Global Workforce: Tips for Creating a “Follow-the-sun” Service
By: Raul Guerrero (Project Manager) - Venga Global
27 July 2018
In today’s global business climate many companies are working across time zones. As a translation and localization company, we at Venga work with clients all over the world and across all time zones. With over 3,500 linguists all working from their home countries, our internal management must work across time zones, too.
We’re really familiar with the issues that new global companies face and have seen first-hand how only having office hours from 9-5 in one timezone can be a mark against you with your clients. In the past few years, we have hence made a concerted effort to improve our own processes, so that we can provide continuous 24-hour service to our clients. We’ve noticed that there are three big challenges facing companies and three main things you need to make 24-hour service a part of your company.
The 3 Cs: Challenges in following the sun
Depending on where you and your employees are located, you might run into difficulties finding times for one team to overlap with another; this could cause delays in responses. Since you and your team are separated in space and time, it can sometimes be difficult to provide everyone with a clear overview of the process and the status of each task. Clarifying handoff cycles or handing off tasks can be difficult across time zones, especially if one team wants to work late or get a head start on a project.
And don’t forget to account for national holidays! Thanksgiving in Canada and Thanksgiving in the US aren’t celebrated on the same day, and Americans will never understand the number of Spanish religious holidays.
Like any long-distance relationship, Skype is no replacement for face-to-face communication. When you and your team communicate mostly by technology, you might lose some of the richness of communication that in-person conversations have. Glitches, bad connections, and the awkwardness of hearing your own voice on the computer can slow down conversations and make people more self-aware than they normally would be. And if you and your team overlap for only a few hours, you have very little room for answering any questions that may arise.
It can be hard enough to build a team when you’re all together, but when your team is dispersed across time zones, you’ll likely need to navigate cultural differences. This includes how to address people, how to use humor effectively without being face to face with other team members, and how deal with different technical backgrounds. You need to work that much harder to build a sense of “teamness.”
The challenges might seem daunting, but not to worry—with the right people and tools, you can implement 24-hour service at your company.
Here are three crucial things you need for this system to be successful:
In order to follow the sun and not leave anyone behind, you need a robust team in each time zone, and ideally you want teams that are more or less the same size in each place. That way, when you attribute tasks to a new team, one person doesn’t end up doing the work of three people. You might also attribute tasks to one team in a single time zone, rather than transferring all tasks across zones. For example, maybe the London team creates content, and the San Francisco team translates it while the Londoners sleep.
In most cases, a follow-the-sun service will mean that each team works 8 hours in their respective time zones, and then hands over the project to the next zone in the short end-of-day overlap.
In order for this to work, though, you need the right mix of people.
When considering whether your company can implement a follow-the-sun service, you want to make sure your team is flexible, collaborates well, is organized, and decisive.
Flexibility matters because things will happen–your team needs to be ready and willing to adjust when needed (this means upper management, too!). For example, let’s say that it is a national holiday in Germany. On that day, your people in other timezones or countries will have to adapt, cover for them, or adjust deadlines slightly. You also want people who can collaborate well, and this requires an inherent flexibility of personality. You are all one team, even if you’re not sitting next to each other, and this means that there can’t be silos between countries.
In order to keep work moving across the world, hire decisive people. Your employees need to be able to make decisions for their own projects. They might be the only person in their location, and if they have to run things by a bunch of other people, your service will bottleneck. A lot of this can be developed through training: a company can empower its employees to be competent and decisive in their positions.
Good decisions run on good information, and in a follow-the-sun company, good information comes from excellent organization. Passing projects off from one location to another requires that everything–process, questions, ideas–are documented and organized thoroughly. Your teams can write copious notes about what happened in one timezone so that when the next picks it up, they do not spend too much time catching up on what is going on.
And finally, build teams who are comfortable with delegation. That project that you started? You might not get to be the one who delivers, and that is ok. It is important to know when to pass off something (and the responsibility that goes with it) to someone else. Otherwise, your teams will try to work all hours of the day and burn out quickly. On the other hand, it is important not to just pass something off to the next person, just because it would make your life easier. Trust in the people in your team is key.
Strategic use of automation and co-working tools can keep things running smoothly. Machines don’t sleep and your software doesn’t care what time it is, so relying on automation where possible will help you get more done in the background. If you remove or automate any manual steps that you can, your teams will be able to focus only on what they can do in their active time.