Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video Time zone dilemma, part of Managing International Projects.
- When my daughter traveled overseas for the first time, like any parent, I was a little worried. As she stepped out of the safety of our home and into the world, I made her promise that she would call, a lot. Managing an international project is a little bit like this. As much as you would like to be there 24/7 to make sure everything is okay, it just isn't practical. So, how can you maintain visibility when working across different time zones, so that stakeholders remain engaged? The key lies in communication.
You need to understand what needs to be communicated, to whom, when, and under what circumstances. Here are some ideas on how you can achieve this. First, set expectations. Decide what you want and need from your team members, in terms of the mode, detail, and timing of communication. And ask them what they want and need from you. Find out the best time of day to communicate with them. Understand their schedules, and understand their personalities.
With so many technology options, a lot of us have different habits for being in touch with each other. Consider sharing your preferences, and asking your remote team members what communication tools they prefer. Knowing if an email, text, or phone call is preferred, and what you should do if something needs immediate attention, helps you and your remote employees to be more effective. In short, what are they most comfortable with in different circumstances? Second, think before scheduling.
On an international project, team meetings can be tricky to schedule, as it is virtually impossible to find a time that's going to suit everybody. Somebody will have to get up early or stay up late to make it to team meetings. This is a reality you cannot avoid. So, share the load around the team, and always ensure you take on a fair share of the off hours load yourself. Allow people who are working outside regular hours to communicate from home, rather than the office.
Use meeting time effectively, and plan meeting attendees and agendas carefully and mindfully, so that those who are not required to be present are not in the meetings and wasting their time. Understand which decisions require which individuals, and schedule accordingly. You may also want to ensure that meeting minutes are recorded, to ensure team members who are not present at the meetings can receive information in a consistent format, so they remain up to date. Third, use tools to help you create flexibility for your team members, making things flexible for all.
The use of technology, such as Skype, video conferencing, and desktop sharing software can, in many cases, be a good substitute for face-to-face communication. One word of caution, however. Check in with your team members frequently to ensure these tools are working to communicate effectively. Be aware that project tasks will be done at different times, by different people, and potentially with a different priority. If you need something immediately, ensure that is communicated, specifically and clearly.
When communicating with team members, speak in their local time. No one likes to hear "good morning" when it's just about time for them to go to bed. Create a visual of local times by having a clock for each time zone in which you have a remote employee. Create a master calendar that includes everyone's schedules, and use reminders and alerts to keep team members, and yourself, on track. If team members have trust in each other, communication effectiveness is increased, so building a culture of trust can minimize the impact of the dilemmas of communicating across time zones.
However, there may still be the need to answer a call at 3 AM. Just be thankful it's not your daughter, calling from Berlin to tell you she needs some more money.
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- Communicating across borders
- Bridging time zones and language gaps
- Finding and nurturing management "champions"
- Evaluating your communication style
- Keeping international projects on track