The Time Zone Dance

The Time Zone Dance

“It’s a small world after all,” claims the infectious Disney earworm. That’s true at the Magic Kingdom and the modern workplace. High-speed internet and ever-evolving communication tools mean employers can find talent without geographic boundaries.

Previously I discussed the challenge of increasing productivity across remote teams. Today, I want to look at another aspect of managing remote workers: time zones. When part of your team sleeps as another group eats breakfast, it can be tough to foster effective communication, delegation, and accountability.

In this article, I’ll highlight strategies and tools to help you manage the “Time Zone Dance.”

Actively engage remote coworkers

Imagine this scenario: You’re in a meeting with seven co-workers. Four are in a room at HQ, while three others are on a conference call. The conversation grows, ideas are flying around, trouble spots are being identified and solved. It’s been a good, productive 15 minutes.
Then everyone jumps when a disembodied voice fills the air.

Then everyone jumps when a disembodied voice fills the air.

You overlooked the group on the phone.

It wasn’t malicious or intentional. It’s just so easy to do. A virtual presence doesn’t necessarily have the same weight as someone who’s in the room, making eye contact, using body language, and engaging with peers. With this in mind, be careful not to overlook the teammates you can’t see.

You might even go so far as to designate someone to be the “point person” for the virtual attendees. His or her job is to ensure that the remote participants have a chance to share. Something as simple as “Thoughts on this?” directed at your virtual attendees goes a long way to making them feel a part of the team, and reminds the room that there are other people at the meeting.

Get a status update

Here’s another practice to make a part of every meeting that includes remote workers in various time zones. Before saying goodbye, pose these three questions to the group:

1. What are you working on today?
2. What did you work on yesterday?
3. What roadblocks are currently in your way?

By asking these questions every time, you’ll identify and address trouble spots, but more importantly, you’ll require all employees to show what they’ve accomplished.
Additionally, this practice lets those in the “early” time zone communicate with those in the “late” shift know what’s being handed off, what progress has been made and what can be expected in the morning.

Use a rotating schedule

I spent eight years on a team that had members on three continents. Most of them were on the East Coast of the U.S., and every time I noticed a time zone bias that negatively affected the whole team. Everything started on the East Coast and went from there. It’s possible to benefit from a “home base” like that, but in my experience, it caused trouble.

Scheduling everything around East Coast time placed a recurring burden on those living elsewhere. Some folks had to routinely wake up very early to attend meetings, while others were forced to delay bedtime by a troublesome length of time.

The compromise was a rotating schedule. Over the course of a month, everyone on the team, from New York City to New Zealand, had one morning meeting, one midday meeting and one at night.

Think before you hit submit

My final tip is to be aware of when you hit that submit button. For example, if you’re working on a project and it’s nearly 5:00 PM and you decide to call it a day and resume work in the morning, colleagues in Asia now must wait a whole additional work day to receive that update. In this case, it might be best to work through 5:30 or 6:00 to ensure those remote coworkers have what they need at the start of their day.

With the tips laid out, let’s move on to tools. I’ve spoken about productivity tools before, and now I’ll look at three tools that are perfect for doing the Time Zone Dance, starting with Every Time Zone.

EveryTimeZone.com offers a great-looking presentation of the local time across all time zones. Your local time is displayed by default, but you can click anywhere on a grid to see what time it is anywhere in the world.

You can get a little more specific with World Time Buddy. Enter the names of the cities where your team or collaborators reside, click on a time period and view local time across your custom cities.

If you use Slack, consider Spacetime. It lets you get worker-specific, in that you can type “/time @username” to see that person’s local time. Note that Spacetime is still in beta, but in my testing, it did what I expected.

Remember the golden rule

If you’re a hiring manager, go out and employ the best and the brightest, no matter where they live. If you’re the worker, take that dream gig that’s a thousand miles away. Then employ these tips and tools to help ensure it all goes as planned.

While you’re at it, remember the golden rule of working with remote teams: Respect the Time Zones. You don’t want to blow up someone’s DMs or otherwise send noisy push notifications to someone’s bedside phone in the middle of the night. If inspiration or the solution to a problem strikes, use one of the tools described previously in this article to decide if you should let your teammates know right away, or if it can wait.

Working from home is a dream and a great privilege. With a little planning, it can be a very productive dream, too.