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Managing Different Time Zones: Inclusive Collaboration Methods

Remote
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Cross-Functional Collaboration

19 May, 2022

Jonathan Belcher
Jonathan Belcher

Engineering Manager - Patient Experience at Curative

Jonathan Belcher, Engineering Manager at Curative, shares an unknown side of synchronous communication tools and advises managers on how to handle a team that’s spread across the globe.

The Pitfall of Synchronous Communication

Slack messaging, Microsoft Teams, and any similar tools are considered synchronous. This means that the exchange of messages takes place in real-time. While synchronous communication is a good way to quickly hash out problems, its fleeting nature can lead to a loss of information. Important things can very easily fall through the cracks.

I've been working remotely for seven years and have had colleagues from all around the world. One of my teams had people from Indonesia, India, South Africa, Ireland, East Coast, West Coast, and New Zealand. We housed almost all the time zones, and our meetings could only hold half the team due to the time difference. So while half of the team was discussing and making decisions, the other half was sound asleep. The people who missed a meeting were uninformed of its outcomes, so they failed to follow the new way of doing things.

I’d like to point out that sharing a video of a meeting is not a solution. No one is going to watch a video of a meeting. If you include the transcripts of the meeting, no one is going to read the transcripts! People hate watching videos and they hate reading long-form text even more.

Ultimately, when you have a remote team that's spread across the world, and you're making decisions synchronously, it creates an atmosphere where people are excluded.

Moving the Communication to Asynchronous Platforms

I learned several lessons very quickly, which I'm eager to share, because we live in a remote-first world now and most managers are dealing with the same challenges that I experienced many years ago.

Whenever there are important things happening in a meeting or a Slack thread, ensure that the main points will be stored in a more durable and convenient place. Take all the information that is discussed, distill it into a concise document, and post it in a medium where all the relevant people can get notified to read it.

In my previous role, we used a tool called P2. P2 is like a blogging platform that allows teams to share information, discuss, and collaborate. Every project and team had a separate blog. Everyone read the blogs that were relevant to them. People could also mention other individuals by tagging. Most importantly, all the text was very searchable.

Currently, my team uses Notion. We write up documents where we detail all the decisions that have been made synchronously. We add mentions to whoever needs to see the documents. It's durable and searchable.

As a manager, it's your responsibility to ensure that your team members are in the loop about what's going on. If you have a meeting that is partially attended, you need to take the decisions that were made and convert them into a consumable format for everyone's access. Then, those individuals can review the document and, if needed, follow up with any items.

Everyone in Your Team Needs to Be Involved

  • Meetings shouldn't be the primary platform for important decision-making; use meetings mainly as a way to build team cohesion.
  • Using asynchronous platforms for decision-making enables the inclusion of everyone across all time zones. When you have an East Coast conversation with someone on a Slack channel, you can't expect your teammates from Taiwan to come online, check all the channels, and read all the conversations. It's just not going to happen.
  • Critical information should be durable, concise, and searchable. I had great experiences using P2 and Notion. Both tools are fantastic for asynchronous communication.
  • It's always better to over-communicate than under-communicate. When in doubt, share the knowledge.

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