As I’m writing this, the Planetary team is spread out across 4 time zones in 4 different countries. This isn’t unusual for us, but it makes our “office” a unique place: we don’t all start working at the same time, keep the same hours, or even have the same daylight or seasons.
These aspects, as I’ve learned, make a surprising difference when it comes to feeling empathy.
At a traditional office, Monday mornings come with shared jokes about caffeine dependency. Rainy days put a damper on the whole team, from the wet commute to the required wardrobe changes. Early meetings can happen over breakfast, and late nights aren’t quite as bad when you’re sharing a pizza.
Working remotely is different. I don’t know when my teammate is worn-out from a long day when I’m just getting into the swing of mine. Unless a coworker drops a picture into Slack, I have no idea what the world looks and feels like where they are. I have to keep a close eye on meeting times, to make sure they’re not too early or late.
To help bring our team closer, about a year ago we decided to try something new: a tool to allow everyone on our team to share their working hours. It automatically detects timezone and location, displaying the team as a series of ever-moving timelines, shifted by their timezone and bounded by their work hours. This hacked-together tool in hand, showed us when team members were in the “office”, or whether they were beginning their day, or finishing it up.
It worked. Scheduling meetings became easier, knowing when not to ping teammates about decisions became smoother. No more “so how many hours from now is that?” or “wait, is that too late for some of you?”
Next, we added a Slack bot, allowing us to simply include an @-mention to convert a local time to others’. And, just for fun, a constantly-updated weather emoji automatically tacked onto the end of each person’s name.
Meeting planning went from this:
We talk about the weather, and it’s easy to know when and when not to jump into a team chat. Team happiness is up, and (I’d like to think) everyone feels a little bit closer despite the distance.
While still in “beta,” we hope you enjoy using it with your remote team!