Our agency has been working distributed since it was founded. The core team works across 3 time zones: EST (Canadian East Coast), UTC+02:00 (Ukraine) and UTC +6 (Kazakhstan). Additionally, we have partners in Bali, Siberia, Western Europe, and the Canadian West Coast. In this article, our Founder Kat Lyadova and Art Director Max Hodlevskyi share their insights on how we succeed in working cohesively despite the 10-hour difference.
How it started
I like to joke that I started the agency because I was young, ambitious, and I didn’t know what I was doing. That was 9 years ago.
In 2014, I quit my last full-time job and went travelling to South America for a few months. During that time, my former client approached me, saying that if I ever wanted to do my own business, he’d invest in me. At that moment, I had the idea of starting my own agency. So I brought in 2 more partners, and the dream became a reality.
The first version of Oddbee didn’t fly far. I split with the original co-founders and for a few years was relying on freelancers from all around the world. An avid traveller and a digital nomad myself, I wasn’t afraid of hiring people from another continent. On one project, I could have people working from Canada, Ukraine, Korea, and Egypt at the same time. We’d meet at 8 AM Toronto time to accommodate all the time zones, and it worked.
Nevertheless, I had an insecurity about not having a real office, unsure whether to grow the agency traditionally or explore a fully distributed model. But then the Covid pandemic happened, and the path became clear. I hired the first two permanent designers and hit the gas. Then we started to grow and brought in talented people from all over the world.
What is the advantage of this time difference
It challenges us to be more efficient because we have only 3-5 hours of overlap time per day, we have to plan our team meetings in the morning, Toronto time. Mornings are busy for us, while afternoons and evenings are more quiet. For the overseas team, it’s the other way around.
It does have its advantages though. For example, we have the luxury of sending feedback in the evening and getting the changes done first thing in the morning. Half of our team literally works while others sleep.
Max, Art Director and Graphic Designer
In the beginning, it was unusual to work like that. But then I even began to enjoy the fact that nobody disturbs me from morning to evening. Just at the end of the day, we meet with colleagues from Canada and share feedback. However, I am always in touch with the designers because we are in close time zones.
It’s convenient for me to work this way. In the evening I hand over the work I have done, realizing that there will be changes, but I don’t have to worry about those until the morning. People on our team are considerate and respect work-life balance, nobody expects to do tasks outside of working hours.
Finally, it’s interesting — every Monday standup is a bit like travelling the world for half an hour — we get to hear about the weather on different continents and what’s happening in various places.
How we set up processes for cohesive teamwork:
- We have to be organized. We’re strict about deadlines.
- We have to be very efficient with feedback. If something is due the same day, I have to review the design first thing in the morning, so the team in the East can make edits before they finish the work day.
- We try to be very mindful of the schedules of our staff working across the Atlantic. They are only expected to be online in the morning. Past a certain time, we encourage everyone to silence Slack and not check emails. I do the same after 6 p.m.
- We use tools that make asynchronous work and collaboration possible. Dropbox, Slack, Notion, Figma. Maybe it sounds like a no-brainer in the post-pandemic era, but it took us some time to get to the perfect stack.
- We over-communicate. It is a key aspect of our communication style, and we strive to make our point clear on any task, feedback, or design rationale.
This is the first article in a series about how Oddbee works. We are excited to share more about our culture, history, and working principles in the upcoming articles. Stay tuned!