Most companies have meetings of some sort. Many startups have daily standups.

As a fully remote and distributed team with members in a variety of countries, continents and time zones, Buffer meetings have to be a bit different by necessity.

When the team was much smaller (like 7 people), Buffer held daily standup meetings with the whole team. Eventually time zone differences between the US, UK and Asia made it impossible to find a good time of day to meet.

We thought about how we could keep the face-to-face aspect that is so key in a distributed team, and from that thought process the idea of the pair call was born.

How the pair call works

It works like this: Each week, through a round robin algorithm, each member of Buffer is  paired with a different teammate. On Sunday or Monday we’ll get alerted to a Google Doc that looks like this (sorry, there are so many of us now that I can’t fit the whole team in one screenshot!).

round robin pairs

Once we find out the week’s pairs, one member of the duo will get in touch with the other to set up a good time to chat. Then we sync daily for about 10-20 minutes via a Sqwiggle video call, to talk about what we’re working on that day and what improvements we’re hoping to make that week.

What we’ve found is that if you pick any two places in the world, there is usually a time that works well for both that sits within “normal working hours.” Extreme cases can be 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. or so, but generally it has been very manageable.

Even timings that are difficult are often worth negotiating around as they give us a chance to connect with some of our faraway teammates we may not have touched base with in a while.

Building these relationships and friendships is really worthwhile, and it’s great to support each other in our work and personal lives and take time to get to know each other better!

Here’s an inside look at a pair call I recently did with my awesome teammate Nicole:

Do you think a process like this could make sense to help connect you to team members at your workplace? Do you have questions about the pair call we didn’t get to? We’d love to hear your thoughts on pair calls in the comments.

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Written by Courtney Seiter

Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture at Buffer. She runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.

  • Love this idea, sharing with me team here at UP Global/Startup Weekend now. :)

    • Courtney Seiter

      Wow, cool! I’d love to hear the results if you give it a try!

  • I like the idea a lot, but do you face any problems as distributed team in national vacations or weekend days as part or one of the team will be off unlike the others ?

    • Courtney Seiter

      Great question! We’re pretty easygoing with holidays and we also have some “Weekend Warriors” who work a different schedule every week. So you’re absolutely right–it happens often that some team members will be off while others are working. In that case it’s pretty much up to each pair to decide what their schedule will be. If we can pair up all 5 days of the week, it’s awesome! If we only hit a few, that’s still better than none!

  • Cathleen Rucheli Berry

    It’s an interesting idea, but even with your numbers not growing much from here on out, most team members will only speak two weeks out of the year… I’d imagine you all still have some sort of “all hands on deck” kind of meetings as well, right?

    • Courtney Seiter

      That’s such a good point, Cathleen! Some individual areas have their own syncs or all-hands meeting, but it’s quite rare for us to have a company-wide one. This also goes back to why we spread administrative work throughout the team (more on that: http://open.bufferapp.com/why-we-share-administrative-tasks/ )–it offers us more opportunities to connect as we work on projects outside our departments.

  • Duncan Cantor

    Hi, I really like this idea as I have a team that is part based in another country, part based in an office and part field based. However, I’m a mathmatical luddite and as soon as you said ‘algorithm’ I had a small panic attack! Where did you start in creating your spreadsheet?

    • Courtney Seiter

      Oh, that’s such a great one to bring up! I have to admit I don’t know how our spreadsheet is created each week, but maybe a tool like http://tournamentscheduler.net/ could help you out? The round robin algorithm players use for tournaments is the same one we use for our pair calls. :) Does that help?

      • Duncan Cantor

        Thanks! I’ll check it out now :)

      • Duncan Cantor

        Tournament Scheduler was a great tip, thanks!

  • Great idea – someone needs to build an app for this :)

  • It’d be so awesome to share a copy of the Google Doc – or better yet, the process that updates this Google Doc.

    I’m thinking that combined with a service like Zapier or IFTTT to get the results from the Round Robin and then fill out the Google Doc

  • Vincenzo Belpiede

    btw do you use slack?

    • Hey Vincenzo! We use Hipchat. :) We gave Slack a try a while back; it’s really cool also!

      • I know that this topic is old, but I am wondering why you gave advantage to HipChat over Slack? In my company, we are introducing Slack, but I am open for any advices in this field.

  • ReACT ASB

    Really insightful article Courtney. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Hm…really good idea. I find daily stand-ups pointless in bigger teams. But this approach really makes sense…

  • daviddouek

    How do you manage short/quick interactions between 2 (or more) team members with very different time zone (eg. ET vs CET). I had some experience where either you were losing a day between each answer or the members had to be “always on” to answer quick questions. For example a programmer, a PM and a designer. When the programer moves forward he may have some simple questions that need quick answers to either the PM or the designer or both.

  • Alyssa Hughes (MrsHuuughes)

    Hi Courtney, I absolutely love that Buffer has integrated daily “pair calls” as part of the culture! I especially like that your “pairing” options include everyone at the company in each department and not just your own team. Spreads knowledge and fosters Buffer love across the company. :)

    Side note – when I click on the “Sign up now” link for subscribing to emails above, I get the notification below: *sad face*

    • Eep indeed! Thanks so much for sharing this, Alyssa, so we can get it fixed up! I think everything should be back to normal now, thanks to your eagle eye!

      • Alyssa Hughes (MrsHuuughes)

        Wow – Thanks for such quick action, Courtney!

  • Keli’i

    Love the connectivity by this simple and effective system. I immediately see how this could be used at my company between different departments. We are only one floor apart, yet it seems as if we are more disconnected than being on different continents.

    I’m going to recommend this tomorrow. Thanks for the great idea!

  • David Somers-Harris

    Hey Courtney! How does Buffer measure the value and effectiveness of doing pair calls? Do you keep track of anything like how many times you met or what you talked about, or not at all?

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