How to leverage time zones when outsourcing

Up until very recently, the worldwide economy has operated under the assumption that keeping all operations in a centralized location–say, an office building–is necessary for success.

But in our increasingly globalized and information-driven world, where workers can telecommute from every corner of the globe, dealing with time differences has become ingrained in the way we do business.

Under the old paradigm this was a hindrance. When a project in Sydney needs to be vetted by the head office in New York it can add days to the project if not managed properly. But this doesn’t need to be the case.

Properly utilized, time zones and the workers within them can actually cut down the number of days it takes to bring a project to market.

Leveraging The Sun

Take, for example, Be Street Smart, who we spoke with at the beginning of March as they were preparing to launch their platform just six weeks after hiring their developers.

Matthew Yeager, CTO, Be Street Smart, works from the company’s head office in London. The project manager and programmer are each based in New York. The team was assembled through Gigster’s office in San Francisco while the designer is based in Melbourne.

“I can kind of do a follow-the-sun thing,” says Yeager. “You’ve got a 5 hour time difference between me and New York City and an 8 hour time difference between me and California, you’ve got a 12 hour time difference between me and Australia.”

As Matthew found when working with Gigster and a team of freelancers spread all over the world, they were actually able to get everything done in a shorter period of time.

“I guess mathematically, in a cheeky kind of way, we haven’t changed the time that it actually takes to do this,” he says. “What we’ve done is we’ve leveraged the resources available to us in the different regions such that you can actually get three months worth of work done in one month. Without killing anybody. Simply because they live in different time zones.”

The Tools To Shrink The Globe

It’s a concept that Will Critchlow, founder and CEO of online marketing agency Distilled, agrees with. Writing for Forbes, Critchlow says his company has had to deal with working across time zones basically since its inception.

“Over the years we’ve had to refine how we remain communicative and productive across three time zones and two countries, which has taken much practice and is a constantly evolving process,” he writes.

There are a number of tools and resources available to ease the pain of cross-time zone communication and organization.

Slack, Skype, and Google+ have all been designed with the intent of making the world a little smaller and easier to navigate. Dropbox, Trello, and Google Drive make organizing and file sharing simple. It’s a whole new world.

“We have technologies now that I just didn’t have earlier in my career,” says Yeager. “You have Slack, you have iPads, you have Trello. You have ways of communicating with one another that people can get the answers they need very, very quickly. If they’re indeed quick and easy answers you can block out your iteration for more sociable hours so you’re not doing it at 10 or 11 o’clock at night.”

Do The Math

In this excellent blog post from 2010, author Jim Compton lays out how a hypothetical project can benefit from working across different time zones.

He shows that by utilizing teams across the globe for different purposes, you can actually cut down on the number of days it takes to complete a task while keeping the overall man hours unchanged.

Let’s imagine a company in New York wants to build a mobile App. The project manager in NYC works through their task for their work day. Once they complete their task they can hand it off to the programmer in Seattle who will work away until the end of their day.

Then the programmer passes it off to the designer in Tokyo, who passes all the completed work back to New York at the beginning of their work day on the East Coast.

What normally takes days to complete is finished in one 24 hour cycle. Even though the same number of people worked for the same number of hours.

Yeager says Be Street Smart benefitted from this exact scenario. In fact, he says it likely helped save everyone’s sanity.

“In my world I can still take my son to school every morning which is the best part of my day. I can drop him off, we’ve had that time together, that father-son time, I can then jump on the train and come into London.

I’m meeting with customers, I’m working with my team in London. I’m then iterating with them and sending that to Lola [in New York] and then James is picking it up and he’s running with it. And we’re all kind of picking it up and running with it in our own way.”

Look West

The secret to all of this is to have each project phase cascade to the west. To follow the sun, so to speak. Moving in the opposite direction can actually add more calendar dates to a project’s duration.

Let’s imagine the different phases of a project. Step one is the planning phase, step two is the design phase, step three is the build phase, step four is quality assurance and, finally, we deliver the project to the customer.

If the planning phase happens in San Francisco at 10AM and lasts two hours before being passed off to the design team in New York you’ve actually lost four hours. The New York team won’t be able to work on the design until they receive it at 2PM Eastern Time.

Even if they manage to finish all the design work in the 3 hours remaining of their work day, by the time they pass it on to the programmers in London it’ll be 11 o’clock at night in their time zone.

They won’t be able to start the build until the next morning. If they finish the build in an amazing five hours and pass it off to the QA team in Tokyo, it will be 5PM at the Tokyo office.

That means they won’t get to it until the next day. If it takes them 3 hours to get through everything it will arrive at 8am in San Francisco to be delivered to the customer.

In this example going east would mean the project would take 3 calendar days to go from assignment to delivery to the client. Now let’s see what when you go west.

The planning phase happens in San Francisco beginning at 9AM and lasts two hours. It’s handed off to the design team, now located in Tokyo. They’ll have everything they need when they show up for work at 9AM local time.

It takes them 3 hours to do the work and pass it off to the programmers now located in Sydney, Australia. It will be 2PM when it arrives, giving the team there until 5pm to finish the build. They pass it off to London for QA.

The London workers start handling the project when they show up at 9AM and it takes 3 hours to finish before passing it off to New York who receive the finished product at 7AM local time.

Breaking It Down:

Planning in San Francisco: 9AM – 11AM (2 hours)

Arrives in Tokyo at 3AM. Team arrives at 9AM. (6 hours)

Tokyo works 9AM to 12PM (3 hours)

Arrives in Sydney at 2PM local, they work until 5PM (3 hours)

Arrives in London at 7AM, team arrives at 9AM (2 hours)

London team works 9AM to 12PM (3 hours)

Arrives in New York at 7AM.

Total time from assignment to delivery: 19 hours

The client will receive the deliverables the day after handing it over to the development team. Going west took less than one day, going east took three days.

This simplistic example demonstrates the concept. But it shows that having the next step in your project occur in a time zone to the west of the previous one is the most efficient way to benefit from different time zones.

Gigster can help organize teams of freelancers from across the globe to make your next project run as smoothly as possible.

Tyler Trumbull

Ty splits his time between Canada and Mexico. He’s been writing for Gigster since early 2016 where he really enjoys learning and sharing clients’ stories. He plays banjo in one of Mexico’s only country bands, wishes he could write like Thomas Pynchon, and is generally a fan of the Oxford comma.