Every morning at 9am or 10am, engineering teams around the world rise from their seats for the daily standup. Everyone gets a minute or so to talk about what they've done and what they're planning to do, before returning to their desk. A good start to the day. But if your team is distributed around the world, this doesn't work as smoothly anymore. It's not always feasible to call in a 15 minute standup meeting everyday. Some employees will be sleeping, at lunch or wrapping up their work. Standups simply don't make as much sense anymore. But how can they be done regardless?
Note: These points were summarized from the many companies hiring on remotehub.io, a website that has launched this week with some incredible content.
It can make sense to send standup-like updates in async mediums, like a Slack channel, to notify coworkers and managers on what you're working on. At least for your managers and peers, this has about the same informational value as an in-person standup, possibly even more. Since they receive a written update, it's also easier to track and plan on where people stand.
The downside? Problem solving takes longer. A great advantage of daily standups is that people can jump in and bring in their expertise on a certain issue. People might be more reluctant (or simply ignore) to do so on a written medium.
Especially if your team is distributed worldwide, with no overlap between a certain group or a team, this is a great option and can be complemented with in-person check-ins whenever needed or on certain days.
Office Hours / Semi-weekly standup
Face-to-Face time should not be discounted, and it can therefore be a good choice to do standup meetings anyways.
However, especially if team members are working in entirely different timezones, joining a daily meeting at odd hours is probably not an option and this has to be accomodated.
A good alternative could be to hold your meetings in a office hours-style at different times everyday. In that case, anybody who is online and has the urge to talk can join the office hours standup and give their update. By changing up times, hopefully every team member should be able to join 2-3 times per week, even if it is at different times.
If that doesn't work out, holding semi-weekly standup meetings (2x per week or 2x2 of them at different times) can be another option, allowing all employees to have at least three "focused" days per week, while also putting a certain importance on the standup meeting, instead of holding it optionally.
Whatever you do, do not force your employees to wake up early or work late at night to join a daily standup meeting. It will dramatically decrease team morale!
If a team is so distributed or big that standups are not an option anymore, it can be good to organize time-based group check-ins, meaning that groups of people who live in similar or at least compatible timezones check-in with each other, talk about their roadblocks and issues, as well as their sucesses.
This doesn't have a lot to do with the informational aspect of a standup meeting anymore, and may require people to give async status updates anyways, but it can help with the collaborative and interpersonal aspect of it.
Instead of meeting up with a manager in a team-wide environment, group check-ins usually involve a small group (<6) of the team, matching up at some point of the day to discuss and vent. How GitLab says it wisely: "Don't talk about what you did yesterday, this is not a reporting moment where everyone tries to look busy. Rather, kickstart the day with some bonding, solve anything blocking and share future plans so people can plan and act and ultimately save time."
If you're looking to build a happy and scalable remote team, you may have to say goodbye to your standups at some point. In many cases, you will be able to conduct them without much effort (e.g. if a large part of employees are on the same continent). However, as your team grows, you will see that meeting up as a complete team will get difficult, and so will getting synced. If you're seeing issues with meeting up, possibly try one of the syncing methods above! Good luck!