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Do You Guys Ever Sleep??? Or How To Manage Time Difference

Managing time differences is a natural part of our life at Yellow. Many of our partners are located in the US, in particular California, and the time difference between Minsk and San Francisco is 10 hours. At first sight, it might look like a hurdle to a healthy business relationship, but is that really the case?

In fact, we have built up our own approach, which in most cases helps us and our clients forget that a time difference even exists. In this article, we share some of our rules and life hacks to support the idea that the time difference is hardly a problem, though it sometimes might seem like one. Here we go!

Rule #1. If you think the time difference is the reason why your workflow goes off track, be sure it is not.

Teams tend to blame the time difference when the project is not progressing, saying that it is because they cannot immediately hold a meeting to discuss all of the issues that have arisen. In fact, such a statement is a red flag that something in your workflow is not right!

In a healthy environment, it’s not necessary to keep in touch 24/7. Every day, everyone is busy with their tasks according to a well-planned schedule, and there is no need for urgent meetings. No room for drama!

We at Yellow normally get away with the maximum of four meetings per two-week sprint: a planning meeting before a sprint starts, a retrospective meeting at the end of the sprint, and one more meeting a week to update a project backlog. There are also occasional meetings between the client and the project manager, which are held if needed and don’t involve the entire team.

We never ignore planning meetings. If held properly, a "what-should-I-do-today" question will never arise among team members. The rest of the meetings are perfectly enough to keep the project up and running and resolve the issues that sometimes unexpectedly occur, even if the sprint is well-planned.

That’s it. No magic, just pure planning. However, without proper planning, any project turns into a mess, and then everyone blames the time difference instead of blaming a lack of structure. 

planning is much better

Rule #2. Start late, leave late.

Though the time difference is a factor that can’t be completely ignored, its impact can still be lowered with the help of some simple workarounds. We have developed the most efficient solution on how to do this, which costs us literally nothing.

We simply shifted our working day start to later hours. Now, instead of starting at 8am, we start at 12pm, so the actual time difference between us and our US partners has reduced by 4 hours, making it a lot more manageable. As a bonus, we feel much more comfortable during late meetings, knowing that we don’t have to be in the office by 8am next day.

hooray we don't come to the office at 8!

Rule #3. Adjust, not get adjusted.

Daily standups are an essential part of any software engineering team’s day-to-day routine. Ideally, they should be short and to the point, serving as a daily update on each other’s progress.

However, many teams fall into a trap when standups last way too long, turning from a productive 15-minute discussion into a detailed review of the working day that takes place  on top of that, at the end of that very day.

When we first started working with clients from the US, we used to hold daily standups via Skype, usually late in the evening. All of them quite literally resembled a ground-hog day: either someone pretends to be a TED speaker, or two people discuss a specific problem while everybody else is yawning and counting down the moments till the meeting is over.

It didn’t take us long to understand that daily standups don’t have to be like that, and we decided to change their format. Now, at the end of each working day, every team member receives a reminder in Slack to send a daily text report to the client, opens a channel created especially for this purpose, types a few phrases—and voilà!

slack reminder at the end of a working day

No more midnight meetings, and daily standups now take 15 seconds instead of 1–2 hours. Moreover, all reports are stored in the channel history and can be accessed anytime, so say goodbye to the lame excuses such as “I forgot to do this” or “I didn’t know I should do that.” Profit from accountability!

Just text it!

Now, what if something urgent requires your attention in the middle of the night?

No matter how smoothly a project runs, an unexpected issue may catch you with your pants down. For example, recently, when it was 3 am in Belarus, we received a call from a client in California who was preparing a marketing event with our product, when the server all of a sudden went down. Sure, we fixed the issue, and, frankly speaking, we don’t see any problem in working off-hours occasionally. Moreover, it happens very rarely.

There are only two options: either you manage the time difference, or it manages you. But the good news is that it’s completely up to you to choose which side are you on. So make the right choice!

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