Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
For more than ten years, I have been leading teams at Automattic, a company of close to 1,800 people across 90 countries.
We are a fully distributed company, and every employee works from the location of their choice.
One of the critical values of Automattic is that there is no central place, no headquarters, no “company time”. In our distributed environment, we are all at the same distance from each other.
I firmly believe everyone must experience that and never feel remote or isolated.
The majority of the communication is text-based and happens asynchronously, yet meetings still exist.
They mostly take place online through tools like Zoom, Slack, Meet, or Around.
Our teams span multiple time zones, and participants often have very different energy levels when joining a zoom call. Someone will just be out of bed, sipping that first tea or coffee of the day. Another teammate will be hungry, and the meeting is the only thing separating them from lunch or dinner. Someone else will be getting ready to get their kids to or from school. For another one, it could be late at night after the house has fallen asleep.
Time of day is not the only parameter affecting us. The weather also significantly impacts our mood, and as we are all in different locations, we’ll experience a variety of conditions.
When teams span both hemispheres, we won’t even be living in the same season.
Last but not least, we live in a global world, yet most events with the most substantial influence on our day to day lives are very local.
All this context, effortlessly shared by attendees when a call takes place in one physical location, is now completely scattered.
To this extent, I want to share a few tips for distributed meeting organisers that have helped me run successful meetings over the years.
The first tip addresses the scheduling phase: do not use your local time zone.
If you organise a 1-1 appointment, it is preferable to use the other person’s time zone. However, if it is for a group, just default to UTC. Most participants will instantly know the difference between their time zone and UTC, and if not, they can easily google it.
The second one is also straightforward to implement: be aware of the local time for each participant during the meeting. Nowadays, it is effortless as countless widgets allow you to keep track of time in multiple locations around the globe. However, over time you’ll be more and more familiar with the specific timezones your teammates occupy, and it will become second nature to consider this parameter without any assistance.
Luckily you can apply to the weather the same principle as to the time.
List the cities where your teammates live in your preferred weather app, and you can rapidly glance at the conditions in their location. Here, unfortunately, you can’t learn the difference once and for all; you’ll have to check each time, except for San Francisco 😉
This is more of a challenge. I wouldn’t recommend it to every participant in a meeting. However, if you are a team lead or organise a recurring meeting with the same participants, you should keep track of prominent local events. Primary elections, pandemic related measures, major sports events, back to school dates, and many others have a way to affect or distract us. Being aware of them is a powerful empathy enabler.
Last but not least, there is nothing more annoying than starting a meeting with the confusion coming from people exchanging greetings that do not fit each other time of the day. The endless dance of “Good Morning”, “oh, no, Good Afternoon”, or “Good Night” gets old quite quickly and underlines differences instead of rallying everyone in one single place.
This is why “Good Morfternight!” was born almost ten years ago: a single greeting uniting all participants in a meeting.