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Time zones

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Hiring software developers across different time zones – Can it really work?

The elevator pitch for remote work sounds great. You can find the best talent without being tied down to any one particular city. They can work from the beach as easily as they can work from home. But once you dive in with a fully remote and largely asynchronous team, logistical questions pop up. It starts small (How often do you schedule meetings?) but if not addressed early, those little logistical issues can compound into big ones. When you start considering contractors who live in different time zones, well, can it actually work?

Covid and the last couple of years shook things up in how we work. Now, a lot more companies – including Salesforce, Slack, Altassian, Airbnb, and Twitter  – have introduced “work from anywhere” policies. With a little bit of forethought, it can work.

We studied more than 50,000 hours of software development across time zones and here’s what we learned.

Not all time zone differences are created equal

The efficacy of your team can depend on the gap in time zones. Managing a team member whose 9 to 5 working hours largely overlap with yours is very different from managing one who only has 0 - 2 hours of overlap. In fact for most companies, we don’t recommend hiring developers who live in an area with less than 2 hours of overlap from other team members

Let’s break it down.

0-2 hours overlap

Avoid– or only take on for projects that can be completed asynchronously.

When working in this style:

- Aim for monthly and quarterly planning– not weekly.

- Think carefully about taking on new hires with this type of time zone gap. Trust plays a big role here, so this gap is best suited for vetted employees who relocate across the globe.

- Rely heavily on written communication (don’t expect responses instantly or even the same day)

Why would you want to work in this style?

If you’re OK with the above caveats, the 0-2 overlap can best optimize your labor costs because you’re working with the largest talent pool.

2-4 hours overlap

This is best for async-first teams who meet a couple of times per week.

When working in this style:

- Front-load your communication. Communicate more frequently during the early stages of getting to know your developers. Once you’ve established a rhythm, you can revisit the frequency of synchronous meetings.

- Prioritize. Save those tricky-to-explain concepts for live meetings. (Pro tip: if the email is longer than two paragraphs, it’s better as a conversation!)

Why would you want to work in this style?

You want the wider talent pool but don’t want to operate async-only.

4+ hours overlap

If you prefer to stick with a more traditional working style with regular meetings and standardized working hours, aim for 4+ hours of time zone overlap.

When working in this style:

- Discuss expectations regarding response times and default channels of communication. The most effective remote developers tend to have highly independent working styles– which means it is important to communicate often and early to keep things on track.

- Learn your dev’s style. Just because your time zones overlap, do not take it for granted that they will be available during the traditional 9-5 hours. Ask what works best for them.

Why would you want to work in this style?

If your project requires more frequent benchmarking and you can’t wait a day or two in between responses, you’ll want to stick with a large time zone overlap.

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