Remote teams working across time zones have clear advantages—increased client support availability, capacity to meet diverse client needs, and optimal agility in the face of factors that threaten operations. But challenges exist, such as scheduling meetings effectively in a remote work environment.
Learning how to overcome time zone differences when you have a distributed team creates a remote work environment in which every team member can be successful and, by extension, have greater team success. Here's what good time zone management looks like and how you can accomplish it.
Why Understanding Time Zones is Vital to Team Success
Teams have been working across time zones for over 50 years. However, that antiquated top-down scheduling model based on HQ leadership convenience and expecting others to fall in line is over for human resource and productivity reasons.
A 9 PM meeting for someone who's been working since 7-9 AM means they've already checked out mentally after a very long day. You won't get their best work. The whole team suffers from that brain drain.
We don't have to tell you scheduling meetings this way isn't good time zone etiquette. You'd try to avoid the above scenario, of course. But many leaders don't realize that small changes could significantly improve how remote teams work together.
Honestly, most could and should work across time zones more efficiently.
All team members deserve an opportunity to succeed. And more importantly, what works for some doesn't have to make it harder for others. To start, it's essential to set some standards.
The Keys to Good Time Zone Etiquette for Remote Teams
- Respect. Value every team member's time and talent regardless of location, recognizing the importance of their contributions and active participation. We're stronger as a team. We act as a team when our remote work environment facilitates full engagement.
- Empathy. Acknowledge that team members are people first. They have emotional, mental, and physical needs. When these aren't met, they're not happy. Why's that your problem? Humanity aside, they're less creative and productive. You're not getting someone's best work if they're overextended. The average person spends over 1/3 of their working years working. When someone feels valued, included, and supported through our leadership, that is meeting a human need. It will be easier for all employees to find that balance in work, health, and home that allows creative inspiration to shine.
- Inclusion. Everyone on the team should feel they belong and have the same opportunity to connect, collaborate, and excel. Inclusiveness isn't just an ideal. You have to walk the walk. Being inclusive requires flexibility, adaptability, and creativity on the part of management. With the right distributed team model, you can build strong relationships across time zones.
Bottom line: We became a 100% remote agency a few years back. It wasn't easy at first. But it's worth it. Having an agile mindset is critical.
How Do You Set Meetings in Different Time Zones?
1. Evaluate How Working Across Time Zones Impacts Your Team's Work
Think about it. How do teams communicate, collaborate, meet, and achieve objectives across time zones?
While some team members are sleeping, spending time with family, maintaining their household, and staying physically active, others are at work. And vice versa. Every team member needs to be able to do non-work activities to live a whole life, pursue happiness, and perform well at work.
All team members have a similar number of hours in the day to work and the number of days a year. But those days and hours aren't the same.
Sure, it's not that big a deal if you have someone in New York time and the other in Chicago time. It gets a bit more complicated the further people are apart. On top of this, communication delays are inevitable when some sleep while others work.
By understanding this impact, you can set up systems allowing all team members to communicate and collaborate effectively in real time and asynchronously.
2. Figure Out When Schedules Overlap
Don't only look at time zones. Find out everyone's work hours. Assuming everyone works 9-5-style hours in a remote work environment is a mistake. People who thrive as Early Birds, Night Owls, and Split Shifters (Siesta) need the flexibility to work with that tendency rather than fight against it. And often, these patterns are cultural rather than individual, something to consider if you have an inclusive global team.
Since we're working across time zones, we can just as quickly be inclusive of these "alternative" work hours unless employees are needed for customer-facing roles at certain hours.
Create a chart showing each time zone side by side. Highlight the hours that overlap ideally in green. If needed, highlight 2nd best options in yellow that are just outside people's work hours.
3. Rotate Recurring Meeting Times
Are you one of those who hates meetings first thing in the morning? Or maybe that meeting in the last hour of the day is the worst? These are universal experiences.
If your distributed team is such that meetings will fall to extremes (early or late), the inclusive thing to do is to alternate meeting times. Now, they don't always fall first thing or last thing for the same person every time.
4. Have Fewer Meetings
The above steps to plan a respectful, empathetic, and inclusive meeting further highlight a truth you probably already know. Scheduled meetings aren't always the best way to get things done, whether you're working across time zones or not. Most meetings aren't run efficiently and end up wasting time.
We could do with fewer and shorter ones with a clearly defined agenda and structure, as well as pre-and post-meeting asynchronous communication that makes the actual meeting more effective.
5. Set Clear Meeting Expectations
Create a clear and consistent agenda. Everyone receives it at least 24 hours before the meeting. Follow an agenda template so that team members can quickly review it, understand the meeting's objective, and come to the meeting prepared to get down to business.
List action items and take ample time to centralize ideas. Make this document concise but thorough enough that everyone is on the same page.
This document is one of the most important communications you will create. Every extra minute you spend on it equals hours of improved productivity across the team.
