Managing distributed teams: How to manage your time and energy as a global leader
May 13th, 2021
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As Head of Global Engagement Marketing at Asana, I have the pleasure and privilege of leading a team of fourteen mission-driven marketers across five countries. A big part of my role is focused on growing Asana Together, our global community of professionals who are passionate about project management, productivity, and collaboration.
To deepen local engagement with Asana Together members around the world, my team includes community managers based in Ireland, the UK, Japan, Australia, and the US. With a globally distributed team, this means that I’m often juggling timezone Tetris, attending Zoom meetings, leading our engagement marketing strategy, and trying to get my own tasks completed. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but this level of global team coordination comes with a unique set of challenges.
As organizations begin to think through how they’ll reunite their teams in a distributed world, I wanted to share what I’ve learned as a manager of a distributed team. One of the most effective things you can do is to be mindful about how you manage yourself, from how you plan your daily schedule through to your strategy for team meetings. Here are my five tips for managing your time and energy as a global leader.
1. Spend your energy mindfully
When you’re managing a global team, you might try to attend every meeting across all the time zones where your team members are located. This is a recipe for burnout, and you’ll drive yourself into the ground if you try to attend all the meetings at the time times that work for your global team.
Instead, aim to attend key meetings, and get comfortable with delegating responsibilities to regional teammates whom you trust to get the job done. For instance, I encourage teammates in each region to lead their own community growth experiments. I’ll usually be in a couple of initial meetings to help frame the strategy and offer input, because being able to ask and answer questions live is important at this stage of a project. After the project is kicked off, my team and I then check in asynchronously in Asana as work progresses. Of course, if someone wants live input, we can have a quick sync as needed.
By prioritizing the meetings where your participation is critical, you’ll have more energy to focus on the challenges and opportunities where you can make the most impact. As a side bonus, you’ll show your team you trust them to get work done without you needing to be involved in every detail.
2. Shift your working hours
If you have team members working in multiple regions, it’s perfectly okay to shift your working hours. For example, if you’re based in San Francisco (like me), you might have an ‘“early day” that goes from 7am to 4pm for working with team members in Europe and a “later day” from 10am to 7pm for working with team members in the Asia-Pacific.
Build this into your schedule, communicate it to your team, and put it on your calendar, along with any Do Not Schedule (DNS) hours. Speaking from personal experience, don’t attempt to work 12- or 14-hour days. It’s not fun, and when you don’t prioritize rest, you can’t be your best self for your team.
3. Master team timezones
When planning team meetings, be extra mindful about time zone differences. If your team spans North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe, there unfortunately isn’t a reasonable time for everyone to meet live. I’ve also found out the hard way that many countries (and even some states within the US!) do not observe Daylight Saving Time, which can make scheduling extra hard. Be aware of this when scheduling meetings, and bookmark World Time Buddy. I rely on it when planning meetings for my team.
In general, I take a “share the pain” approach to scheduling team meetings. I try to avoid making any meetings super early or super late for anyone (myself included), but often this means our meeting times aren’t really great for anyone. They usually end up being a little early for San Francisco and a little late for our team members in Europe—or a little late for San Francisco and a little early for Asia and Japan. Such is the life of a global team!
Our team’s regular meeting cadence includes our weekly Monday standup where we review what’s coming up for each team member that week, a weekly presentation practice session every Wednesday, and a bi-weekly sub-team sync for the Community and Lifecycle groups within Engagement Marketing. I also have 1-1 meetings with my direct reports every week. To ensure each of these meetings are a good use of everyone’s time, we’re all expected to contribute to each meeting’s agenda.
4. Find ways to foster face time
Remember that not everything has to happen live: Meetings where information is being disseminated can be recorded and shared, and reserve calendar juggling for meetings where live interaction is truly necessary.
As an example, the Marketing team at Asana records our department-wide Town Hall meetings so that our teammates can watch during their working hours. Within the Engagement Marketing team, we have a live weekly team sync at the start of the week on Mondays, and alternate biweekly between EMEA-friendly (9am Pacific) and APAC-friendly (4pm Pacific) times.
For the teams who can’t make it live, they record a video to share their priorities for the week, which everyone watches together at the live meeting. Even though we can’t all meet at the same time, this still gives us face time with the entire team. The combination of working remotely for over a year, along with having such a distributed team, has highlighted the importance of regular face time to build connection and rapport.
5. Embrace the global nature of your role
If you’re managing a global team, you can expect that, from time to time, you’ll have to join a meeting that’s happening very early or very late in your day. It’s part of the job of running a global team. I don’t ever grumble about this to my team, and reiterate that this is what comes along with being responsible for global work. The occasional inconvenience is worth it. You’ll gain incredible exposure to other cultures, build your cross-cultural communication skills, and feel like you’re part of a bigger world than the one outside your own window.
Looking for more tips and best practices on hybrid teamwork in a distributed world? Read more posts from our Managing distributed teams series.