Buffer knows a lot about working across enormous time zone differences.
Their team had always been scattered, but in 2012, they started spreading all over the world. In 2013, Colin Ross from the U.K. onboarded at Buffer “alongside” a new colleague from Hong Kong and another from Australia.
Colin, now an engineering manager for Buffer, watched as the company spent the last seven years experimenting with tools to connect their worldwide team. But it wasn’t until they tried Threads that they succeeded in making it easy for their distributed teams to collaborate daily and do better work.
Disparate Time Zones Made It Difficult to Make Decisions, Connect With Others, and Set Expectations
Real-time, or synchronous, communication wasn’t an option for teams working in every time zone between New York and Taiwan. So, Buffer embraced asynchronous communication to enable their distributed workforce to get things done on very different schedules.
To do so, they used a combination of email, Discourse, Hackpad, and Dropbox Paper. However, they discovered that while those tools allowed them to work asynchronously, they came with challenges of their own.
Lack of Connection With Teammates
Distributed workers struggled to feel connected with their teammates. They didn’t have as much opportunity to hop on a call to provide feedback or celebrate a win in real time in Slack. For this to happen, they needed to have some schedule overlap with others on their team—and this wasn’t possible for everyone.
Overlaps weren’t always ideal. For some people, the overlap occurred during their peak productivity hours, when they needed to focus most. This put people in the position of choosing whether to spend the time forging strong connections with colleagues or staying productive.
Typically, people expect a response in Slack within a few hours and an email reply in a day or two. They’re comfortable reaching out to colleagues on those platforms because they know when they’ll get a response.
The rules aren’t so clear for asynchronous communication. Buffer’s teams couldn’t tell if the right people saw messages and updates in their asynchronous tools, nor did they know when to expect a response. Often they would go out of their way to ping colleagues in Slack to get 100% confirmation that they saw and would respond. This added extra work and stress to their days.
How Buffer Adapted Their Tech Stack to Be More Intentional About Asynchronous Work
Buffer intentionally evolved their work communication stack to replace what wasn’t working for them.
Instead of using email and Discourse, Buffer now discusses work in Threads. They rely on Threads for thoughtful discussions big and small, including company-wide announcements, new ideas, and questions.
Buffer prefers to share and discuss information on Threads over other tools because of how the platform keeps conversations relevant and organized. Instead of locking information away in disparate email inboxes, the Buffer team can easily add people to discussions in Threads as well as discover relevant conversations.
Threads also replaced some of Buffer’s meetings. For example, when a team member was working from Taiwan, and they struggled to find an overlapping time for a weekly sync, Buffer turned to Threads. Instead of holding a meeting and leaving that one person out, they created a new thread every week for everyone to chime in. This served as an asynchronous gathering place where everyone could run through agenda items and contribute their thoughts.
Threads is part of Buffer’s push to make work communication more intentional.
Colin and the people at Buffer believe that work doesn’t have to happen wholly synchronously or asynchronously. It’s better to pick tools based on how they meet your team’s communication needs rather than try to change your needs to fit the tool.
So, Buffer still uses Dropbox Paper for detailed collaboration. They hold pull request discussions and architectural reviews in GitHub. And they reserve casual chat and urgent conversations in Slack. (This is also where people whose time zones overlap communicate the most.)
How Threads Changed the Way Buffer Works Across Time Zones
When Buffer started using Threads, Colin noticed some improvements in the way his teammates and the whole distributed company communicated and connected.
Threads Helped Buffer Set New Responsiveness Expectations
Threads settled some of Buffer’s unease around waiting for responses while working asynchronously. With the Context Bar, Buffer can keep track of who’s seen each discussion in Threads.
This feature lists all of the people who have access to the discussion and their status: Have they seen the conversation yet? Are they all caught up? That way, people know whether they need to send a gentle nudge to get a colleague’s eyes on a discussion.
“Knowing and being able to see the audience for any given post helps to make sure the right people are included (or excluded, as the case might be).”
The Context Bar also shows when a teammate has seen the discussion and intends to respond. These teammates have the option to select the “Mark for follow up” feature to notify their peers of their intent. “Mark for follow up” also helps individuals keep track of their work. Threads pulls every marked discussion into a single view so people can see and prioritize these tasks.
“‘Mark for follow up’ allows individuals to work at their own pace. Some might batch things up, while others try to stay on top of things depending on other commitments, focus, and even their own energy levels. As a result, I have more confidence that discussions will take place, and I don't feel the need to have to regularly check in.”
Threads Made It Easier For Buffer To Forge Worldwide Connections
Threads provides a central hub for people in the most disparate time zones to connect and communicate with their colleagues.
No matter where and when they work, everyone at Buffer can browse the platform to see what the rest of the team is working on. They can also contribute ideas and experiences, making an impact on work that they wouldn’t otherwise have an opportunity to influence.
Colin recommends taking this a step further and being deliberate about providing inclusive options for those in substantially different time zones. For example, instead of holding company-wide meetings at the same time every month, pre-record the meetings or rotate the schedule to include people who don’t often get to attend.
“By thinking about things from that inclusivity perspective, your team’s communication will have much more capacity to scale and respond to changes in circumstances, [like what many have encountered in] 2020.”
Don’t Let Your Tools Limit Your Talent
It’s better to build a team based on experience and skill over geographic location. While working across time zones introduces new challenges, asynchronous tools like Threads continue to make global work easier and more enjoyable. Disparate time zones are no longer a reason to hold your company back.