One of the attractive features of a dispersed team is the ability for the team to get things done without all being on the same schedule. Members of the team are able to use their time more flexibly, scheduling work around life instead of vice-versa. They may also be scattered across time zones as well.
This advantage comes with a significant dark side, however. With less time spent in direct communication, teams members have a much increased potential for getting out of sync with each other – leading to delays, duplicated or unneeded work, and confusion.
Collocated organizations that practice flex time often define a block of “core hours” when every employee is expected to be in the office. While it is typically impractical – and quite possibly inefficient – for a dispersed team to all be “on duty” for an extended block of time, a limited version of the “core hours” concept can be usefully applied to distributed teams.
Except in the widest-spread global teams, it is usually possible to find a single hour of the day during which is reasonably convenient for all of the team members to be online at the same time. I call this hour “Core Hour”. I recently introduced Core Hour to the team I’m working with, and it’s been helpful in keeping everyone in communication.
The rules for Core Hour are simple:
- Notify the team in advance if you think you will miss all or part of Core Hour
- If possible, plan to do easily-interrupted tasks during Core Hour. Try not to schedule activities requiring deep focus.
- At the beginning of the hour, all team members should:
- Make sure they are logged into the team chat app (e.g. Campfire)
- Go online in Skype and instant messenger applications
- Make sure audio is unmuted and they can see and hear any incoming messages
- A team member, possibly the team lead, should announce the start of Core Hour as a reminder to the other members.
You can use Core Hour for several things:
- Resolving any outstanding questions or problems that require another team member’s input
- Holding impromptu Skype conferences
- Planning collaboration sessions for the next day. E.g. two programmers might take advantage of Core Hour to schedule a pair-programming session at a mutually agreeable time the next day.
Teamwide communication is both necessary and disruptive – you can’t succeed without it, but if you’re not careful it can interrupt important work and inconvenience team members. The idea with Core Hour is to keep the team in sync with a minimum of disruption, by focusing the disruption into a single, well-defined block of time.
What about you: Does your team keep flexible hours? How do you stay in sync without imposing too much structure on your day?