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Friday, July 17, 2015

The 15 hour time difference

As an Agile Coach working in the Philippines, I need consistent contact with my home base (US) so that I can communicate and receive information.

Acceptance Criteria: Schedule daily touch points with appropriate people.

Schedule daily touch points with appropriate people... much more easily said (and written) than done. There is a 15 hour time difference between Manila and Phoenix, Arizona; which is my home base. I'm a day ahead and am just starting my day when they are ending theirs. Factor in that we must also loop in New York sometimes and things get more complicated.

When I was on the other end, I was aware of the time difference but am ashamed to say I had a pretty ethno-centric approach; the "offshore" people should be available when we were working; during our "core hours."

Now that I'm on this side, I see how difficult that is and how unfair. Our colleagues in the Philippines are people too. They have lives--families and children--with schedules and needs that must be met.

When the VP I work with kept saying things like, 'I don't want people to forget that we are part of the team too.' I honestly thought he was referring to the tendency to forget to include us in meeting invites, etc, but what he meant was that our colleagues in the Philippines (and India) are referred to as "offshore" and really are not considered part of the team. We are the red-headed step-child.

Now that I'm here in Manila, I am 'offshore' and often run into the issue of being asked to attend meetings that are scheduled long after going home time; sometimes 10pm Manila time or later. I have agreed in many cases to keep the information flow going but after awhile this takes a physical toll that cannot be sustained.

One of the things I teach as an Agile coach is that we all must work a sustainable pace to ensure we don't burn out and allow people to have lives outside work; which makes us better employees who are more productive.

However, when we start to talk about how we can achieve the overlap we need to keep the work flowing smoothly, the onus all seems to be on the offshore component of the team. The current proposal is the Philippines office will need to alter our schedule to come in at six in the morning. This would give us a two plus hour overlap with the US; we would be starting at about 3pm their time.

Our day would then end about 3pm Manila time; which sounds great, right? Get home for the kids, etc. and have daylight hours to do other things. As we have been talking about it many of the people I work with have said this will be difficult for a variety of reasons and that many probably won't leave at 3pm. They already work more than 8 hours a day normally.

So this may actually push people to work even longer hours. Especially since we already have a mid-shift group that doesn't come on until 3pm and we need to have overlap with them as well.

But even if it did work out well, what this doesn't do is share the change or sacrifice or responsibility for ensuring we can keep information flowing without delay on all parties in this team. It puts it all squarely on one set of team members; the Philippine contingent.

I don't have all (or even any) of the answers and have not yet figured out how to make this work, but I have learned a very valuable lesson. We must think in wholes, not parts which make up the whole. Onshore and offshore should only be explanations for where people are, not for their function or value.

While difficult, it is not impossible. Distributed teams must bridge the time, geographic and, sometimes, philosophical gap to ensure they can continue to work as an integrated whole.

We're still working on it. I'll keep you posted.

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