Working with a virtual team has a whole lot of perks—limited overhead from physical space, a culture of flexibility, and the ability to hire top talent regardless of geography, to name a few. But as they say, with great privilege comes great responsibility. In this case, that includes the responsibility of constantly adding and subtracting hours to figure out what time it is for everyone on your team.
If you’ve never though adding single digits could give you a headache, try keeping track of team members in five different time zones—multiple times per day.
Complicating things even further, much of your team may be new to working with multiple time zones. But with strong communication and the right attitude, you can quickly overcome time zone challenges and make the most of your geographically diverse team.
Here are a few time zone rules that we at Sococo find helpful for maximizing productivity among our group.
Create a Time Aware Culture
When you’re busy working at 100 miles an hour, it’s easy to get resentful or feel like you’re the “only one.” This is especially true for distributed teams across multiple time zones, as your teammates might literally be sleeping as you work!
Are you leading a distributed team? Know that you set the tone for your team’s response and general attitude toward time zone differences. If you show annoyance or disregard for your team’s alternative schedules, that attitude will trickle down.
Work to create a culture of cooperation and understanding between time zones among your team. Show that you’re aware of the time differences and value the work-life balance of your team. If you show positivity in overcoming time zone challenges, your employees will follow suit.
Plan Meetings Efficiently
Particularly if your team is spread across multiple continents, scheduling an all hands meeting that fits within your entire team’s working hours can be virtually impossible. But in reality, how often do you actually need your entire team on the same call?
Before you schedule any meeting, identify the top 3-5 people who absolutely need to attend, then choose a few meeting times according to the schedules of these essential participants.
Then, as you add additional participants back in, consider whether those in distant time zones actually need to attend, or if they could gather needed information from a recording or meeting notes. The last thing you want is an employee waking up at 2am for a meeting that has nothing to do with them.
Take Advantage of Tools
But even after stripping meetings down to essential participants, coordinating times across multiple time zones can be tricky. Luckily, technology makes it much easier to keep track of what time is where. Here are a few great tools to use when coordinating schedules across the world.
Every Time Zone: Need to know what time it is, or will be, across the world when you schedule your meeting? Every Time Zone lets you compare multiple time zones now or at a specified future date.
World Time Buddy: Planning a conference call or webinar across multiple time zones? World Time Buddy gives you a side by side view of scheduling in every time zone you need in order to help you choose the perfect time for your team.
Miranda App for iOS: Think of this as your World Time Buddy on the go. Use the Miranda iPhone app to schedule meetings across multiple time zones and distribute invites via email—right from the app!
Set a Default Time Zone
When multiple people are working from different time zones, communicating timing can get complicated fast. Set a default time zone for your company—either where most of your team is located, where your clients are, or use GMT as a standard.
Having a default ensures that everyone is speaking the same language when it comes to time, regardless of where they happen to be.
Think Twice Before Using Email
How much do you love waking up to fifty new emails in your inbox before you’ve even gotten out of bed? This volume of communication can set your team into a panic before the day even begins.
While email can feel like the most efficient communication tool for teams spread across multiple time zones, take care to make sure you’re not abusing the privilege. When an email from the boss comes in at 6am or 10pm, employees may feel a sense of urgency to respond right away, despite the time difference.
Establish clear guidelines about when employees do and don’t need to respond to emails based on their time zone—and if you absolutely need to send an email that an employee will receive after hours, make it clear that you don’t expect a response until the next workday.
Build in Time Zone Specific Management Structures
Even the boss can’t be expected to work 24/7. Yet sometimes your employees on the other side of the globe will have time sensitive questions or need a decision to be made in order to continue with their work. Who should they speak to when it’s 4am your time and they need to pull the plug on a big decision for the company?
Create clear directives and protocols for when employees can use their best judgement, who has final authority in their time zone, and what constitutes an emergency worthy of waking up the boss.
Balance Flexibility With Consistency
We work virtually! It’s flexible! We can work wherever and whenever we want, right?
Well, sort of. But some basic guidelines need to be built in as well.
It’s hard enough to work collaboratively when team members are spread across time zones. If everyone is constantly setting their own variable schedules, this challenge can quickly become insurmountable.
While valuing flexibility is important, so is creating a sense of routine and normalcy. Ask your team to set a consistent schedule for at least two thirds of their working hours and communicate those to the team. When those hours need to change temporarily for some reason, your team should have an established protocol for communicating those as well.
Within Sococo, we like using the status feature to communicate work hours, as well as communicating meetings and other times when a team member might not be able to respond. Knowing what to expect from one another will help your team to cooperate happily and efficiently.
Working virtually across several time zones can certainly be tricky. But as you battle the urge to get frustrated with schedules that don’t quite coordinate, remember what you’re fighting for. Without geographical limitations, you have access to the world’s top talent, along with the flexibility to integrate your work with the rest of your life. With preparation and communication, both you and your team will eventually turn time zone challenges into just another quirk of working virtually—one that doesn’t have to hold you back.