I participate in a global remote team that operates 24/7 year-round, and I was happy to provide coverage as a system administrator for my colleagues during the celebration of the Indian holiday Diwali. Colleagues return the favor for American public holidays such as Christmas.
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My team was once exclusively local, and transitioning to a global team has yielded many benefits for everyone involved. Working for a large company that has the resources to utilize personnel across multiple states and continents has allowed us to tap into a pool of knowledge, coverage availability and faster response time to clients.
It hasn’t been an easy process; we encountered a few bumps and learned lessons along the way as to how to perfect our collaboration and productivity. These are the best practices that I recommend.
How to collaborate successfully in a global remote team
1. Identify key SMEs and ensure cross-team training
Every team has certain subject matter experts who are the leads for various topics and responsibilities. These SMEs should be identified and enlisted to perform cross-team training to ensure there are no knowledge gaps during any shift across the globe.
2. Implement a centralized documentation repository with standard knowledge base articles for all relevant topics
Training is only as useful as the documentation that backs it up. This documentation for all relevant responsibilities should be centrally stored and accessible to all shift members. Documentation must be plain-spoken, comprehensive and not rely upon knowledge assumptions on the part of the reader.
3. Utilize primary and secondary on-call rotations to match working hours
The hands-down best part of being on a global team has been participating in primary and secondary on-call rotations which end when my shift does. I spent 15 years facing the possibility of being woken up in the middle of the night for a work emergency; those days are blessedly a thing of the past. We set up these on-call assignments to ensure the business would be covered and so employees could also enjoy a health work-life balance.
4. Ensure 24/7 year-round manager availability across all shifts
Whether local or remote, there must always be an available manager to address any issues which need escalation. This may not always be part of a model involving daylight business hours for each manager, so just as staff must engage in primary and secondary on-call rotations, so too should managers. This ensures the needs of employees, customers and the business itself are properly met.
5. Use shared calendars
Shared calendars are a great way to track working hours, vacation time, holidays and on-call coverage. They can also outline project work, set notifications, and remind staff of upcoming deadlines or restrictions. This includes “change freezes” where nothing in the production environment can be touched due to peak volumes or critical operations.
6. Establish time zones
By far the most significant hurdle my team first encountered was determining where everyone is and handling meetings and events accordingly. Our centralized web portal, which lists and manages assets, staff members, tickets, user requests, documentation and reports, made it handy to list each employee’s time zone information in their profile, and documenting the same in our Outlook signature files also helped establish this data.
This feature comes in handy when booking meetings and determining availability; India Standard Time is 10 hours ahead of my own Eastern Standard time, so obviously it wouldn’t make much sense for me to book a 4 p.m. local meeting with my colleagues in India and expect them to rise at 2 a.m. for that meeting unless that was their active shift.
7. Update Outlook signature files with shift details and contact information
All our Outlook signatures contain our working hours and how to get hold of us; this information also permeates into Microsoft Teams, which we rely on heavily. Since emails are still fast and furious even with the rise of instant messaging, it’s easy to find out when someone comes on duty or goes off, as well as the best way to get in touch.
8. Set your current status in communication tools
When utilizing communication tools such as instant messaging, the default option is to show that you’re away after a period of inactivity or out of office — so long as you’ve set that status and/or made sure your email program reflects the same.
The problem is that many corporate computers are configured by policy to go into sleep mode or otherwise lock the screen when idle. Some people (such as myself) who find this inconvenient on a work computer securely stationed in their home office might implement a script to keep their Windows session active to keep their computers immediately available for use.
This can mean you’re always showing as active in messaging applications such as Team, and this can lead to coworkers or users mistakenly contacting you after your shift to ask for help, as they may assume you’re on duty.
I realized that something I set up for my convenience was causing others to be inconvenienced by wasting time on communications that wouldn’t be answered right away, so I ensured that Teams operates by default now so as to not give people the wrong status information regarding my presence.
9. Conduct “follow the sun” task handoffs
The days of assigned tasks lingering overnight ended for me when we began holding meetings at shift ends to reassign critical work. It’s a quid-pro-quo arrangement, of course — many times I would hand off ongoing work to a staff member overseas and in turn take upon their unfinished tasks the following morning.
This is the same principle we follow when it comes to local holidays, as I previously mentioned, so that nobody has to be on the hook for a work problem during what should be an enjoyable celebration with family and friends.
This solution helps ease stress, bring different mindsets and ideas to a problem, and ensure employees can go to dinner, sleep or enjoy a holiday without baggage hanging over their heads.
10. Have social meetups
Some quick social meetups via Teams or Zoom can be great icebreakers to help remote workers get to know one another, exchange cultural information, and relax and unwind in a stress-free situation. These don’t have to be mandatory, as that itself can provoke stress or resentment, but it can be a handy way to build rapport among a team.
Since I myself use pop culture references constantly at work, this gives me a chance to explain to my overseas compadres what I mean by “Negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full” (from “Top Gun”) and “Houston, you have a problem” (from “Armageddon”).
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