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What Any Startup Can Learn From This 1 Company That's Scattered Across 11 Time Zones

Staying productive, with a team that's scattered around the world, is a challenge. Here's how Buffer does it. And here's a list of tools to help you do it.
What Any Startup Can Learn From This 1 Company That's Scattered Across 11 Time Zones
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We live in an increasingly globalized society, where businesses are expanding to offer products and services to consumers and companies in every corner of the world.

Related: 10 Ways to Successfully Manage Virtual Teams

Providing the best level of service possible may require developing new physical locations or hiring employees in other time zones.

That’s the approach that the domain name company, Namecheap, takes, hiring talent from around the world whenever the company expands. “We want to build a business with the best talent we can find,” Hillan Klein, COO for Namecheap, has said. “We looked at talent without geographic boundaries. This gives us a global source pool.”

Buffer takes the same approach to pushing the limits of its business internationally, and like Namecheap, its team is split across time zones, one of the ways it's been able to acquire such amazing talent.

Like Buffer, which is scattered across 11 time zones, my own companies, WebProfits and Mailshake, operate around the world in five zones, covering the cities of San Francisco, Austin, Indianapolis, Sydney and the nation of Romania.

That presents some unique challenges in the way we conduct business on a multinational level.

“Naturally, this fact changes the way we work just a bit,” writes Courtney Seiter, whose title at Buffer is inclusivity catalyst. “And, as our team grows and changes, we sometimes have to change and renegotiate the way we work through time zones.”

I recently featured Buffer in a post about the top 10 tools to get maximum value for your content, and there’s plenty more to learn about the company based on how it runs its operations. Here’s how the Buffer team handles its disconnects of time zones; these are tips any startup can utilize to improve its own operations.

1. Awareness of time zones

The team at Buffer developed a tool that tracks team performance across time zones. With it, the company's leaders can see at a glance what their people are doing. This helps them avoid pushing projects on team members when they’re asleep (legitimately) or about to finish their workday.

If you yourself outsource work to other time zones, keep scheduling and availability in mind as projects crop up. A tool that’s similar to what Buffer uses is Every Time Zone, which allows companies to easily keep track of time differences across their various time zones.

Another great tool is Pick.co, a calendar-scheduling app that has helped me eliminate a lot of back-and-forth in getting things booked among my teams.

I also use Google Calendar to manage pretty much my whole life, so I rely on a handful of Google Calendar extensions and plugins to make sure I'm getting as much as I can out of these tools.

Related: 7 Tips for Managing a Remote Team (Infographic)

2. Handling out-of-sync discussions

Buffer has several tools it uses, like HipChat, to engage employees whose schedules are synched-up. But it also has a lot of team members with schedules that don’t always align, so it needs tools that also allow for “respond as you go” interactions among teams.

If, like Buffer, you’re working across time zones and deal with asynchronous communication, try incorporating tools with historic chat options that make it easy for others to catch up and join the discussion. Trello and Hackpad are great tools, as is Slack for archived discussions.

Brandwatch is another company spread out across time zones that uses asynchronous communication via Slack to stay in touch.

“Team comms tool Slack is a godsend for staying close and in the loop with colleagues you don’t get the chance to have face-to-face time with,” writes Natalie Meehan, content manager for Brandwatch. “By setting up different channels for different teams, subjects and areas, we can dip in and out, or stay online all day -- there are no hard-and-fast rules.”

3. Emphasizing communication

With employees spread across so many time zones, Buffer requires a great amount of clarity in communicative processes. "Communication" is even one of its ten core values. Clarity is especially important when employees for the same company don't work the same schedule, don’t punch a clock and don’t work out of the same physical location.

Precise and detailed communication ensures that everyone knows what’s going on, when people are available and what the status of projects is. Another major benefit to this heightened awareness of communication issues is that, as a company leader, you'll share a closer, more personal bond with your employees and contractors.

It’s the stuff that keeps teams working in unison, despite the fact that they live halfway around the world.

4. Getting together

Buffer is well-known for its employee retreats, where the company brings everyone together. Throughout the year, employees work autonomously because they work their own hours and make their own decisions. But every five months, Buffer brings the team together in one place for a retreat that’s dedicated to leisure as well as meetings, in-person interactions and team consolidation.

“Once you return home, the conversations you have with team members are enhanced,” says Joel Gascoigne, co-founder of Buffer. “You know the tone of somebody’s voice and the way they approach problems and discussions. You read their emails differently. This changes things, and is why we’ve found retreats to be not only a fun part of our culture, but an absolute necessity.”

Related: Good Call: This App Lets Virtual Teams Stay Connected

Even if you build and manage a remote team for your startup, consider investing in opportunities that will bring everyone together for meetings. There’s a tremendous benefit in building a culture within your business that favors employee interactions and growth as a team.

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