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Managing Teams Across Broad Time Zones

Remote
Internal Communication

21 March, 2019

Loïc Houssier
Loïc Houssier

VP Engineering at DocuSign

Loïc Houssier, VP of Engineering at DocuSign, describes how his teams from San Francisco, all the way to France and Tel Aviv were able to coexist and work together on projects amidst the many time zone differences and challenges that were presented.

Problem

When traversing different time zones, finding a time suitable for everyone is not the only dilemma you will find yourself in. You may also encounter, as have I, issues in delegating responsibility, as well as, building trust between teams who are rarely afforded the opportunity to meet one another.

Actions taken

These are some actions that have been taken to allow these teams to work together with a more heightened ease.

  • We had one team (France) work as the backend and the other one (San Francisco) as the front end team. Basically, you provide the new API and the following day or essentially overnight, in this case, the front end team is implementing their UI component on top of those API's, as well as, providing feedback.
  • We sent one of our engineers for one month from France to the U.S. to work with the team there. This allows to both build relationship and respect. Whiteboard architecture and technical implementation is the best way to understand engineers thinking model and ability. This is something we continued every now and then.
  • We have been using Hipchat/Slack stand-up plugins. It helped not having the stand up tied to a specific schedule within a shared work time.Having the stand-up being async forced the team to be more thoughtful in what they provide as information and helped the content shared to be more concise and targeted.
  • Eventually, we gave a meaningful mission to every site was key. A mission where the whole company needs to rely on them for at least one component, one service. Tel Aviv, for example, is in charge of one appliance that is doing our strongest security operations or France who is the main contributor or our identity framework.

Lessons learned

  • Front-end and back-end teams across time zones can work really well, but you really have to make sure you have the right skill set on both sides. If however, you can manage to have that, the handover is something that works really well.
  • Sending engineers from other teams to work in another country is a cost deficit, but it works and I would highly recommend it. It helps to build a bit of respect, and see how the other culture and country works.
  • Changing meeting time every so often to accommodate different employees across time zones can have a tremendous positive effect. It shows them that you care and are aware of the extra work they are putting in and willing to do something to thank them for their efforts.
  • Providing end of the day updates on a shared channel allows other teams to start their day with the knowledge of what has happened in the work day before them.
  • Giving each site its own powerful and important mission allows them to feel like they add something to the overall story. Be careful of the the pitfall of a centralized (usually historic) dev center and other site being or feeling only as satellite.

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