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I am working very closely with a couple of other developers across time zones between North America and Europe. We all have flex hours and it's proving difficult to be online together at the same time for calls and chats, etc.

We are collaborating in real time, on the same feature set at the same time. For example, I am working on part A of a feature 1, the rest of the team in Europe is working on part B, and C of feature 1. We spend a lot of time screen sharing, and talking about how to solve coding problems, and building restful APIs, etc. This makes it hard to anticipate and plan to be together, I really want to just know exactly when is the next time I can talk to another developer, so we can plan our work better. We are a small team we don't have fancy setups like Exchange, just Gmail accounts, and Goople Apps.

I do not want to force the team to stick to fixed daily / hourly schedule. I am looking for an application where every team member can enter their work schedule for the next few days online and the application should display for each member when everyone else will be online in the local time zone.

For example, I am in the EST time zone and I can say that I will be online from 11:00 AM to 7 PM EST time, and my colleagues in Central Europe should be able to see my availability in Central Europe time.

Core hours / Blocks don't work because of the time zone difference, and because during core hours I might be in meeting with customers. So I really want an app that I can indicate my availability in different time zones.

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migrated from programmers.stackexchange.com Jan 13 '13 at 22:59

This question came from our site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

    
@ams, the tool you're describing is very easy to develop, so you could develop it yourselves. But I think the tool isn't necessary since you said you have a small team and it wouldn't be difficult to arrange a meeting by talking/writing to every person in the team beforehand. –  superM Jan 13 '13 at 16:55

5 Answers 5

I am working in a worldwide distributed work-from-home team. I don't think we ever saw the need for the tool and the setup you are looking for (but then again, we cover enough timezones so that there is no time that would work for everyone anyway).

When someone wants to have someone else online at a specified time, it is arranged as needed, usually by a Google Calendar meeting. This includes standing weekly/monthly/etc meetings. Other than that, we are aware of each other's working hours more or less informally.

I think this setup works well for us, but it requires trust, good individual work capabilities, and is incompatible with micromanagement.

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We have had the exact same problem and in order to maximize our times together we have pretty good flex hours. Normally my entire development staff has our standup about 8AM EST. We are located in Kansas City, MO which has us on CST. We have a lot of contractors on the East Coast and one in California. Sadly she has to get up a little early. The international groups we have are in India and in the UK and one developer in France. The 8AM EST has so far worked out to be perfect for a general standup time and while group meetings.

The only time this has not worked out well is when we have Sprint Planning (every 3rd Monday) where I require every Sprint team to be involved. The UK team has one designated tech lead that joins the entire day, but mostly they are there the majority of time. In India it is a bit harder for them, but since these are regularly planned per our process they plan accordingly and have shifted their schedules.

The impromptu meetings are what cause the most grief so we have team leads and defined responsibilities across the group and they know how and who to pull in at the right time. As I am the director of the group and a very active developer in our group I make myself available 24 hours. I also travel to Asia-Pacific region, in particularly Japan and that means some really difficult hours for me. However, I set the example and won't make the whole team suffer for one person.

In the end this schedule has worked out to be the best. There are relatively few problems with it. I do get some gripes from the developers about coming in early, but since we have a 2 days a week work from home policy (which often runs more than that) and excellent telecommuting infrastructure that works well it hasn't been too bad. Many of the developers, even the moms and dads, are able to attend 99% of the meetings somewhere without it being a hassle regardless of where they are located.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

We enededup using google calendars to solve this problem very easily. Here is how we did it.

  1. Each person creates a Google calendar called "Name Availability" such as "Jim Avilability", "Jack Avilablity"
  2. Each person shares their availability calendar with everyone else
  3. Each person enters appointments for the hours they plan to work on their calendar in their local time zone
  4. everyone can click the other peoples calenadr for google to layer them on top of each other and google does the time zone conversion in that displays everyone's calendars in local time zone.
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I would also advice to try and rotate who meets in 'off hours'. Sometimes someone will have to take that meeting at 6am or 11pm, but it shouldn't be the same person every time. –  Ida Jul 29 at 23:57

Even with flexible hours in a normal work place where everyone can come in from say 7:30 and the office closes after 19:00, you will have so called "block" hours where everyone is required to be "in". In my experience, these block hours are from 10:00 - 16:00. These block hours are set to facilitate scheduling meetings.

So you don't have to require your team to stick to a fixed daily schedule, but you most certainly could ask/require them to always be available for a set (couple of) hour(s) on a daily basis.

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1  
I don't mind block hours, but the issues is that during block hours I could be in a meeting with a customer and not available to my team in Europe, and I don't want them hanging around skype looking for when I am going to be online, or the reverse when i am hanging around skype looking for when they will be online . So its really about letting other teams know when each of us will be online so that we can co-ordinate. –  ams Jan 13 '13 at 16:12

I'm not sure that the answer is to have people working the same hours, more a case of everyone knows when people will be available, allowing them to plan arround it. Having a strong culture of information being made available in writing (wiki?) reducing the need for real time communication, and finally having a controlled mechanism to contact someone out of hours (and for them to be compensated for the contact) to prevent an entire team loosing a day waiting for an out of timezone answer.

Worked in one environment, where developers were paid £50 for answering the phone on an out of hours work call. Strangely no one minded it.

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