(or how to work 9 hours ahead of everyone else)
Living in Barcelona for the last four years, I’ve had to do my fair share of remote working for companies on different time zones with varying degrees of success, ranging from okay to appalling.
And then I started working with Safari as a Senior Product Designer.
One of Safari’s greatest strengths – and a key reason I joined – is that they treat everyone like adults. As in actual grown ups who can make decisions and be trusted to do what they say they will, when they say they will do it, often without that person stepping near an office or other colleagues.
This attitude, by necessity, goes hand in hand with distributed teams and Safari, whilst having offices in Boston and Sebastopol, has a lot of remote workers.
Collectively we need to have the tools to get the work done and communicate across three time zones, more so if you’re nine hours ahead as I am. These ‘tools’, for my particular situation, broadly fall into two categories: working hours and applications/services.
The practicalities of the nine hour difference mean I have colleagues who come online at roughly 3pm (Boston) and 6pm (San Francisco) my time. This impacts on the hours that I work to get the most out of the overlapping time we have available to us.
My working day starts at 9/9:30 am until 1pm. I then break for three hours and work 4pm until 8pm. It’s expected, and I’m comfortable with, a degree of flexibility within that. For example if I need to do an occasional meeting after 11am Pacific time (i.e. after 8pm my time), I’ll make myself available. Or if I need to deal with earlier meetings before 9am Eastern (4pm my time and an obvious inconvenience to my Boston colleagues) I can also make myself available.
In real terms what this means is that I get half my working day in before my co-workers do, allowing me to work on stuff and have it ready for when the rest of my team comes online. As a by-product of this it means I cannot ever have a full day of meetings, which is obviously a good thing.
Applications and services
There are a few applications and services that make working remote easier. There’s the obvious ones like Github, JIRA and to a lesser extent LayerVault, but for communication, we use three main ones: HipChat, Hangouts and Google Drive.
A lot of our communications takes place within HipChat, be it pictures of cats for the lulz or discussions around features and UX/design. It’s our discussion forum and water cooler rolled into one and email is a rarity because of it.
The first thing I do when I turn my laptop on in a morning is read through the HipChat conversations that have happened whilst I was offline. I can then join those discussions, should I need to, and call out ‘future’ versions of my colleagues to get their thoughts.
There are times when HipChat doesn’t suffice and you need to have meetings. After all, even for a wannabe misanthrope like myself, it’s nice to see a human face now and again.
We use Hangouts (and occasionally Vidyo, for larger meetings) when we need to connect face to face and in my experience it’s worked well for meetings involving four or five people, certainly better than other methods I’ve used in the past (Skype and JoinMe for example).
Like any company, we have a lot of documents. At Safari almost all of ours exist somewhere in Google Drive.
We make heavy use of the commenting features the service offers and try to be conscientious about resolving them. For instance, my line manager and I have a running notes document that we can both add to and comment on, meaning our actual one to ones can be shorter because we’ve resolved issues on the fly via the Google Doc.
A holy trinity
A great example of how these three tools can work together happened in my first week. A company wide meeting took place in Vidyo, whilst people posted questions to the CEO in a special room in HipChat, and then notes were typed up in Google Docs for further ‘offline’ comment and discussion.
On a personal level, the tools are my window into the Safari world and I never feel left out of whatever is going on because of them. As a remote worker that’s of paramount importance – past experience has taught me that it’s not uncommon for out of sight to mean out of mind when it comes to communicating with people who are not physically present.
One last small thing
Because of the hours I work and the fact I work from home, it’s particularly important I retain a good work-life balance. There’s still plenty of day left over the other side of the pond when I finish and it would be quite easy for me to dip back in and out of HipChat, or reply to comments on docs in Google Drive.
To this end, I use a work laptop only for work. There’s nothing personal on it. Likewise, my personal laptop and devices have no work accounts or files on them. This means that when I turn my company laptop off, I get to ‘leave’ the office.