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In our ongoing series, Outsourcing Academy, we’ll share our knowledge of the main pain points of outsourced software projects with offshore teams and steer you around the biggest pitfalls towards success!

In our previous post, we discussed how to get the best out of remote developer communications, and in this one we’ll illuminate the problems and solutions when working with teams in different time zones.

How to deal with outsourcing time zone differences

Are you worried about working with teams from the other side of the world? Does thinking about time zones give you trepidation? You’re not the only one. Here is a real-life example of how this can affect business perceptions.

Industry insiders’ experience

“I am not a big fan of outsourcing. Especially when it comes to offshore teams. I have found the language barrier and time differences to be a great hindrance.”
– Robert R.

And further to this, here’s an opinion from another industry insider:

“The ideal outsourcing arrangement would be a team of contractors in relatively the same timezone.”
– Alex K.

This might put you off the idea of offshoring your development, but perhaps the “ideal” mentioned above is just not possible for you at this stage in your business’ evolution. Onshore or “nearshore” companies (such as Canada for the US, or the Republic of Ireland for the UK) have many benefits such as physical and time zone proximity, but their rates may not represent enough of a saving. Offshore companies may be your only choice.

As a startup company, (or even when you’re not) costs are key to success. And offshoring development will almost always represent the best value if managed correctly from the start.

But time zones are definitely a pain point when it comes to outsourcing.

What’s the overlap?

If you find a problem at 4 pm Friday in London, it’s 8:30 pm in Bangalore and the staff may have gone home for the weekend! Most tech companies keep to a five-day week all over the world. Some may offer a shift that offers extra coverage but don’t expect that as standard.

If their night-time is during your day and vice versa, this can also be a massive pain as you might have to prepare for frantic midnight calls if there are issues. And trying to raise a problem in the middle of your day, when there is no one about in the offshore office can be stress-inducing, to say the least.

You must arrange how these issues will be resolved before it becomes important.

Peaks and troughs

There are plenty of other problems that can come from not sharing the same country or time zone. Visibility of peak holiday periods and other days when there will be no one in the office are important to establish up front.

For example, there are three national holidays in India, Republic day on 26th of January, Independence Day on 15th of August, and Gandhi Jayanti on the 2nd of October. If you need people to work on these days, it could require permission from local authorities and mandatory double pay.

Summer holidays, as well, are a little different in India. The school breaks between April and June, so most families will take a break around then.

What are the solutions?

Plan ahead

Knowing the pitfalls is all very well, but you have to account for them in your project plan. Meticulously. Get a calendar of available work hours from your vendor, and account for sickness and vacation time, with some buffer.

Assemble your tools and define work practices, perhaps even before you fully spec the product! These will form the core of your project’s execution, so they will need to be tested out. As with #1 in our series, the “Communications” post, the tools you use to get in touch are key to dealing with this time-shifted way of life. Having a system that you can login to at any time to check the status of a task, like Asana, will go a long way to making your life less stressful, and help with communications.

In #3 in our Outsourcing Academy series, “Quality”, we cover other useful tools and practices.

Go for the overlap

Try to aim for a remote team in a region that’s going to chime with your work practices. If you are a solopreneur, you might feel like late night meetings won’t be a problem. But even if you’re based out of your own home, extending your work hours indefinitely can become unhealthy. Your social and family life can suffer, and you can become disheartened!

The best way to keep that from happening is to have enough contact with your team to communicate and work on the project together during your own daytime. That will happen if you can get the right time zone overlap.

Foster a good team spirit

Getting in front of a camera every day for a standup meeting might seem like a drag, but leaving the remote team to just get on with it, can be disastrous. Don’t let a sense of disconnection due to time zone differences creep in. This can lead to demotivation and loss of drive. A team that has lost its enthusiasm for the project has to be dealt with by encouraging a sense of ownership, and mutual trust.

We’ll talk more about ownership and accountability in our fourth blog in the Outsourcing Academy series, “Attitudes”.

When does a time zone become an asset?

Thanks to your clever forward planning, there is a chance that you have unlocked the holy grail of software development: a round-the-clock production cycle! If your local team hands off successfully at the end of their shift and the remote team picks up the ball, you could effectively halve your project schedule while doubling your production output. When you have a tight turnaround, this could maximise your dev power.

Of course, there will always be a few problems with it, but with your knowledge from this Outsourcing Academy series, you will have a better chance that this might just work.

Another case where a time zone difference becomes an asset is when you offer 24-hour support services. Under these circumstances, it’s a real bonus to have a team in a different location. It is much easier and cheaper to get a team in an opposing time zone to cover your night shift than trying to make locals work overnight. However, there still needs to be some way to overlap your time in order to solve problems or check progress.

Bridge the gap with CDS

Whatever your technical needs, a management service – like CDS – offer a solution when time zones don’t match up for you. If you are having issues working with your offshore team’s time zone, or have difficulty even starting the process, why not check in with us for a free 45-minute strategy session or just read the next in our Outsourcing Academy series, #3: Quality issues.