Running Engineering Teams Across Different Time Zones

Janssen Choong

VP Engineering at Generation Esports



The way we do business today has drastically changed over the years and distributed teams are becoming the new norm. With talent dispersed across different time zones, one of the emerging challenges is how to build and manage engineering teams across different time zones while allowing them to grow and make product progress. Remote work brings in tons of benefits but requires a great deal of communication, some additional time and far more deliberation. Finally, there should be an organizational structure in place that can brace this type of work.

Actions taken

There are three different time zones situations -- a fully remote team, a hub and a mixed model (a few remote people in addition to a hub) -- each being different and requiring a different approach.

Fully remote teams are the easiest to manage. Since everyone is remote, there should be one process everyone should stick to. A lot of communication, particularly a lot of synch related standups is needed, especially if you are in multiple time zones. When you are only three to four hours apart you should set up co-hours, stick to them and be generally available. Everything should be on a common channel to minimize one-on-ones unless something is very specific.

Hubs are more nuanced because of the variety of processes you can choose from. You can choose a single process as in fully distributed teams that work until one hub becomes larger. If hubs are 15, 10 and five people respectively it is harder to enforce the process of documentation. Co-located people will directly interact without documentation and it is always better to structure the process around reality, not vice versa. What helps is to assign one feature per hub instead of dispersing the features across the hubs.

The mixed model includes a hub and a number of remote workers and this is the most challenging model that requires you to understand where the weight is. If you are building on remote capabilities hub team should understand what it means by staying home for a week and working remotely. If the remote part grows enough they may run their own processes and evolve into a hub of its own.

Lessons learned

  • Being able to run remote teams is enormously beneficial to any company. It allows you to hire both faster and easier and significantly reduce costs.
  • You will face challenges that you can get around by specific processes tailored to your specific situation.

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Janssen Choong

VP Engineering at Generation Esports

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