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Managing Cultural and Time Zone Differences in Software Outsourcing

When you outsource your software development, you need to account for cultural and timezone differences. Here's what to keep in mind.
Daniel Zacharias

Djurdjina Milovic

October 13, 2023
outsourcing team working in spite of cultural and timezone differences

Have you ever tried planning a meeting with someone 12 hours ahead and ended up suggesting a time when they’re probably dreaming about unicorns?

That was me a while back on a Tuesday.  

Software Outsourcing sometimes feels like organizing a worldwide pajama party. But let’s take a look at how you can make it less sleepy. 

Mastering global schedules

Time zones have been the bane of my life ever since I started my journey in IT staff augmentation. I remember my first project with a team in Manila while drinking my morning coffee halfway across the world. I sent them a cheerful “Good morning!” before realizing it was their bedtime. 


Time zones are a tricky dance, particularly when handling multiple global teams. But like with any dance your performance improves over time once you get the basics down.  

You can master the time and cultural complexities of outsourcing by:

  • Personalized alarms. I set up alarms for each team I work with at the start and end of their workday. 
  • Cultural calendars . Helpful for scheduling and understanding the cultural meaning of days that may seem normal to me.  
  • Empathy first. Respecting personal time, work-life balance, and being flexible when changing schedules has built stronger connections for me. 
  • Time management tools are super helpful for working across time zones. I’ve used World Time Buddy and Doodle before, which are great, but I’m really liking Calendly lately. It adjusts for different time zones automatically when scheduling meetings. No more awkward early morning call ups! 

Fun fact: The International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean seems like the universe’s way of messing with humans even more. Just imagine working with teams from the future or past based on what side of it they’re on! 

How to navigate global cultures in business

My first video call with a team from Thailand was a memorable moment I’d rather forget.

Eager to make a good first impression, I started with an energetic Hello! only to be met with the traditional Thai wai greeting instead. It was a humbling reminder that every culture has its own way of kicking off a meeting or saying hi.  

These kinds of nuances, especially in the diverse software industry, often impact how well you collaborate across borders. But what nuances are those? Let’s see. 

1. Dive deep into cultural nuances

Getting the greeting right was just the start for me! 

The key I learned is that improving outsourcing success depends on grasping the different holidays, festivals, work styles, etc. of each culture you team up with. For instance, a thumbs up is positive in many places but can actually be offensive in others, especially in the Middle East and West Africa.  

In one example when I was managing an outsourced DevOps team from South Korea, I realized that looking someone directly in the eye can come across as aggressive or confrontational – especially when speaking to a senior person or someone in authority.  

And don’t even get me started on the time I congratulated my Russian CI/CD team leader for having great metrics before knocking on wood – total cultural blunder! The takeaway is clear: try to learn as much as you can about the countries from which your team members come from, so you can better understand and communicate with them. 

2. Regular check-ins build bridges

Curiosity doesn’t just kill cats — it also helps build connections! 

Having regular check-ins that aren’t boring manager status updates but instead show genuine interest in a team member’s culture and traditions really opens doors. Asking questions and showing curiosity about their way of life is a great way to navigate cultural differences smoothly. 

Another thing I do to connect better with my outsourced dev teams is to lower my guard and encourage open, honest feedback. If there’s a cultural misunderstanding, it’s not the end of the world — address it, learn from it, and move forward with more understanding.  

This could be one of the most rewarding things you do in this age of global AI communication

3. Treasure trove you miss: Cultural workshops

Picture this: If you’re going to dive into the huge ocean of global collaboration in software outsourcing armed with PowerPoint slides, the same old KPI metrics, dull white letters, and no care for the developer’s culture you’re managing, then don’t act surprised when the outcome is nothing but a quick management failure. 

That was me a few years ago before I realized how important cultural sensitivity workshops are

These workshops aren’t your average boring seminars. They’re lively, hands-on sessions that plunge you deep into the heart of different cultures and make you better at dealing with those key differences.  

These workshops teach you to read between the lines, grasp the unsaid and talk with skill. And the best part?

These workshops aren’t just theoretical. They’ll give you practical tools and techniques to handle cultural differences, from roleplaying to fun quizzes. 

Is tech-driven global collaboration the answer?

You might wonder, is tech the magic wand we need to manage all our cultural and time differences?

One thing’s for sure — the days of anxiously waiting by the fax machine or decoding cryptic telegrams are long gone. Now, with Slack Trello, ClickUp, or Zoom, we’re instantly hooked up sharing ideas, files, and the occasional memes. 

Of course, everything depends on how you use technology. If you don’t make spaces for cultural exchanges, understand each other, and ensure every team member feels seen, heard and valued, no matter their cultural background, even the most advanced Claude or ChatGPT won’t help.  

Fun Tip: In your Slack channel, try adding a Slack bot that sends out a fun cultural fact every week or reminds the team about upcoming festivals from different cultures. 

Cultures and time zones: Solved outsourcing differences

Managing the cultural and time differences in global software outsourcing is interesting and tricky.  

While tech has streamlined processes, the human part will really define your success. It’s about mutual respect, understanding, and communication.

 As you keep working together across borders, these core ideas will guide you toward meaningful partnerships regardless of the time difference!

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