I’ve worked across multiple time zones for over 10 years now: in different roles, in different team sizes, and with different collaboration tools. It’s never easy.
In my previous job at Samsung Ventures—one of the most active corporate venture capitals in the world—I worked with colleagues spread across seven different countries and global startups on a daily basis. Likewise, I worked on multiple projects with startups and R&D centers located in the Bay Area, Ukraine, and India as a software engineer at Samsung Electronics.
It was truly a pleasure to work so closely with highly talented people from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds. However, I was never satisfied with overall project performance and never felt as if we were working efficiently. Projects always moved slow. Working across time zones, tasks took two to three times longer than they did otherwise: no matter how large the time difference, which tools were used, or whom I collaborated with.
The only solution felt like a need to either work in the middle of the night on a daily basis or jet off on a business trip once or twice a month. Compromising efficiency seemed natural, but it truly wasn’t necessary! Let’s dive into specific reasons why this is the case.
Text communication limits
Which communication channels do modern teams use? In interviewing more than 200 people from all different types of teams, I’ve pinpointed these as the (perhaps obvious) norms: email, Slack (or Microsoft Teams), and Zoom (or Google Meet).
How about distributed teams then? Results are the same. They typically participate in only one or two Zoom calls a week and primarily communicate asynchronously through email or Slack. Problems with this text-based communication include:
No matter how clear you write, your message is primed to get misunderstood at some point. This is bad for any team, but it’s so much worse if you work across time zones: as you can only exchange messages a few times a day. It's perhaps surprising to see just how often a misread email delays a project deadline.
Text communication lacks a sense of nuance. Emojis can’t recreate the kind of timbre, tone of voice, and all the additional information you enjoy while actually talking to someone. This frequently causes conflict between employees and, once again, is harmful for any team but so much more so if you work across time zones—making it that much more challenging to build bonds between team members.
Using Slack or any other group chatting app makes it nearly impossible to foster transparency; and of course, email is even worse. Conversations are only accessible to people in the same channel, and it’s almost impossible to trace back the history of all conversations on one specific topic as they are never in a single conversation thread. Hence, it is very easy for someone to miss the overall context and face blame for not knowing what others know.
Use async video messaging instead
Asynchronous video messaging is video-based communication that is not live-streamed nor happening in real-time. Instead, it typically allows users to record their computer screen and share videos with an audience via a link, email, etc.
We are now more comfortable receiving information via video than ever before, and creating video is faster and easier than it ever was. However, modern workplaces have yet to widely introduce video-based communication solutions aside from real-time video conferencing.
Asynchronous video messaging was initially used for sales and marketing videos, product demo videos, and how-to videos in recent years and was just recently introduced as a new communication channel for work.
Most workplaces will adopt asynchronous video messaging in the coming years. However, from my experience, I’m more than certain it’s most beneficial for teams that work across time zones on a daily basis. Here is why:
Video messages are far less likely to be misunderstood and make it much easier to explain complicated matters
Video recreates the kind of timbre, tone of voice, and additional nuances you enjoy when actually talking to someone
If you choose the right solution, you can foster transparency with ease (whether using with other established tools or not)
Choose the right solution for you
There are a few options available in this regard.
Dubb, Vidyard, and Loom for information-sharing purposes
Dubb, Vidyard, and Loom allow you to record video of your screen (and face) and share with others via email or a URL. If you are in a position where you mainly engage in “one-way” communication—meaning you speak and your audience generally listens—these tools are often a good choice. However, it’s not easy to foster transparency with these tools as they are not designed for collaboration. Rather, they allow you to create a single video message at a time, and it is extremely difficult to correlate or store related videos together.
Tape for collaboration purposes
If you generally communicate in a “two-way” fashion—exchanging feedback, engaging in discussion, collecting opinions, and/or making decisions—interaction is key and Tape is your best choice. Tape not only allows you to record and share video messages without the need to install extensions or apps, but Tape’s interactive features tailored for video mean your audience can respond to your message simply and intuitively.
Moreover, Tape is designed and built for work. Every back and forth interaction for a single topic is stored together in one place and thus accessible by anyone on the team in a transparent fashion.