Across the Atlantic Handoffs

Automattic is a large worldwide team, made up of smaller, worldwide teams where everyone works remotely. That was one of the things that made me excited to work there, but also very curious as to how it worked in practice.

Would the timezone differences slow us down? Would we unintentionally get in each other’s way? What if we needed an answer from someone who had already logged off hours ago?

Working as a Team

The team of eight I’m on is made up of people from 6 countries:

  • Argentina
  • Czech Republic
  • Germany
  • England
  • United States
  • Greece

And it’s amazing. We work so well together. This boils down to:

  • Caring about doing a good job.
  • Wanting to help the team.
  • Being responsible and motivated to work independently.
  • Communicating * 3

I’m a big fan of everyone on the team. We all do the above points well, in my opinion. I’m not sure how well it would work otherwise.

The End of Day Handoff

One thing that really helps us work efficiently is our End of Day notes. Everyday before logging off for the day, you post:

  • The status of what you’ve been working on.
  • Any PRs you need reviewed.
  • Is there anything you want to handoff? Lots of notes here, if so.
  • Is there anything blocking or that you need help with? Similar to the above, but not exactly. This could be something outside of a code-related thing.

This helps us know the status of everything in a consistent way, while also being able to pick-up work or help each other out. We call this asynchronous communication. A lot of things don’t need to be real-time conversations if you communicate clearly enough.

The handoff works especially well when there are two people spread out over far enough timezones that they have 2 – 4 hours of overlapping time. One person starts work in a more focused way, then there’s enough overlap time for working together and getting on the same page, then handing off to the next person to work on it.

It also builds a lot of team camaraderie as well as being deeply satisfying when you say you need help with something, go to bed, then wake up and find it’s taken care of.

Working in Sync

Earlier on when I’d joined Automattic, I was helping out on a complicated issue where two of us were working actively on the same PR. I was trying to act in a supporting role to get it over the finish line without getting in the way. I tried to walk the line between helping out without taking over.

I reached out to my co-worker Damián to make sure I wasn’t stepping on his toes by working on the issue.

“Please, step on my toes.” he said. “I’ll let you know if something isn’t going well, and I ask you to do the same for me.”

So many places look at being in one office at one location as an advantage, but I’d argue that this kind of open, honest communication and End of Day handoffs allows our team to work more efficiently than if we were all in one area.

Either way, it’s an amazing team. We’re hiring, so be sure to apply if you think you’d enjoy working remotely on a worldwide team.

One response to “Across the Atlantic Handoffs”

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