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Remote work: How global teams collaborate across time zones

GitHub international leaders share their insights on how to work with globally distributed teams.

Remote work: How global teams collaborate across time zones

Successfully managing a global team requires rockstar leadership and strong communication skills, coupled with cultural awareness and empathy. It’s important to collaborate with your teams in ways that engage employees to work together as one team across multiple departments, languages, time zones, and cultures.

Our remote work series continues with two GitHub leaders who oversee international functions. Maneesh Sharma, the General Manager for GitHub in India, has a 20-year career in conceptualizing, building, marketing, selling, and supporting products. He loves working in strategic and operational roles across functions—all while raising two teenagers. Bassem Asseh, GitHub’s Regional Vice President of Enterprise Solutions for EMEA, has 20 years of experience across the software industry, including software development processes, digital transformation, collaboration, and content management.

Both Maneesh and Bassem have built and managed very successful global teams through the years and share some great insight on how to work with dispersed teams around the world.

What best practices have worked well for you?

Maneesh: The most important thing to realize is that in order for an employee to be effective in their job, it shouldn’t matter if they’re in an office or working remotely. The entire experience and engagement should be seamless. How they work in the office should be the same experience as being remote. Structuring your systems, processes, and work around this tenet helps build a strong work culture. At the same time, it’s equally important to be mindful of remote employee loneliness and feeling isolated. Staying connected to the team and the organization through company message boards, company-wide meetings, and internal team posts are all crucial. Taking the time to have open and candid conversations with your team—even in the midst of your daily work complexities—really helps.

Bassem: I agree with Maneesh. The word collaboration comes from Latin and translates to working together. In most instances, collaboration involves more than simply two people. One main way that teams often lose productivity is when an important conversation is limited to only two people and isn’t discussed quickly enough with other colleagues affected by the conversation or decision. It’s essential to involve the right individuals as early in the conversation as possible to avoid wasting time and move the process forward more efficiently.

What is the impact of COVID-19 when it comes to remote working?

Maneesh: In the early days, face-to-face meetings were the typical standard for an initial connection with customers and partners.  At times, these initial conversations would require a significant investment in terms of time and coordination of logistics. However, the COVID-19 lockdown has urged everyone to adopt a remote work strategy, and I must admit that connecting with customers and partners has actually become more efficient.

Everyone is comfortable with video conferencing now and can work within the constraints presented by this pandemic, though this can certainly impact customers in different ways. Personally, the biggest change that I’ve witnessed is that people now accept that it’s okay to have background noise, interruptions, and some connectivity issues. I believe our latest quarantine situation will significantly change the overall acceptance of working remotely long term.

Bassem: I’ve been working remotely for the last 10 years, five of which at GitHub. My job includes several meetings a week with European customers and partners, as well as our internal GitHub meetings with teams in Europe and elsewhere. I don’t feel that working remotely during COVID-19 has created any friction with our customer or partner relationships. Prior to this, in Europe, we would typically meet for lunch or dinner with our business partners—though naturally, this is no longer feasible—and I’m not seeing this as a barrier since everyone is in the same situation. I believe that in some industries where remote working wasn’t fully accepted as a standard, this latest lockdown situation will help everyone adopt a remote way of collaborating.

How do you work across different time zones and continents?

Maneesh: On a typical day, I’m interacting with colleagues across the US, Europe, Singapore, Australia, and India. It’s important that I respect each person’s or team’s preference when it comes to the format and time of communication. I usually check in with colleagues about connecting synchronously (like video conferencing) before sending a calendar invite and I don’t assume someone is free just by looking at their calendar. At the same time, coordinating for a common meeting across time zones can be tricky, since at least one time zone is inevitably inconvenienced. Being mindful of the challenges around accommodating as many people’s schedules as possible, and being respectful of other people’s time and commitments are crucial.

Bassem: Working with many time zones means that you need to allow enough time for responses when having conversations. Let’s say you’re with a colleague working in Asia or the US versus in Europe. Naturally, you can’t expect that colleague—who’s in an opposite time zone from yours—to answer quickly. And, adding to Maneesh’s point about synchronous meetings, it’s important to check what time frames work best for your various regions before setting up those meetings. Showing empathy is key.

What do you value most about remote work?

Maneesh: For me, it comes down to one word—commute. In a typical week (before COVID-19), I would be on multiple flights across all of India. This requires a lot of planning and being away, and it also takes a toll on my health. With the ecosystem of community, customers, and partners being remote-friendly now, I have seen a huge improvement in my productivity. The other positive outcome has been that there are even more frequent connections with external stakeholders. In the past, our conversations would often depend on when we could meet in person, whereas now we can talk or “meet up” at any time.

Bassem: The main advantage I can highlight is the fact that you’re not losing time in unnecessary commuting anymore. I cover all of EMEA in my role. This means that when I need to see customers or partners in person, it’s not a matter of 15 or 30 minutes in the Parisian metro. My impression is that the time used for commuting when in-person meetings are necessary is balanced by the time I’m gaining every day when I’m working from home. This overall balance is very valuable.

Any advice for new remote workers in similar functions to yours?

Maneesh: Plan your home office and your work-week, and be sure to leverage tools and technology available to accomplish this. I also recommend that you have a divide between your ‘home’ and ‘office’. There’s a tendency to over-connect when working remotely, but it’s also important to take the time to step away from work as well. Likewise, make it a point to respect other co-workers’ working styles and most important of all—communicate often!

Bassem: I agree that you should try to have a clear separation between office and home as best you can. Mixing both will generate stress in both situations. Also, if you’re in a sales-related role, keep in mind that remote isn’t adapted for every customer and may not be accommodating for every step in the sales process. For example, presenting an offer is still best in a face-to-face meeting, and is worth just being mindful of that and everyone’s needs.

Want to learn more about best practices for working remotely? Check back next week as we continue our series to help you make the most of working in a remote environment from our next interview. And share these useful tips with others who may be new to working remotely.

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