Insider Tips: Working Remotely Across Time Zones
How we’ve used agility & collaboration to allow the Perlego team to work globally
At Perlego we are a family of internationals from all over the globe; a melting pot of culture, where there are always new sweets to try when someone returns from holiday back home, and a perfect representation of the diversity London holds.
London, however, is in the eye of a global pandemic and as it spread, showing no signs of leaving, some of us wanted to return home to be closer to our family during this time. Perlego has been agile and understood the needs of the team to create a flexible system, where we’ve been able to work from our own county, no matter how far away.
Our mobile team currently spans 4 continents and an even larger number of time zones: I’m a software engineer currently in New Zealand 🇳🇿; Kim Lomba, our product owner is back in South Africa 🇿🇦; Brian, another engineer is in Canada 🇨🇦, and the remainder of the team is currently dotted throughout Europe 🇪🇺. During this time we’ve learned a few pivotal lessons that have helped us adapt and work better than ever before.
My 4 tips for working remotely
📣 Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
We’ve quickly learned that communication is key and that there are many ways to improve your communication without having to say more.
Team agreements, a set of values and principles communicated within the team, give us a strong foundation. We have an agreement where everyone attends our daily standup, and if you aren’t able to attend you send your updates ahead of time. A simple yet effective agreement that we follow is “don’t release on Fridays”: this helps limit stress in the team as we don’t ever have to worry about a release going wrong during the weekend.
Use Slack statuses to communicate effectively. Setting your slack statuses can convey a large degree of information with very little effort. Simply having an emoji such as 🍟 or 🍱 when you’re out for lunch or 😴 when your sleeping helps everyone understand your particular routine since everyone is on a different schedule.
Don’t forget to communicate with the wider business. You have to also remain proactive and understand that not everyone in the larger company may be always aware of your particular work hours. Do ask questions to fill in any gaps in information for meetings that you may miss and remind people of your hours if they happen to book in a meeting at a time that doesn't work for you, with the expectation of you being there.
👥 Change how you collaborate
We have adapted the way we collaborate to make the most of having a globally distributed team.
Transfer work over. Traditionally work was divided between developers at the start of the sprint and there was very little overlap. With developers across the world, however, it is possible to have a 24-hour development cycle on critical features. Work can be continuously handed over to the next person at the end of our workday, allowing for work to be completed at an accelerated pace. An added benefit to this method is that if you identify a bug at the end of your day, chances are it’ll magically be fixed by the time you wake up.
Leave code reviews open longer so that every developer has the chance to read and test. This means that the features and performance are tested worldwide giving us a fairer representation of our users’ experience and enabling us to identify and fix issues far earlier in the development cycle.
🏓 Keep the culture going
It's important to keep the culture going, both to keep existing employees engaged and to give new starters a way to break the ice.
Play social games. When a normal day involved going into the office, table tennis was our go-to lunch break activity. Social games are an intrinsic part of the mobile team and we’ve traded in our tennis paddle for a keyboard or phone, playing games such as Skribbl.io (an online version of Pictionary) or Among Us (a digital version of werewolf/mafia). These light social games allow everyone to get in on the fun and show a different side to themselves.
Stay engaged with the larger company. We also believe it is important to facilitate cross-team social events across the wider company so that the face-to-face interactions that happened naturally in the office, now happen zoom to zoom. These include company-wide pub quizzes, one-on-one Donut hangouts, virtual coffees, and much more that you can read about here.
🧘 Stay Flexible
You have to remain flexible and balance the needs of the team and company with your personal needs.
Find an overlap. A normal 8 to 5 workday in New Zealand would be 7 pm to 4 am UK time, meaning that there would be no overlap for meetings or collaboration. To ensure that a balance exists and some overlap is maintained, my workday is split. I do 10 pm to 2 am NZT ( 9 am to 1 pm UK time) and another 4 hours during the normal NZ work hours, allowing me to be fully available before lunch UK time for meetings and updates.
Remain flexible. It is important to remember that it is impossible to accommodate everyone’s needs all the time, especially during company-wide meetings. Sometimes you have to make exceptions and attend meetings at odd hours, like a company Christmas party social at 4 am dressed as Santa.
Remote working can be a challenge, it can also, however, be an opportunity to improve how you communicate and collaborate. An opportunity to create new ways to meet and interact across teams. And an opportunity to work, play and deliver better than ever before. Just remember to stay flexible and follow these tips and tricks, and challenges will quickly turn into opportunities!
If you want to learn more about working remotely, communication, and being part of a distributed team, check out these books:
At Perlego, we are always looking for talented humans to join our team. Check out our career page — you might find a perfect opportunity for you!