This was originally published in July 2016. A similar question came up recently in the Support Driven chat, so we thought we’d share again. If you’ve got more tips, please join us in Slack! — Andrea B.
A few days ago, Jordy Webb asked:
When you have a distributed team, it can be pretty tricky to hold meetings and make decisions. You want to make sure everyone gets the chance to discuss new plans for the support team. How can you do it when your teammates are not in the same timezone, without asking them to wake up in the middle of the night?
Holding meetings over video calls
If your team is distributed across 2-3 time zones, you can set up regular video conferences with the entire support team.
Those are good because they’re live. Everyone has the chance to share feedback, give their opinion on future decisions and react to what’s being said in real time. Decisions can be made quickly as all the team is fully focused on discussing a single topic, for a limited amount of time. It’s also an opportunity to sync on open customer tickets or current issues with the product. These meetings can dramatically unite your team after just a few months.
Chelsea at Recruiterbox holds a daily standup, others like Jim at Basecamp do a weekly chat to discuss what the team will be doing the following week.
The thing is, when you start offering 24/7 support, it gets almost impossible to get everyone to attend a single call. You can either repeat a call for a second timezone group (e.g. one for your West Coast and Asia teams, and one for your European team), record your calls for folks you couldn’t attend (but they won’t have the chance to participate), or to switch to asynchronous communication. Let’s talk about the latter!
Opting for async communication
As your team gets larger and/or becomes more distributed, async communication may emerge as the most efficient way to communicate. It enables everyone to participate to important conversations no matter what time zone they’re in, and some folks like Chase Clemons from Basecamp even prefer it over calls.
Teams like Automattic or Basecamp are really good at it. Though the transition to async communication needs to be well prepared. Below are some things to consider before shifting.
Use the right tools, in the right way.
Most teams avoid email, as it’s pretty heavy and doesn’t allow multithreaded conversations. Async communication can be challenging too. Thus, you need to make sure to set up some guidelines on how to use your internal tools.
If you choose to use Slack
- That’s a good place to start. Chat is ideal to toss ideas back & forth and quickly discussing something.
- Some conversations can get buried by the never-ending chat flow. Make sure that everyone on your team sees important decisions. You can have someone responsible for surfacing those on a #meta channel for instance.
- Don’t forget that using Slack puts pressure on everyone to respond right now if you want to participate in a conversation
If you use P2 or Basecamp messages:
- These tools enable to have threaded conversations, and to have a sub-thread for a specific point in the conversation (like on Reddit), which is great for decision making.
- Automattic has a saying “P2 or it didn’t happen”. It means that if you opt for using those tools, make sure to have all the communication here. If a conversation starts in Slack and contains information that needs to be discussed with folks in another timezone, move it to P2.
Set up the right culture
Async communication requires a specific mindset in the team. Some people may be concerned about misinterpretations of what they write down. To avoid that, just make it a habit to ask “Hey, it seems like you’re saying… Does that sound right or did I misread something?”
Also, if you do the switch from calls to async communication, bear in mind that you’ll need to give it some time. The transition can be hard and your teammates may complain about issues with it. That’s ok. Encourage feedback, be sure to respond to their concerns and don’t hesitate to ask for help.
@chaseclemons & @andrewspittle from the Support Driven community are using async communication daily. If you need tips, they’re ok to respond to your questions!
About the author, Romain
I’m the CEO of Gorgias. I’ve been doing support for years and I’m now working on making it easier from companies to interact with their customers. We’re building a helpdesk which brings all customer communications in one place, and connects with other tools to show the full customer profile. We’re in beta, if you’d like to join hit me up!