Working in a fully distributing team spanning many time zones is often hard. When needed, we do get up early or stay at work late to accomodate a meeting with someone who’s far away. And someone new to the team might find themselves compiling lists of questions at the end of their day in the hope of having a reply by the time they wake up.
This is very much the reality of my team at Automattic since we’re fully distributed and spread out from Spain over the US and all the way to New Zealand. But I do think all the effort is worth it. Because on the upside, it offers us some really nice advantages:
Equality of opportunities – Our team’s mission is unique and we work with technologies like Search and Machine Learning that are used only by a few other teams at Automattic. Being fully distributed and keeping up good good distributed work practices, we enable others to join our team and work with these technologies at Automattic – regardless of where they live.
Time for deep work – Asynchronous communication is key for working across many time zones. Embracing asynchronous communication as the norm also allows us to reserve time for deep, concentrated work. I am happier and more productive when I can get into a real work flow, no matter if I am looking at numbers or making plans for my team.
Inclusion of different personality types – Asynchronous communication ideally allows everyone to participate in their pace, no matter if that means jumping into a discussion right away with an opinionated reply, doing some research first or needing time to build up the courage to voice their opinion. It also takes away the burden to fight for speaking time in a meeting; there’s always place for another comment in an asynchronous discussion while time in a meeting might run out faster (or slower!) than you’d like.
A culture of documentation – A beneficial side effect of asynchronous work is that can promote better documentation which in turn can enable better decisions in the future.
Learning opportunities for others – Asynchronous communication with comprehensive and public summaries of workflows, decision taking processes, progress and technology across the company provides plenty of learning opportunity. For example, developers looking to take on project or architecture leadership can follow the work of more senior folks in other teams, and a data scientist or analyst planning to specialize in marketing technology can build up domain knowledge by keeping up with the Marketing division.