Tools and Tips for Collaboration Across Time Zones

Collaborating on an effort – no matter how large or small – across different time zones can be a daunting task. At Innate, many of our clients and partners are halfway across the world, which makes it extremely important to have strategies and processes in place to help keep a project on track and running smoothly. Clear communication is key. After working on projects with teams that span the globe, there are a few key takeaways I have learned to help bridge the time gap and complete the project with a successful result and experience.

Online Tools

When collaborating across time zones, the Internet is definitely your friend. Take advantage of the technologies out there (many of them free or reasonably priced). This will help you keep track of communications and keep important information organized. All of the tools listed below are beneficial for projects, whether your team is near or far, but they are especially helpful in managing efforts with many team players in many different places.

Basecamp – Project Management Tool

There are countless options available for project management tools. These tools make it easier for everyone working on a project to keep track of what is happening at a high level. It is a repository for all project-related documentation (scopes, scheduled tasks, requirements, and design examples), communication and general activity. Project management tools also serve as a central location for team members to discuss anything project-related. If someone is looking for something specific, they can always do a quick search within the Basecamp application and find what they need (rather than having to comb through emails).

JIRA or Sifter – Bug-Tracking Tool

Additionally, if you are working on technical efforts, another crucial tool to have, in conjunction with a project management tool, is a bug-tracking tool. Examples of these are JIRA or Sifter. With either of these tools, you as a project manager, can assign a task to the appropriate team member with relevant details and you can easily track their progress through to completion. These tools are straightforward and make issue tracking easy to communicate and report on.

GoToMeeting – Online Meeting Tool

With GoToMeeting, multiple people in different places can easily join into a phone call or video session (reducing confusion of calling long distance). You can easily share screens so that all parties are looking at the same thing. This is a wonderful alternative for when it is not realistic to get the teams together face to face. Similar options are Skype, Google Hangouts and join.me.

Worldtime Buddy – Time Converter Tool

Worldtime Buddy is a free and simple online widget that will easily help you determine what time it is anywhere in the world. It is especially helpful when you are responsible for trying to schedule a meeting that involves two or more time zones. Bookmark this site and it will save you a lot of headache trying to coordinate meetings!

Weekly Meetings

Speaking of meetings, we know that everyone’s goal is to keep their clients happy. However, no one wants to spend the wee hours of the morning or late hours of the evening in work meetings. I learned early in the process that having a reoccurring meeting or time slot scheduled each week helps deal with this stress well. Even if the weekly meeting is outside of your normal business hours (to accommodate your clients’ schedule, etc.) it is at least something you can plan your calendar around each week. Once you are on the call, be sure to use the time to discuss anything that cannot be solved over email. Be organized and prepare an agenda or a status document to share will all participants so you can touch on all necessary topics. Another important note: when you are scheduling meetings – be sure to always note the time zone for every applicable country to avoid any confusion.

Reporting

Mentioned above briefly, providing weekly status reports is an effective way for all team members to have a quick reference to turn to if there are any questions about an overall effort. Important things to include on a status report are:

  • The project name with a brief description of the effort
  • Development and production due dates
  • General status of effort (aka: what is being worked on this week? Is everything on schedule?)
  • Any blocking issues or missing requirements, and
  • Budget used/overall budget.

This is just as helpful to project managers as it is to higher level stakeholders as most times they do not care about the nitty-gritty (which can be handled in Basecamp and JIRA) and only need a birds-eye view of how things are progressing. If you update this each week, it should be easy to maintain.

Every project is different – but regardless of the type of effort, having the correct tools will help you reach your end goal seamlessly. I have learned the strategies outlined above throughout the years and while they are basic, they have helped immensely in keeping clients happy and delivering quality work – especially with the added challenge of having clients and employees spread out around the globe.
[Photo credit: Sonja Langford, Unsplash]

Kelly McNamara

Project Coordinator

Kelly has been with Innate since September 2008 – now working as a project manager. She is a JMU grad with a love for anything Baltimore, cooking & baking, crime TV shows, and traveling up and down the East Coast.

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