Chilledout offic
Blog | 08.05.2015

Help Global Teams Manage Work Time Effectively

Consider these facts:

  • 66% of multinational companies make extensive use of virtual teams
  • 79% of employees responding to a recent survey said they “always or frequently” worked in dispersed teams

Clearly Virtual, or Geographically dispersed, teams are now an undeniable fact of life in knowledge organizations everywhere. There are various ways of defining a Virtual or a Global team – what is common to most of those definitions is that the team members are geographically dispersed while still working on the same task or within the same function towards shared goals. A key role is played by the processes, platforms and technologies that are used in managing and aligning the efforts of the teams across geographies and even time zones. There has been a lot said about the benefits and challenges of the model – let us focus on one specific aspect, that of time.

Time was a major driver of the whole “Virtual Team” phenomenon – you would have heard of the “Follow the sun model”. This has been a way for organizations to extend the work day to near 24 hours. Consider the example of a software product being developed by a team in California over the US West Coast work day and then being passed on to a team in India for testing and QA at the start of their work day. If everything flows smoothly the California team could expect to get back tested code when they check in the next day. Sounds great doesn’t it?

Like everything in life, nothing is quite that straight forward – time management has a very different connotation in such situations. Surveys among employees working in such virtual teams have shown that approximately half of them felt that the time zone differences actually adversely affected team success. Today’s Agile development environment calls for daily Scrums and regular communication between team members – the accepted option seems to be for people at either end of the globe to stretch their work day well into the wee hours to be able to get together. This is a sub-optimal solution in more ways than one.

There is a certain “out of sight, out of mind” element that could creep in too when team members are geographically dispersed. A recent survey revealed that 15%-28% of team members believed that not knowing enough about the workloads of other members was a frequent issue. Perhaps more damagingly as many as 71% of the employees surveyed complained of team members not participating actively – essentially coasting on the efforts of others.

It seems apparent that better approaches are needed to time management and transparently tracking and reporting on the efforts being put in by team members. Some methods that have worked well are:

  • Transparently tracking both effort being expended as well as results being achieved by individual team members as well as teams and mapping these against clearly established and communicated standards
  • Having clear and consistent policies across teams regarding attendance, time sheets, check-in & check-out times and other output characteristics
  • Setting clear expectations across teams about the “limits” to the flexibility in work timings and in turn respecting the trade-offs the employees have to make by working in their “off work” hours for calls with remote teams

Technology based solutions can be the friend of the manager leading the Virtual team – providing a depth of visibility into what is going on across the team and allowing a high degree of project and yes, even time management, across locations. These can also play a role in helping the employee tasked with communicating with teams in other time zones manage his time and schedule better.

There are some clear “time” benefits to be had from the Virtual team model – what is clear is that to be able to get the most out of the model and have a smoothly running machine special emphasis will have to paid to how the most precious resource of all, time, is utilized!