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How to Deal with the Time Zone Difference in Software Development Offshoring

It’s inevitable – if you are outsourcing software development, time zone issues will emerge. Offshoring has both its pros and cons, in speeding up development and coordination challenges, respectively. Though, for now, we’d like to focus on how to handle time zone difference in software development offshoring.

You might be working in an office in the USA and managing an offshore team in Australia, while your end-client is somewhere in Europe. There are numerous other variations to the equation as business operations tend to permeate. Needless to say, working in 2 or 3 different time zones often causes downtime, delays and work planning issues.

Clearly, you don’t want to be calculating and memorizing the time zones you are working with in order not to waste precious time. You need some tools and apps and implement certain practices to work with remote teams. But what exactly? Let’s dig a bit deeper.

Personal / Organizational tips

There are 24 standard time zones globally, each separated by 1 hour, though if take into account daylight saving time zones and several zones with 30/45 minutes offsets, the total number is 37. UTC, “coordinated universal time”, is the global common time standard in relation to which time zones are denoted, e.g. UTC+2 or UTC-7. First thing for you and your offshore team is to establish overlap hours – when both parties are available.

Time zone difference in software development offshoring - maps.

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Say, you work from the office in New York, USA and your remote team is in Poland, so you’re 6 hours behind. Considering the common 9-to-5 working schedule, you get 2 overlap hours in that window. The best way to use it is to conduct daily briefs to discuss the progress, possible issues, clarify things, send feedback, etc.

You may, as well, visualize overlap hours for yourself to plan ahead with tools like World clock meeting planner, where by entering locations and dates you get working hours marked green. Or, in case you need to check what time is right now in different zones, consider Everytimezone, 24timezones, etc.

Time zone difference in software development offshoring - chart.

Dealing with time zone difference in software development offshoring requires intricate planning, so a shared calendar (e.g. Google Calendar) with each member signed up and entering updates is handy. Though remember to not overdo it, as productivity is still the #1 priority in offshoring and excessive chats could hinder the work of the developers. Instead, daily/weekly calls with managers and 1-2 engineers would suffice.

When it comes to tools for communication and management, there is no shortage of options. Google Drive and Docs are great for editings and share documents or projects in a single place, visible for everyone. Skype, Slack, HipChat for communication, GoToMeeting, WebEx for web conferences, Asana, Jira, Trello for project management, and so on.

Read our detailed review of productivity tools for remote teams.

Time zone difference in software development offshoring: Best practices

The key fact remains – having certain tools does not necessarily guarantee success. That may be achieved with clear, strong leadership motivating workers to follow through.

Be flexible in staying late or being there early if you feel that efficiency and consistency is lacking. A few different practices to handle time zone difference in software development offshoring may work for you, so let’s go over them.

As you’ve set communication channels, management tools and scheduled calls/meetings, assign a single point (person) of contact. It’s simple: more people, more confusion. You have to be able to trust your remote partner and not micromanage everything, therefore try to hire a reliable offshore team for your digital product development.

Meetings

Set meetings at appropriate times, meaning the team’s local time. Early morning hours or late evening hours may lead to absences and put unwarranted pressure on employees. And again, let’s remember that limiting meetings/calls to essential and/or critical issues leaves more time for developers to do their job.

Agile methodology

Agile methodology is somewhat unorthodox in terms of dealing with time zones, but you can adopt it for better communication with remote teams, especially when you run several teams in different regions who work on various product components.

The basic idea here is that communication frequency depends on the development stage: high in the initial/requirements and deployment stage, medium in the development and design stage.

Agile methodology helps to deal with the time zone difference in software development offshoring.

The Agile process implies daily scrum meetings within the offshore development team and sending logs to management. Many companies, in addition to that, also deploy code on a daily basis (continuous integration), test it and discuss it with the client.

In-person meetings, by visiting the offshore team location or inviting them to your office are great for building trust and productivity and learning about corporate culture.

Requirements and tasks

Clear requirements and wise task assignment is a must with offshore teams in a different time zone. Often onsite and offshore teams might be working with the same source code, so it is crucial to have a common version control system, as well as to ensure everyone leaves proper comments on the parts he/she adds.

Overall, taking dependency of offshore teams from the main office into account, tasks have to be assigned in a way that avoids downtime for any developer.

Communication

In the case of not just two, but multiple time zones, asynchronous communication could prove beneficial. That means communication spread throughout a day rather than happening in real-time, and questions/issues don’t require an immediate reply.

Just keeping it simple using a single management tool, Basecamp for example, and conducting brief, weekly real-time meetings to keep everyone in sync.

Holidays

Lastly, save a list of local holidays in the country of your remote developer team in order to plan ahead and avoid delays, but still keep emergency numbers. Issues with a project or a product may arise at any moment, so you need at least a project manager available on short notice.

Wrapping up

Thanks to outsourcing, businesses can focus on core activities, and have more opportunities for growth and access to skilled talents. On the other hand, the matter of time zone difference in software development offshoring is often challenging. You have to be flexible, open-minded and decisive to use suitable tools and procedures and turn it into a smooth and cost/time saving experience.

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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