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Working Across Time Zones Can Be Tough. Here's How To Do It Right.

Managing different time zones, language barriers, and cultural differences can be frustrating. But these are not insurmountable problems.

Working Across Time Zones Can Be Tough. Here's How To Do It Right.

Do you work with a distributed team? If so, then you know the challenges in staying on the same page that come with working remotely.

The difficulties of managing different time zones, language barriers, and cultural differences can be frustrating. Plus, you need to understand the differences between synchronous and asynchronous communication, and when to use each.

But these are not insurmountable problems.

In this article, I will share my best practices for how to work effectively with a global team in a remote work environment:

  1. <li-toc>The Best Way to Work with a Global Team<li-toc>
  2. <li-toc>Pros and Cons of Working With Teams In Different Time Zones<li-toc>
  3. <li-toc>Mastering Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication<li-toc>
  4. <li-toc>Understanding Time Zones<li-toc>

<h-circle>1<h-circle>The Best Way to Work with a Global Team

To work effectively with a remote team, you'll need to put in the effort and build strong relationships across time zones.

Of course, this isn't easy at first, but it will be worth it. Here are some ways to work together as an effective global team.

<t-check>Understand how being in multiple time zones impacts work<t-check>

First, you need to understand the concept of time zones. Time zones are geographical locations where people experience similar daylight hours at any given time throughout the year.

This means that if one team member works while another is sleeping, it does not mean they can't communicate or collaborate with each other effectively (unless this pattern repeats itself for several weeks).

If your team works in different time zones, then you will need to communicate asynchronously most of the time.

<t-check>Use async communication as much as possible.<t-check>

Asynchronous communication means working without being in direct contact with people, such as through email, online chat, or by sending video messages such as Loom videos. It also means that you're not necessarily communicating at the same time.

When you're working in a distributed fashion, learning to be an effective async communicator is going to be the biggest factor in your success.

But it doesn't have to be that way if you organize your team and schedule your projects around the time zones of everyone on it.

<t-check>Schedule any meetings during the times everyone can attend.<t-check>

This is easy for teams that work with people across two or three time zones that are all next to each other. However, it becomes more complicated when working with a global workforce (people who work on opposite sides of the world). For example, if someone works in Australia while another is located in the United States, it may be difficult to attend a meeting at the same time unless the Aussie gets up pretty early in the morning.

<t-check>Treat your team like you're together, even if you're not in the same time zone.<t-check>

To work more efficiently with distributed teams, you need to treat your team like they are all working together in one office building. While this may not be possible, it is the mindset you need to adopt to organize your time and responsibilities.

You'll also want each team member working from a private space with minimal distractions (a quiet office or home office). If colleagues are close by, try asking them to work together at one desk so they can easily collaborate on projects as necessary.

<t-check>Be mindful when scheduling meetings.<t-check>

Finally, you'll want to adopt the habit of scheduling team meetings at optimal times for everyone. This will ensure all your colleagues can attend and participate in discussions without having to be up early or stay up late.

<t-check>Know your remote team's working hours.<t-check>

It's not all 9-5 anymore with remote teams, with some works preferring to wake up in the early morning to get a head start before the day begins, and others starting late but working in the evening. When you meet frequently with the same people, take time to understand when they work remotely.

<h-circle>2<h-circle>Pros and Cons of Working With Teams In Different Time Zones

Pro: Time and place freedom boosts productivity

There is a false perception that remote workers are lazy, taking every opportunity to slack off because nobody is watching. Meanwhile, studies have shown the opposite is true. In fact, remote workers are generally more productive than their in-office counterparts.

Con: There is more delay and friction with communication

There's no need to wait for a conference call or meeting to start talking when you work together from the same office. But when working with a distributed team, communicating takes more effort.

Pro: You can work with the most talented people

When working with a distributed team, you don't have to limit yourself to hiring locally. Instead of settling for local talent, remote workers give your company access to the best people in the world no matter where they are located.

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Con: It can be complicated and costly to manage global teams

Managing a global team is more complicated than managing one that works from the same office. You'll need to account for different time zones, work styles, and cultural norms in your management style.

Pro: Remote employees are more diverse

Remote workers can come from anywhere in the world, which means they have unique perspectives to share with their colleagues. This is great for increasing creativity and innovation within your company.

