How to manage different time zones in software development?
One challenge when it comes to Offshore or Nearshore Outsourcing, is the time difference. When it is 4:00 pm at your place, it is an entirely different time in another place.
In the article some tips on how to manage developers in different time zones in the world.
1) Be aware of time zones
The first thing to acknowledge when working with developers from other countries, is the difference in time zones.
This acknowledgment is not always there, because some clients might assume that the developers in the offshore locations work at the same times as the local team.
In fact, in most places all over the world, the work time is 09:00 am to 6:00 pm. With some places, which might start at 08:00 am or end at 7:00 pm.
But earlier than that, or later than that, it is not really appreciated. Be it a developer in the Ukraine, in India, in Germany or in the USA. Everyone wants to have their private time with family, friends, or just relaxing at home in the afternoon.
2) How to schedule meetings, with the example of India, Germany, USA, etc.
Let’s suppose you work with India.
From time to time people might be ready to start earlier or work late, till 9:00 pm. Considering this, here some time suggestions, when to schedule meetings.
Germany – easy
The time overlap is very good here. If it is 10:00 am in Germany, then it is 1:30 pm in India. So meetings could be between 10:00 am German time, up to 3:00 pm German time. That is round about 5 hours of time overlap. Which should be more than enough to make collaborate.
UK – easy
The time overlap is one hour less than for Germany.
That means, if it is 10:00 am in the UK, then it is 2:30 pm in India. Still, the time overlap is around 4 hours. Which is still enough time to exchange about software development requirements.
Japan – easy
Germany is 3 and a half-hour in the past of India. And Japan is 3 and a half-hour in the future in regards to India.
So when it is 10:00 am in Japan, it is 06:30 am in India, i.e. 3 and a half-hour earlier. So to have meetings, they should be between 12:30 pm time in Japan and 6:00 pm time in Japan.
That is a 5 and a half hour overlap. Which is enough time to discuss IT requirements.
UAE, Gulf Countries – time difference not a concern
The time difference to the subcontinent is just 2 and a half hours. So it is not much of a concern.
Australia – more time zones, easy, management needed
Australia has 5 time zones. Therefore the company in Australia and the team in South Asia, need to have a look at the time difference.
Here the overview, when it is 10:00 am in India:
- It will be 11:30 am on the Christmas Islands (AUS), the overlap is significant
- It will be 12:30 pm in Perth (AUS), still significant. Meetings can be between 12:30 pm Australian time, till 6:00 pm
- It will be 2:00 pm in Adelaide (AUS). Meetings can be between 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm, Australian time
- It will be 3:30 pm in Kingston (AUS). Meetings between 3:30 pm to 6:00 pm. The time overlap is a bit less, at 2 and a half hours per day.
USA – more time zones, easy to medium, good time management needed
For India, the USA is the biggest market. Most of the clients sit there. But it is also the time zone for the Global market with the biggest challenge.
It has 7 time zones.
Meetings should be either early in the mornings or in the evenings in India.
Here the overview:
- Los Angeles, California (on the most left side of the USA on the world map): The time difference is 12 and a half hours. So the only time for a meeting would be at 8:00 am (e.g. today) in Los Angeles, when it is 8:30 pm (e.g. today) in India. The meeting could last from 8:00 am (time in Los Angeles) till 09:30 am (time in Los Angeles). So daily there is an overlap of one and a half hours. So a tight time management is needed to be efficient. Because after that, the developer in India might not available immediately.
- New York (on the most right side of the USA on the world map): The time difference is 9 and a half hours. So the time for a meeting could be between 08:00 am (e.g. today) in New York, till 11:30 am time in New York (e.g. today), i.e. the corresponding time for India would be 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm (time in India), which is more manageable, than the Los Angeles time
- All places in between Los Angeles and New York: Meetings should happen between 8:00 am (Time in the USA) and 11:30 am (Time in the USA), depending on the specific time zone.
Especially Los Angeles can be challenging. Because there are only one and a half hours. On the other side. LA is one of the largest purchasers of IT services, as the big IT companies in the world are situated there.
Large IT companies in India do have shift work, where the developers will work from 08:30 pm (evening, time in India), till 4:00 am or 5:00 am (morning, time in India). But this is a practice, which is more common in large IT companies. Most small to medium-sized companies do not offer that option. As good developers, might not want to work those kinds of odd hours.
3) Avoid 10:00 pm to 7:00 am
Everywhere in the world from 10:00 pm to 7:00 am is considered sleeping time, or off time.
