Staying in Sync with a Core Hour

Staying in Sync with a Core Hour

Aug 11, 10 • In Practices

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?

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4 Responses to Staying in Sync with a Core Hour

  1. Jordyn Bonds says:

    This is a great idea — so great, in fact, that I wonder why it hasn’t already become part of both my “wide team” processes as well as in-person team efforts. On the latter score, I find that being physically proximate to one’s team often functions as a proxy for *actually* communicating. I think scheduling an hour each day when no external meetings are scheduled, no intense concentration is required, etc. would be a benefit to any team, regardless of how that team structured.

  2. irv says:

    Interesting concept. I’m on a team that has most members in the Eastern US time zone but also some in India. We do not have formal core hours but most of us are available for email communication in the late morning (Eastern time).

    I’ve actually started moving my heaviest work hours out of the time when people are most likely to communicate because it is intensely disruptive. So much so that I question the entire idea of scheduling time during which you do only “easily interrupted” tasks. Those are mostly trivial tasks like answering email and it’s very hard to switch from doing more intense things, to that stuff, and then back when the time is up. Some days it’s not bad, other days it’s a real burden. It depends on what I need to do.

    It’s nice that you’ve found a balance that works for you but in our case, I think having a meeting online once in a (long) while is a better idea.

  3. […] The retrospective is the time to propose a switch to a new VoIP software stack that has less audio lag. It’s the time to propose a switch to holding standup meetings in Campfire instead of on the phone because the phone meetings are dragging on too long. ┬áIt’s the venue where you discuss how disjoint schedules are causing delays in communication, and whether it might be time to institute a Core Hour. […]

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