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6 Tips for Managing IT Workflow Across Timezones and in the Cloud

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Today's workforce isn't limited to a headquarters and a few branch offices scattered about a single state.

Many companies employ workers across the nation and around the world, making it challenging for managers to oversee employees and for employees to keep up with each other.

However, many companies have overcome these challenges with a few simple techniques. Here are six methods for keeping the work process moving across time zones.

1. Make Use of Cloud Documentation

Image via Flickr by Kinologik

If two or more employees are working on the same document at the same time, it's easy to duplicate work or get off on the wrong track as the document changes. A simple way to assure each worker has access to the document at all times while allowing them to see changes and additions made by other workers is to use cloud documentation. Google Docs is one free version to consider, and there are many other free and paid cloud documentation services available.

With cloud documents, it's no longer necessary to email the working document back and forth. No worker is stuck with an old version of the work and many workers can access the document at the same time. This eliminates the lag time and redundant work that ensues when someone accidentally hits, "reply" instead of "reply all" when trying to work with several people on the same project at the same time.

2. Time Stamp Digital Documents

Image via Flickr by Comrade Foot

When it is necessary to bounce working documents back and forth among employees, time stamping documents helps keep everyone on the same track. As with cloud documentation, each worker can tell what everyone else on the project has completed. If there's any question whether or not they're using the right document, it's easy to check.

Time stamping is an excellent method to use when dealing with sensitive information that you don't want to put online. Time stamped documents can be sent via encrypted messages to alleviate concerns over privacy issues. This method is an ideal alternative for medical workers, insurance agencies, legal entities, and others working with highly sensitive information about the company or about other people.

3. Set Up for Video Conferencing

Image via Flickr by Gavin Tapp

For just a few hundred dollars, you can set your office up to use video conferencing. This lets all the workers, no matter where they are, attend meetings and conferences without the expense, time, and trouble incurred with travel. Workers in two, three, four, or more locations in any part of the world can hold real-time meetings face-to-face.

Another wonderful thing about video conferencing is that you can record the sessions and create webinars so any of the employees who couldn't attend the video conference can watch it later on the web. Video conferences are also useful tools to ensure employee training is consistent from one branch of the company to another.

4. Create Webinars

Image via Flickr by sridgway

Video conferencing helps bring employees who are far away closer together. But if workers are on different sides of the earth, someone is still staying up all night to attend the conference. Webinars are the ideal solution, letting companies post everything from the latest financial reports to new employee training sessions online.

With webinars, employees can watch the conference, meeting, or training session at the best time for them. Also, as new employees come on board or new workers are assigned to the project, they can go back and see everything they missed. It also assures your message is consistent across the company, no matter how far away employees are.

5. Take Advantage of Instant Messaging

Image via Flickr by Nguyen Vu Hung (vuhung)

Sometimes, it's not necessary to share an entire conference or even a document among workers. The real challenge lies in giving employees ways to communicate quickly, efficiently, and effectively without disrupting the workflow. Instant messaging is ideal for this purpose.

Skype has a free instant messaging platform where employees can instantly ask questions or pass information that would take too long using email. However, email is the best way for a group of employees to collaborate on issues, whereas instant messaging is best for two employees who need to have a quick conversation without disrupting each other's work.

6. Allow Extra Time for Deadlines

Image via Flickr by Alan Cleaver

When drafting your project timeline, it's important to account for employees in different time zones. The amount of time you need to build into your project management plan depends on how many time zones you're having to adjust for. For example, if all your workers are within the continental U.S., it's tempting not to bother adjusting for it. However, if a worker in California has his part of the process done by 2:45 p.m., his counterpart in New York is likely gone for the day and won't get to it until tomorrow.

For this reason, it's important to build in extra days in your planned projects to account for these time delays. A few hours here and there quickly add up into days lost and costly project delays. If workers are spread across the globe, even more time needs to be built into deadlines so workers have ample time to complete their part of the process.

Managing Remote Employees: A Final Word

Image via Flickr by Victor1558

One of the most challenging things for managers to do for remote employees is to make them feel like a valuable asset to the company. Just as it is important to reach out to the men and women you work with every day to encourage them and thank them for contributions, it's just as essential to company health to do this for remote workers.

Encouragement and appreciation don't have to come in grandiose gestures. Often, it's the smallest things we say and do that uplift workers the most. Shoot off a quick thank you email when an employee has done an outstanding job. Better yet, send out a company wide announcement when a remote worker does a stellar job of problem solving or customer service.

When employees receive regular positive feedback, it's much easier for them to accept the constructive criticism managers so often are charged with giving. Your willingness to sing praises as quickly as you fire criticism fosters goodwill across the company, building a healthy working environment where business can thrive.

References:

http://www.chalex.com/smartflo-forum.html

http://www.anf.ec/es/pdf/Haber_Stornetta.pdf

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John Leger has been married for 25+ years and has six children.  He is a self-taught web developer who spends a lot of time learning new technologies and sharpening his skills.  His ability to learn new things quickly has enabled him to skillfully play the guitar, keyboard, flute and bass.  In his off time, he loves to hunt and ski.  He’s also the lead instructor at a Taekwondo Academy in his home town where he teaches classic Chung Do Kwon.
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