February 23, 2022
3 min read

Building Async Standup Culture Across the World

Amy Wang

Since I started at Kong, we've always been a heavily international company. This has been a unique and fulfilling experience as we come in with a variety of backgrounds. However, it comes with some challenges. Most notably, the time differences as we're now fully remote and spread over the world. Our engineering department itself has doubled in the last year, and we've kept up with the international mindset for hiring.

Speaking as the engineering manager for Insomnia (our API design client), I'm astutely aware that Insomnia has likewise doubled in size and remained very global. When the team was small, we had a significant span of time differences. At the time, we were still able to make it work, as there were only two people to manage schedules around. Now, we have seven members, so scheduling and synchronous communication become a lot more convoluted.

Standup Meetings in a Global Environment

On Team Insomnia, our members are dispersed across five countries. Internationalism comes with a timezone spread that goes from New Zealand to multiple timezone locations in the United States and all the way to Sweden. We cross both major oceans.

Standups traditionally promote communication flow and team cohesiveness. When people's lives are interrupted by standup meetings meant to bring the team together, communication breaks down and people are unhappy. Not only are they missing critical information, but they miss the guaranteed opportunity to chat with team members face-to-face.

In an office setting, we would simply find a suitable time and meet in a conference room or crowded around our team corner. Organizing standups in offices is a near-mindless action. When we go remote, there's not a significant change as we're still abiding by the calendar. And when we toss in the international aspect, things get really tricky.

Dealing With Multiple Time Zones

With multiple time zones and more members, there's just no time that can make everybody on the team happy. We could mandate 7AM meetings, but at Kong, we understand that people have lives they need to tend to. Our culture puts precedence on human lives over the mechanics of work, so we make all standups optional.

I used a popular meeting timezone tool that outputs just a short two-hour spread per day. In this time slot, it would be somewhat reasonable to schedule a meeting but not ideal for some members, as the meeting would stretch into the hours of early morning and late evening given a 12-hour time zone split.

The solution was:

  1. Giving every team member a great Slack standup experience for the times they couldn't (or didn't want) to come to the standup Zoom meeting
  2. Giving each team member a comfortable standup when they did want to come to the standup Zoom meeting

We staggered our standup times, alternating between a time that was friendly for communication either across the Pacific or across the Atlantic. We accepted that we would not be able to find a reasonable time for all of our members to reasonably attend. Now, every member on our team has time at least twice a week where they can come to a Zoom standup comfortably and see their teammates visually face-to-face.

Async Standup Meeting Philosophy

We also introduced a thriving standup philosophy. Everyone should get the same or more information from the Slack channel as they would going to either Zoom standup meeting.

  1. We made a standup channel that is solely for providing our standup updates.
  2. We now take thorough notes recording everyone's in-Zoom updates.
  3. We share these notes in the Slack standup channel.
  4. We asked people to make standup posts when they couldn't attend.

Now, the channel is the most complete source of team updates and surpasses even the Zoom rooms in breadth.

These were, in the end, simple changes to make:

  • Create a standup Slack channel
  • Change meeting times
  • Take notes during Zoom standup meetings
  • Thank people for posting standup updates to the Slack channel

These changes paid enormous dividends in improving information flow across the world, literally!