Distributed Teams: …and the Clock is a Hound Dog

So you’re a nice guy – right? And you want to find good time for a recurring meeting with your team. In my previous post I had a tip on how to find any possible sweet spots when the team could meet. This time around it should be easier? We just need to find a single bona fide rendezvous during office hours. Surprise (not), it’s harder than you might think.

Let’s first define the traits of a “normal” distributed team.

  • a decently sized team, say around seven
  • normal spread of seniors and juniors
  • only two offices – Stockholm and London – which is only one hour time difference.

That’s a fairly easy set up, right? I’m just going to point to a couple of possible snags. We have seniors in this mix. That probably means some might be parents. And of course remember the usual blend of culture and late mornings. And we do want the team that is awake and ready to go.

Chopping up that clock

Given that I think and live in CET-land (GMT+1) I’ll use that as the base for the clock. First, let us set the frame for the “office hours”. It is probably something like 8:00 to 16:00 (4 pm), see a) in the figure below. We could argue that 17:00 (5 pm) would be a more decent finish time, but then again most companies within high-tech run flexible hours. The latter is especially true if it’s a startup. You probably prefer for people to kick in and save the day, however late it might be.  So the team mixes the times for coming and going.

As luck would have it, some devs in your crew are singles. This means late mornings and our day start at around 09:00 (CET), see b). But then again the same is likely in the UK, hence add another hour for the time zone difference, see c). We’re now at 10:00 (CET).

Lunch, we don’t want to meet during lunch. Swedes wander off to find carbon-hydrates at around mid day, but there is problem lurking here.  It’s good example of what I would call a “cultural time zone difference“. To my surprise I found that the English would eat starting their 1 PM (14:00 CET), see e). Nothing wrong with that, but it does make the hour in between the lunch periods less useful. Do you want to risk a late lunch in Sweden to collide with hungry English waiting for the meeting to start?

The Hound Dog ClockFigure: The Hound Dog Clock for the team (GMT+1).
a) sleep or just not in the office 
b) late morning
c) late in the UK too
d) SE off to lunch
e) oops cultural gap, UK off to their lunch
f) dodgy green (see more below)
Result: Only one decent green period left.

That leaves one green period between c) and d) and of course f). Just one other problem though, remember I wrote we had a mix of seniors and juniors. Some of the senior devs need to pick up their kids from the day care center. That probably means they need to leave at around 16:00 (4 pm CET).

Except, one of them has a long commute, like an hour. Which means that for half of the week this dev needs to leave at 15:00 (but he/she does get in real early, like 07:00 when nobody else is around *).

Finally

Even though this scenario did not have very strange constraints, we still landed with only one decent green period during the day, 10:00-12:00 CET and a possibly false green late in the afternoon. That’s not much.

You would have to look at your team and your setup to see which possible greens you have. Understand your people, tweak expectations and agree on some compromise, that should get you some more green.

/Björn

* Disclaimer: I’m the proud father of three and I’ve tried to evenly split the picking up/leaving kids through the years with my wife. It ain’t easy.

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3 Responses to “Distributed Teams: …and the Clock is a Hound Dog”

  1. Distributed Teams: Wut “red” day!? | Tumblelight Says:

    [...] and other strands of thought by Björn Granvik « Distributed Teams: …and the Clock is a Hound Dog [...]

  2. Hein Says:

    Hej Björn,

    Could you please extend the concept with a developers team in say Pune or Manila? :-)

    How glocal can we be right?

    • Björn Granvik Says:

      Hi Hein,

      There are so many facets :)

      On the subject of time zones I’ve found it easier to work with people in the 6 (e.g. Pune) or 12 hour diff range (Manila) than say in the 9 hour range (e.g. California). The 6 hour range does have at least some overlap in office hours. That matters a lot.

      The 12 diff works if someone is willing to stay up late once per week. This works for me since it doesn’t land in dinner time. But of course it’s more cumbersome than the 6 hour diff…

      Example: Brazil has been on the rise as an IT country (and outsourcing) for several years now. One of the strong arguments for this is the time zone overlap as seen from the US. India lands on the 9/10 difference (again from an US point of view).

      But as I wrote, there are many other things to consider – cultural, organizational and not only with teams in Pune/Manila. I hope to covers some of these facets in future blog posts.

      Btw, I had an outstanding experience with one guy in Manila (on his US work shift, read his night) when he fixed my virtual Windows setup running on my Mac and also hooked up to the server (standing in a small town in north of Sweden). I’ll I had to do was sit back and enjoy the mouse moving automagically across time zones and cities. My point: Beware Sweden. The world is certainly catching up.

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