Anyone who works in a globally remote environment will be able to tell you that the number one difficulty of their job is communicating and collaborating across time zones. If your team is spread out across the world, then this becomes even more difficult – sometimes, you can’t even achieve a single time of the day when your entire team is online at the same time.
The team I am leading at the moment has the dubious pleasure of being the second-most spread-out team in the company, with a 17-hour time zone spread between the furthest ends of the team.Tweet
This situation of not having any fully synchronous time with my team has been the case for me on my current team at Automattic and the one I was leading before this. The team I am leading at the moment has the dubious pleasure of being the second-most spread-out team in the company, with a 17-hour time zone spread between the furthest ends of the team. While I can make time to meet with each member of the team personally, and we have great asynchronous communication tools at our disposal, getting everyone together regularly is an important element to fostering a unified and collaborative spirit on the team.
This post outlines two methods I have developed and found effective for running team meetings across disparate time zones – in the spirit of open-source, I am sharing them here. If this is something you need to do for your team, then read on!
The Asynchronous Meeting
At a specified time every second week, a Slack reminder that I had set up would trigger the start of the meeting with a similar reminder firing off 48 hours later that closed the meeting.Tweet
An “asynchronous meeting” may sound like an oxymoron, which is because it is, but it’s the best way to describe this kind of meeting. The way I ran these meetings was to set up a new channel in our company Slack that was dedicated to our team meetings – this was a private channel that only our team could access. At a specified time every second week, a Slack reminder that I had set up would trigger the start of the meeting with a similar reminder firing off 48 hours later that closed the meeting (this was initially a 24-hour period, but it was unanimously decided to lengthen it to 48 hours).
In the period between the opening and closing triggers, everyone on the team would record and post a short video (1-3 minutes long) that includes a quick update about what they’re working on, along with an update on anything they want to share from their personal lives. These videos will be posted as team members come online and, at the same time, we would have discussions in threads about relevant topics for the week. After the meeting, any important discussions would be copied to a permanent location where we can continue to discuss or collaborate, as well as loop in any relevant teams from elsewhere in the company.
This method of meeting requires commitment from everyone on the team to send in their video updates and to actively take part in the discussions. Making the meeting channel private is an important aspect of this, as it makes it easier for people to be honest and open in their video updates.
My team at the time found the format to work well and, in lieu of actually being able to meet together, it was an effective way of regularly seeing what everyone else on the team is up to and having a personal connection with everyone. The most important element in this format is definitely the video updates – those provide a human face for everyone on the team, as opposed to everything happening on text, and allow all members to see their colleagues openly engaging with each other.
The Alternating Meeting Time
The name of this type of meeting may seem like something you’ve seen or done before, but I enhanced it somewhat from the lessons I learned when implementing the asynchronous meeting. The core concept is fairly simple – you alternate your team meeting between two different times, so while you meet every week, each meeting time is only repeated every second week.
The practicality of this option will depend on the time zones of your team members. It works well for my team, as there are seven of us that are neatly split into two meeting cohorts – as team lead, I attend every week’s meeting, while each meeting cohort includes three other team members. This means that every week there is a live meeting of 4 members of the team.
We make sure to keep the meeting to no more than 30-40 minutes and enable captions when recording – this makes catching up on it much easier for everyone else.Tweet
To enhance this time and make it more meaningful for the entire team, I added two additional elements to the process. Firstly, we record the meeting and share it with the entire team afterwards and secondly, everyone who was not able to attend it live shares a video update privately with the rest of the team along the same lines as the video update from the asynchronous meeting structure. We make sure to keep the meeting to no more than 30-40 minutes and enable captions when recording – this makes catching up on it much easier for everyone else.
My team is unanimous in their opinion that this format of team meeting is highly effective and, despite our wide time zone spread, goes a long way to making everyone feel connected to everyone else. Again, it requires a commitment from everyone to share openly and make it valuable, but it really is worth it.
So those are two ways that I have run team meetings across a wide spread of time zones – does that resonate with you? What methods have you tried?