Con: There's less motivation to stay connected

The lack of physical presence makes it easier for remote workers to lose connection with their team. This can be especially challenging when working with a distributed team in different time zones.

Pro: It's easy to expand your network

When you are looking for employees or business partners, it can be tough to find the right person in an industry where 'who you know' is just as important as what you know. By hiring remote workers, you'll never have to worry about geographical limitations again.

Con: You need more structure and discipline

Working with a distributed team can be challenging at first because it's difficult to build the kind of rapport that comes naturally when working in an office setting. It takes extra effort for remote teams to stay on task without face-to-face communication.

<h-circle>3<h-circle>Mastering Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication

When working with a distributed team, it's important to understand the differences between sync and async communication, and the extreme importance of asynchronous communication.

Synchronous communication ("sync") is when discussions are conducted in real-time, allowing for immediate responses and feedback between colleagues. This can be through phone calls, video chats or even using an instant messaging platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Asynchronous communication ("async") is when information is sent at separate times with a delay in between. For example, writing an email, sending a Loom video, or leaving a voice message for someone so they can respond to it whenever works best with their schedule (and yours).

Leverage async as much as possible

The most important thing to do when working remotely is to grow comfortable communicating asynchronously whenever possible. Even though your whole team may be in different major cities or different countries, with geographic and time zone differences separating you—with effective async communication, none of that matters.

Async communication tips:

  1. Begin every request with what you're asking and why. Being up front helps co-workers know what kind of time commitment you're looking from them.
  2. In lieu of a meeting, send a Loom video where you talk through information and request feedback. People can send it in a text-based form, or their own Loom video.
  3. Send documents like Google Docs for people to put comments in.
  4. If you need to set up an in-person meeting, use meeting scheduling software or something like Doodle to find the best day for everyone on your team.

Common Mistakes When Working With a Dispersed Team

Wrong time zone

We often assume when we're talking to someone new that they're in the same time zone as us. When scheduling a meeting or call with remote team members, make sure to ask them what time zone they are in so that you can account for any time difference with their local time when you schedule.

Sending an email instead of talking

We can all get caught up in our own busy lives. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that sending someone a quick email will save them time, when it may actually end up wasting more of their day. If you need something done urgently or want your co-worker to make a decision ASAP, pick up the phone and talk it out.

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<h-circle>4<h-circle>Understanding Time Zones

Why do time zones exist?

Time zones are geographical locations where people experience similar daylight hours at any given time throughout the year. They were created in the nineteenth century because the world needed a unified system to keep track of time.

Time zone etiquette

When working within different time zones, it is very important to be mindful of your teammates' time zone. You should avoid scheduling meetings during the times that you know everyone will not be awake, but this isn't always possible if you work with people across multiple continents. If you do need to schedule something during off-hours, check first to make sure it is okay.

How do I know what time zone someone's in?

You can use an online tool like TimeAndDate.com to determine the time zone your colleague is in. You can also try asking them what times they are available during, and when their day starts/ends so you know how much overlap there will be with yours.

Daylight Saving Time

The Daylight Savings Time (DST) framework was proposed by Benjamin Franklin during his stay in Paris and is concerned with accelerating the standard time within the region or zone by one hour to extend daylight time. As the saying goes in the United States, "Spring forward. Fall back."

Certain countries refrain from using a given scheme with its time standard unchanged. For example, Iceland, Russia, Turkey, China, Japan, and India don't follow such trends.

UTC Time

UTC is used as a standard time zone among many countries around the world. Since it doesn't use DST, UTC is always on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).

Greenwich Mean Time

UTC = GMT is an international reference point that was established in 1884 by Sir George Airy who was then Astronomer Royal of England. It became known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) because Airy's prime meridian was located at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich, England.

What time zones are in the United States?

The United States is divided into four time zones. Eastern Standard Time (EST) covers the states in the eastern part of North America and runs from Maine to Florida, while Central Standard Time (CST) includes Texas up to Montana. Mountain Standard Time (MST) spans Utah's Rocky Mountains all the way over to Arizona, and Pacific Standard Time (PST) includes California and Nevada to Washington State.

<h-circle>5<h-circle>Summary

Working with a global workforce is no easy task: it requires many changes and adjustments from both managers and employees alike. However, once you learn the best practices for working with a distributed team, it can be a very rewarding experience.

Use this article as your guide to overcome these challenges and you'll be well on your way to building strong relationships across time zones.

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