How do you keep communication open in an international company?


An interesting question that faces many of us here. How do you keep the lines of communication between the offices of your company?

I work for an international company with teams in The UK, US, Australia and New Zealand. With such a difference in timezone, it can be challenging not two feel like there are two different companies.

The guys over in the UK are cool, but just a long way away. How would you work on “closing the distance” between sites? We’ve recently had some visits from the other side of the world and this has helped considerably. I’m just wondering what else people might do?


I worked for SAI Global for 18 months, headquartered in Sydney, Australia with offices in 27 countries, while I was in Atlanta, GA, US. Now I work for SunTrust bank with a lot of teams in India or split between India and the US. Even my own small business in the 2008-2013 range had clients in the UK and Australia.

If you can do a face to face meeting every now and then, or at the very least once at the start of team formation, it goes a long way towards keeping the bonds strong enough for phone and webcam meetings to be more effective. But I find these opportunities to meet and form bonds in person work like batteries that over time lose their charge, so try not to let a year go by at the most without spending the money to do it again. Also, teams do change given enough time due to personal reasons if nothing else, so there will be teammates that have never met in person and may never find the chance. So annual meetings will take care of that situation. Of course, do it more frequently if you can. The productivity boost is worth the expense; hard to measure but gut feel and experience tell me that this is true.

Otherwise, collaboration tools like Slack work in both synchronous and asynchronous mode, if you will. Of course, you have to identify overlap hours. Webcams are a must as well. There are really great ones that follow speakers around the room but cost like $6,000 USD. For something closer to $200 USD you can get a fish eye lens webcam that can manage to put the whole team in the room in an OK manner; complement that with a great microphone like the Blue Snowball USB microphone for about $69 USD. I’m sure there are other mics but this one has just 3 settings for picking up sound and that simplicity plus the quality of the mic make it a great choice. Several of us on the Agile Uprising board own one and use it for podcast recordings solo or with groups, just change the setting to fit the situation. The mics on cheap webcams usually aren’t good enough on their own.

For distributed Scrum teams, I have had to use proxies in each city being the ones to keep a tight bond via phone and Internet. So a Product Owner in the US would have a Product Owner proxy in India. They would meet enough daily to and use a common electronic backlog tool and common information radiators. Not ideal but workable.


Most of what Paul said is what I was going to say, so in the interests of brevity I won’t repeat. :slight_smile: Face to face is key, so webcams are a must and in-person at least once a quarter/half year really help. Persistent chat rooms like Slack are also a big help.

We have on/off-shore anchors for each team who are responsible for keeping the team’s pace in sync. This helps keep everyone moving and by rotating this role the team gets exposure to each other and the chance to build bonds. Sounds cheesy but it has definitely helped our team (on, near, and off shore resources).


Not cheesy - human!


Most has been said above really. The main thing is to still value periodic face time and establish travel rota in the teams. Once people can put a face to a name, the relationship improves multifold. I have seen some companies doing quite the opposite, going offshore to reduce costs, then implementing a travel ban to save costs, yet never questioning the poor productivity of their setup.

Finding the right time for occasional stand up
Having clocks in the office to keep track of the overlap time
Maximizing communication in the overlap time
Looking to have some rota / oncall in geographies so to still be able to call somebody out of hours
Trying to establish a mindset that Global distribution can also be an advantage of following the Sun / making a 24Hrs a day work, etc. If you try and command that it won’t work but if you give the mindset to the team, they’ll find a way / pass the baton style
I still have not really see a board that can make the standup truly interactive across geographies but Microsoft Surface board and Google Jambaboard look promising. LeanKit is also quite good at moving tickets across all consumers in a team. Once the digital Kanban/Scrumban board is sorted, it can unleash great dynamics.


One of the guys at the Lean Coffee meetup I go to made a couple suggestions, which I thought were cool. I’ve also included another into the mix.

Send an "Australian Care Package"
Let’s face it Vegemite is a rite of passage for any foreigner here. The thought was provide the team with a budget and let them put together a “care package” with uniquely Australian ingredients and send them over. The other team on receiving the package is to weekly take an item out of the care package and use it. This isn’t a big cost, but sounds like fun.

Swapping mascots
Basically teams swap a mascot (such as a wombat for an Australian team) that then needs to have an adventure. Each week one member of the team is nominated to take the mascot on an “Adventure” and they send a “Postcard” or happy snaps from the other side of the world. The mascots are passed around the teams and might provide “just like us” opportunities to find ways for the teams to bond.

Footy tipping/Fantasy Cricket(insert random sport here)
Create a Footy tipping or Fantasy sport comp between offices and let them compete for glory in a sport that is held dear by both teams. Between Australia/UK it might be Cricket. Other options might be soccer (football), Rugby League or Union, or Basketball. The trick is to find a common interest and let it run from there. Finding links and reasons to communicate socially helps forge those links.

I really appreciate the importance of the f2f time as well. The 10 hour time difference makes it hard, but we will get there.


Totally agree