Working Across Timezones

December 7, 2021

Most companies are figuring out how to work across different timezones. Here are some tips on how to make meeting across time zones work a little bit more effectively.

In the 2021 State of Remote Work report by Buffer over 59%of the people interviewed reported they work with teams who are spread over 2 to 5 timezones. More surprisingly, only 2% of the respondents operate in a single timezone.

In today's workplace, diversity is more often than not the normal modus operandi. Modern leaders understand that diversity breeds creativity, provides different perspectives to a global customer landscape, and allows us to ultimately build better product for a global audience.

Despite the very obvious benefits of having diverse remote teams and colleagues, most companies are still trying to figure out how to work successfully across different timezones. Here are some tips for remote employees and remote companies on how to make meeting across time zones work a little bit more effectively.

 

Set Clear Expectations

Since you will not always be able to collaborate with your teams in real-time, it is ideal that you clarify your expectations from the beginning. At the beginning of the week, sit down with your team and establish the goals for that week. This will make sure every member of the team, including yourself, understand what has and will be done, regardless of the timezone they are in.

The weekly goals meeting is a good chance to give your colleagues time and room to think about the work beforehand and come up with solutions or alternatives. As questions arise, figure out a mutually agreeable time to meet and discuss specific issues. This will reduce the amount of meetings you have to have.

For those expectations, and this meeting discipline to work, you will need to establish a clear communication process which gives everyone visibility into the goals and set tasks, and their progress. This also helps teams understand where their teammates are in the process and if they can help.

Transparency in your goals has the added benefit of providing management with visibility into the work, without having to jump on those "checking up on you" calls.

 

Set Clear Boundaries

If you are a regular reader of our blog, you will have realised a common thread which is establishing clear boundaries. Establishing boundaries around work-life balance, around meeting cadence, and in general around your asynchronous communication methods. Setting boundaries establishes expectations. Managing expectations, especially when working remotely with an international team, is possibly one of the most important leadership skill you can develop regardless of your role or position.

You can't work every hour of the day and of the week. When working remotely you might feel pressured to attend meetings at all times of the day. Earlier in my career, I have made that mistake, and tried to attend every possible meeting. My teams were spread over 12 timezones, which means I was awake around the clock, which made me tired all the time, inevitably inefficient and then I just burnt out. Even though I was "attending" the meetings, I wasn't there for my team. I wasn't seeing them.

When you work from a different country, or a different timezone, you need to sit down with your team and communicate what your acceptable working hours are. By opening up and express your working hours, your colleagues may also start expressing their preferences.

This is a great starting point, you can then establish your meeting cadence as a team, and figure out when and how to meet. Establishing boundaries for when people "can't" attend meetings and which type of meetings you can eliminate, will make your meetings much more enjoyable, and efficient. You and your team will benefit and become more empathetic. This builds trust, and desire to work together.

 

Record your Meetings

The concept of "Recording Meetings" is extremely polarising. Whenever someone says: "I'm recording the meeting", there is a visceral feeling amongst many. A distrust, a feeling of "big brother" watching.

For the people who have learnt the value you can get from recording meetings however, they have become a foundational tool for them, especially when working remotely.

We've written a lengthier article breaking down the benefits of recording your meetings:

  1. Remember Everything that was Discussed
  2. Become more Inclusive and Empathetic
  3. Have an Authoritative Source of Truth for Decisions Made
  4. Spend Less Time in Meetings
  5. Include Teams and Collaborate Out
  6. Keep Track of Commitments and Action Items
  7. Stop Wasting People's time

Embrace Cultural Diversity

When working remotely and over multiple timezones, you will encounter more and more people from diverse cultural backgrounds. This means different views on gender, education, backgrounds, religion, etc.

Cultural diversity means people with different origins, different upbringing, traditions and ways of life. These differences more often than not translate directly into different ways to approach and solve problems at work.

Cultural diversity has the potential to unlock new ways of thinking and solving problems if you approach it with an open mind and empower people to bring their cultures to the table.

As with setting clear expectations, you will however need a system of communication, a "common language" so that all the teams working together understand what are the basic tenets of your communication protocol.

Sit down with your colleagues, figure out when to meet, and develop synchronous and asynchronous communication Guidelines. Here are some examples of topics you can discuss and agree on, regardless of your cultural background:

 

  1. Weekly/monthly meeting schedule and who must attend. Your meeting cadence.
  2. What are the tools you need and how to use them in a cohesive way
  3. How people should participate and what happens if they can't
  4. Maximum acceptable delay in getting a response to a meeting request.
  5. Maximum acceptable delay in getting a response from remote teams.

  

Setup Shared Calendars

This is one of the less shiny tips. Have a way to share calendars. Share calendars by team, share calendars by organization, by individuals. It may sound simple, but before you plan another meeting, look at your colleague's and your team's calendar, and you may find out that another part of your organisation is on a religious holiday that week, or there is a bank holiday in Ireland, or it's Thanksgiving in the United States. For instance, we like to use Google Calendar and add the holidays of people around the company. This shows us when they might be busy.

The intended side-effect is raised awareness. The more aware you become of your colleagues in different timezones and their backgrounds, the more empathetic and the deeper your connections will be. Ultimately you will be more productive as you begin to understand them on a deeper level. 

 

Always Share Preparation Material

The idea of better preparing for meetings and sharing preparation material has one specific goal: So people coming to your meetings are prepared and the meetings are more efficient.

We don't think people purposely fail to prepare for meetings, but they do not have the tools and processes in place to become effective at preparing for those meetings.

Before a meeting, make sure you have an agenda, and ANY supporting material is send along with the agenda. Typically we liked to send a reminder email a few hours before a meeting to ask people if they had any questions on the material. Nowadays we use Clearword's Pre-Meeting pages for scheduling, planning, sharing files and preparing collaboratively.

 

Visualize Colleague's Timezones

We have been using a tool for many years at Clearword which allows us to see the current time for our teams and colleagues around the world.

It might seem like a very silly small time zone tool, but timezone.io is simple and useful products which allow you to empathize with your colleagues. When you load up your entire team's timezone, you can clearly see what time it is for them, in relation to you