Learning to work with staff in different timezones

I set up 34SP.com with a fried of mine, Stuart Melling after we finished university in 2000. At the beginning we set up the company as a hobby not expecting that it would grow to the extent that it has, and 14 years on we would have clients all over the world, data centres in Manchester and London, and a rapidly expanding head office in Manchester city centre.

The majority of the 34SP.com team is still based in Manchester but in more recent years we've had to adjust to having colleagues overseas. Stuart moved to Salt Lake City a few years ago, and Derek Vaughan, a highly respected figure in the global web hosting industry, who is based in Los Angeles, also joined our growing team.

Incorporating US-based staff into our existing UK business meant we had to alter our approach as a company. We put more emphasis on online tools and we had to update our business practices to make sure there wasn’t a negative impact on our clients. 

Email is essential obviously but other messaging services, such as WhatsApp, have also made a huge difference. Moreover, we use Skype and Internet Relay Chat for more in-depth discussions when required.

Moving the whole team over to the cloud with Google Drive has also made it easier for us to share documents and spreadsheets without saving over each other’s work.

Introducing more flexible practices has also helped us to adjust to having people different timezones. Occasionally I need to work later hours and our team in the US need to start work a little earlier to make sure we touch base.

We've also had to introduce more structure into our weeks. Every Tuesday afternoon, for example, we now have scheduled catch-up meetings with our colleagues across the Atlantic. 

These measures really help us to function more effectively as a business. However, I do miss being able to ask a question across the desk to my colleagues from time to time.

Communication isn't always about the words we use either, it's also about body language and being able to make eye contact with the person you're speaking to, so not having this can be difficult at times.

Moreover, it's easy to forget that Stuart and Derek are cut off from the atmosphere in Manchester, so occasionally they might not realise when we're particularly busy for example.

However, there are important benefits to working this way. For our international clients and suppliers, it can be immensely helpful because it allows us to work with them and answer their questions more quickly.

Since 34SP.com first started to have staff in different timezones, the whole team has had to change how it works. Admittedly, at the beginning we did experience teething problems and we’re not perfect by any means, but I think we've now settled into a system that works really well for us. Something that I'm sure could be easily replicated by other businesses in a similar situation.

Sometimes I still pinch myself when I hear others talking about our team in the States. It’s truly incredible to think how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. 

For more information, please visit www.34sp.com. 

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