Plan for most meetings to last no more than 30 minutes. Meetings are to get everyone on the same page, strengthen team relationships, and get a jumpstart on initiatives and creatives.
Most true collaboration happens anachronistically after the meeting is done.
6. Build Teams Around Asynchronous Communication and Collaboration
Synchronous communication is when teams communicate in real-time. This allows people to respond immediately and get instant feedback on ideas.
- A remote work model built on synchronous communication will struggle with delayed message responses, stalled projects, missed vital communications, and inconsistent client experience.
- Phone calls, video chats, meetings, team brainstorming sessions, and instant messaging are often synchronous. However, even these are more effective when done asynchronously, at least in part.
Asynchronous communication allows communications to be sent and received (viewed) at different times.
- There may be a delay in response. But that delay should not affect someone's ability to keep working within an asynchronous communications system. It's worked into the model rather than pretending communication lag doesn't exist even when people sit next to each other.
- Email, Loom videos, voice messages, and project management tools. Advanced asynchronous methods include automated hand-offs, updates, reminders, and management project dashboards.
7. Embrace Virtual Processes and Project Management Tools
When those who manage remote teams commit wholeheartedly to virtual processes, they realize the strengths inherent in the distributed team model. Working across time zones can become as easy as being in New York and working in Chicago time.
And the simple truth is what's good for remote teams is great for all teams. Here's a look at the project management tools we wouldn't be without in our 100% remote agency. These not only make asynchronous communication possible. They'd help us communicate more effectively and get more done even if we were still all sitting cube by cube.
- Slack. This communication tool eliminates non-stop email chains and time-wasting searches for a specific email when those chains get broken. Slack helped us set up teams around topic-related channels to centralize communication. Now it's easier for hybrid or remote team members working across time zones never to miss a message. Rather than having your whole team get every message, you can select team members to join certain discussions and add others later. Slack also has a do-not-disturb feature that allows team members to block off focus time to maximize productivity.
- Zoom. This one needs no introduction. But are you embracing all it has to offer? Zoom integrations like Zoom Whiteboard and LucidSpark make video meetings more inclusive and interactive. Zoom can also transform how you do onboarding. Record meetings and training. Then create a video library team members can access later for onboarding, refreshers, and new skill development.
- Loom. It allows you to capture what's on your screen and build video content around it. This is great for sharing video tutorials, troubleshooting, and instructions. This tool integrates with Slack to share video links with team members or clients.
- HubSpot. We wouldn't be without this marketing software. HubSpot centralizes communications and automates team workflows and client communication. It helps you perfectly time hand-offs between marketing, sales, and service regardless of what time zone the event happens in.
- Jira. Jira is a project management tool that allows you to plan out your team's week, adjust priorities, see the progress of multiple projects from your dashboard, track individual and team performance, and identify where projects are stalling. Workflow analysis helps you improve project workflows.
- Google. Google has many tools teams can use to collaborate asynchronously, from Google Docs to Google Drive. But you might find Google Calendar the most useful. It allows you to save time zones you work with frequently, so you can quickly compare schedules to plan meeting times.
- World Clock Meeting Planner. This tool helps you color code the best times for meetings based on where people in that meeting are.
8. Organize Virtual Socializing
In an office setting, how many "meetings" happen when team members wait for the coffee to brew or walk to their cars after work? These quick yet meaningful face-to-face interactions mean something to people, even those who have grown up with social engagement happening virtually.
These encounters are relaxed. There's no pressure to do something or impress the boss. They may be about work or not. These fundamental human connections are essential to team relationships and dynamics. Unfortunately, working remotely takes these opportunities away.
Then let's add remote teams working across time zones on top of this. Now, you don't even have people interacting virtually in real time a lot of the time. Leaders need to build a remote work environment that recognizes the importance of socializing among co-workers.
- Start meetings with icebreakers or games that encourage more casual. communication, laughter, and connection.
- Organize clubs around interests and encourage people to join.
- Get people engaging with the brand and each other on social media.
Be sure to consider how people across time zones can engage in these activities to create the most inclusive experience possible.
Using Tools to Help With Time Zone Management
Working across time zones has clear challenges. The learning curve for management and teams is no joke. But from personal experience, it's worth investing time and temporary frustration. You'll build a stronger, more creative, more productive team. Your customers experience unity as a more cohesive customer experience.
We've been able to build an asynchronous marketing team that works across time zones better than they did when they were all sitting in the same room. We've built an agile team based on mutual respect, empathy, and inclusiveness. That's reflected in the work our team does for our clients.
We went from an overloaded and disorganized team to one that's accountable and able to adapt to shifting priorities. We realized how to overcome time zone differences by building a model that takes the emphasis off when people work and puts it on the quality they produce.
Whether you're 100% on-site, hybrid, or remote, we'd love to show you how to implement an agile team methodology. Get instant access to our free Agile Methodology eBook here.