have to leverage as many collaboration tools as possible. From Google Drive, Spark, Murally, DropBox, Skype and Google+ among others you need to be constantly on the lookout for more flexible tools which can be customized to meet you unique needs. There is also custom team and project management software like ClientSpot which can help you make managing remote teams easy.

9. Get Together Regularly

There is something no collaboration technology can replace and that is physical togetherness. As a project manager where possible you should work out a strategy of having all members in one room for retreats or conferences once in a while. Bonding activities are available across the globe and you can choose the most convenient locations from the thousands available.

10. Track Productivity

This is one of the most vexing aspects of a remote team. Well, you have to implement systems which help to systemize every aspect of the virtual office. More importantly, track work output throughout the team by first communicating key performance indicators (KPIs). Once everyone on the team is clear on what is expected from them ensure that you monitor and track everything to ensure every team member does their part. Today this is less arduous considering the different software available.

Final Word

There are many other factors to consider including cultural sensitivity within the team. However, it all boils down to leveraging virtual relationships within the team and also investing in face to face meeting to enhance cohesion. You also have to be fair to every member in the team by balancing their schedules and stays in particular locations.

As a project manager you don’t have to stay up all night to manage your virtual team; you just need a good plan that will keep everyone happy and productive and that includes you.

Image: Marissa Anderson