Many timezones, one team - how do you stand up?

We like to keep our product teams small. A mixture of designers, engineers and product people working together to add new features and make improvements to different areas of the app. To help keep each team together, we operate with a morning stand up each day, which is designed to help keep everyone up to date. I’m not going to try to sell you on stand ups - if you haven’t heard of them, or are having difficulty in finding them useful, Jason Yip’s classic paper is a great place to start. Instead, I’d like to write about operating stand ups across multiple timezones.

Be Upstanding

In the last year, my team at FreeAgent has changed to include members in the UK, France and Canada. Clearly we can’t all be at a single morning meeting, since our mornings start 6 hours apart. We kept to our morning stand up time which allowed our French colleague to take part over Skype, an hour after the start of work. This left Harry, the Torontonian, asleep and let the rest of us start our days.

At the end of the UK work day, there were still 5 hours of work for Harry to do, so when he finished his day, he effectively started standing down. He posted the things he’d done in the team chatroom, requested help with any obstacles he had encountered that day and made requests for code reviews.

Closing the loop

This was great for the rest of us, and allowed us to help Harry out during our mornings. We even started talking about his obstacles during our standup. But how was he to know? It is always important that your team feels cohesive, so I started taking notes in our stand ups, and then posting them in our shared chatroom for Harry to read.

We found two immediate benefits:

  1. easy to see what was said by whom, and it gave Harry the same experience we had from his stand down.
  2. for the note taker a much deeper engagement in the process than usual.

These came with two downsides though:

  1. One person writing them up spends a bit of their morning (15 minutes) writing up the stand up (which takes place in a room with a computer for Skype as per usual).
  2. It still isn’t an entirely equal experience.

You can combat the first downside by spreading the note taking around the team. This also means everyone gets to share in the benefit of deeper engagement.

As for the second downside? Well, we like experimenting to make our processes better, so we’re trying something else for this. Stay tuned for the next episode in a few weeks time.

Do you run remote stand ups across multiple timezones? We’d love to hear about your experiences and suggestions!

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About James

James spends his time at FreeAgent reading, writing and occasionally deleting code. He finds joy in helping people, so making the lives of small businesses easier is right up his alley. You can find him frantically amplifying other voices over at @sarcainian.

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