Therefore, it is always best to avoid those working hours for any developers, may they be in the USA, in the UK, in India or in China or (insert any other country).
4) Share the burden of coming early or going late
To show that the time of each individual team member all over the world is valued, the burden of coming late or going late should be shared.
For example, in one day a week, one of the developers in India could decide to stay till 10:30 pm in the evening. So it would be easier for the team member in California for example, so that they could work normal hours, and could come to the office at a regular time at 09:00 am.
On another day of the week, the team member in California could decide to come to the office at 06:00 am early in the morning so that the developer in India can go at regular work hours at 6:00 pm.
5) Avoid very late and very early meetings
Even though, some people could be asked to stay up late or wake up very early. Be true to yourself. You do not want to come that early or stay up that late.
So try to avoid this practice at maximum.
Schedule the meetings at the respective overlap times, mentioned in point 2 of this article.
6) Allow joining the meeting from home
In case the meetings are very early or very late, it would be a great help to allow the developer to join the meeting from home.
At home, the internet connection might be not that good. So maximum a voice call or chats would be possible. But usually, screen sharing or similar might not be supported when the developers join from his or her home.
7) Avoid immediate response requests
Everyone has experience with this. Someone asks for something immediately, and one has to somehow scramble to give the answer.
Especially, when there is not that much time overlap, it should be avoided, to ask for immediate responses. Unless it is like the UAE, Germany, and India. There ample time might be available. That is not the case in the time difference between Los Angeles and India. For getting an answer, you might need to wait for the next day.
If it is something urgent, try to schedule the meeting one day in advance.
8) Check for daylight savings time
In India, the clock time is always the same.
In other countries though, there is a shift in times twice a year. Where the clock is moved by one hour.
For Germany the time is changed in End of March of the year, then the time difference to India changes from 4 and a half hours to 3 and a half hours.
This is important to consider because meeting times change accordingly.
So if not considered, one party might be one hour late or one hour early, according to where the person sits.
There are other countries apart from Germany, who do have this practice.
So always google “daylight savings time + country” to find out the countries specific practices in regard to this.
9) Keep public holidays in mind
It is good to prepare a holiday list for both countries. So that each group (in India and in Germany) has an overview when people will be on leave.
In Kerala, a state in India, the most important public holiday is Onam, which most probably most do not know about. Christmas and Easter, on the other hand, are obvious.
Each region in the world has other public holidays. Note them down.
10) Use wall clocks and online tools
Different wall clocks, showing the time in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Berlin and New Delhi, are still the best way, to have a simple and fast overview to know, where, which time is currently.
There are also free online time zone calculators, which can be helpful when planning meetings.
11) Make sure to take care of health
Staying healthy should be a priority for each individual in the team, may they be in India or somewhere else in the world.
There should be a conscious effort to keep health levels high. Especially by recognizing that time zones are a challenge and should not be easily passed on to the Offshore or Nearshore team.
12) Avoid micromanagement
Especially in creative tasks, like software development, it makes no sense to micromanage.
It is better to give the developers space. Especially if you do not see them from across the desk.
13) Overcommunicate if needed (especially in the beginning)
It is important to communicate, when someone is working, when someone is going on holiday, etc. Not everyone in the team might have that information immediately available. So they might wonder why Rakesh was not on the desk, when it was Wednesday, when in fact he had taken one day leave for that day.
This will help build trust.
14) Use the right tools
Nowadays there are a lot of free and paid tools to use, to collaborate all over the world.
- a) Skype (video calling)
- b) Slack (online chatting, task management, “online water cooler”
- c) TeamViewer (screen sharing)
- d) Basecamp (project management)
- e) Google Docs, Google Sheets (online document collaboration)
- f) Google Drive (easy file sharing)
- g) Dropbox (large file sharing)
- h) GIT
- i) JIRA (software project management tool)
Some of these tools have in build possibilities to handle time zone differences. Especially Google Calendar can be helpful.
Time zone difference does not need to be a big hassle. They can be managed.
The only thing is “KNOW YOUR OVERLAP HOURS” and have meetings accordingly.
Avoid burdening single teams, for example, the one in India or China, with carrying the full load of coming early or going late.
This will lead to more productive teams all over the world.
The author: Sascha Thattil works at Software-Developer-India.com which is a part of the YUHIRO Group. YUHIRO is a German-Indian enterprise which provides programmers to IT companies, agencies and IT departments.