Why Time Zones Matter


Nearshore dev agencies routinely highlight one of the most important differences between nearshore and offshore: the time zone. But why does it really matter?

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May 14th, 2024
4 min read

The pitch for nearshore software development is spend less but stay in your time zone. There are other features of nearshore over offshore (short flight away and cultural similarities), but the time zone is the big one.

Why? What is so important about having a dev team on your schedule? Many offshore countries can find some time overlap, so you can squeeze in a morning or nighttime meeting. So much of the communication tends to be async anyway. In fact, many devs want async communication as much as possible. Uninterrupted blocks of time are needed to get into the flow. Plus, you’re going to pay more for nearshore than offshore.

So if nearshore is more expensive than offshore and async communication tends to be the norm, how much does being in similar time zones matter?

A lot. Working on the same schedule matters a lot.

A dev team getting things done hinges on communication. Consistent, reliable, and thorough communication. But better communication isn’t a given with nearshore. It just allows for it. Being on the same schedule doesn’t guarantee that you will have good communication, but not being on the same schedule makes it 100 times harder. Here are a few reasons why.

Not all async is alike.

In general, developers want to keep their schedules free from disruption. If you have coded, written, or worked on anything deeply, you know that interruptions kill your concentration. That’s why async is favored by developers, but not all async is the same. A response in 30 minutes isn’t the same as a response in one day. Also, a quick, spontaneous huddle can resolve lingering issues. If a dev is stuck on a problem, or a Jira task is unclear, or a blocker is clogging up the next pull request, you can jump on a call and hash things out.

Throwing specs over the fence. 

However clear you think your specs or requirements are, your description is most likely a lot more clear to you than it is to everyone else. Writing clearly and with enough context is an underappreciated skill. It is unlikely that developers will immediately understand exactly what you want, especially if you are just starting to work together. Either developers will make assumptions or they will pause all work until they verify things with you. This becomes even more nuanced with an offshore or nearshore team, since you are working with non-native English speakers. Handing off the spec list or requirements is never a one and done thing. It takes back and forth collaboration to get on the same page. Do you want that clarification to happen over the course of a morning or persist throughout the entire week?

My name ain’t Devin.

You probably heard a couple months ago of what was hailed as the first AI software engineer, Devin. Although when AI will replace developers is a big debate, right now you’re working with people. Whether they’re from the US, Mexico, or Singapore, we’re all just people and working together means forming relationships. Having time together, even if it is online, will help you get to know each other and develop a team dynamic.

Another benefit? You can feel more confident that the people you hired are actually doing the work. Some offshore dev agencies have been outed as pulling a bait and switch by claiming a senior developer was working on a project while actually using a junior dev. With different schedules and few opportunities to talk online, developers hid behind the scenes and clients didn’t know who was who. A shared schedule can help with transparency that people are who they say they are.

So is offshore off limits?

Some offshore agencies will try to bend to your schedule and have the dev team work during your day. It won’t work. Even if a developer prefers working at night, flip flopping their entire life schedule isn’t sustainable. Good developers won’t stick around and the churn will kill momentum, buy-in, and morale.

If you have a mature product and an experienced CTO who is familiar with a particular offshore dev team, it can work. If speed isn't everything and cost is, you can't beat the offshore sticker price. And there are great individual developers all over the world.

Just keep in mind: there are only a few ways that a project can succeed, but there are many ways it can fail. Unclear requirements, slow turnaround, and a vague sense of who is working on your project are a recipe for disaster. Being in the same time zone doesn't automatically solve every issue, but it simplifies things and sets you up for better collaboration.

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By Jeremy Stryer