How to Work Seamlessly Across Time Zones

“Our call needs to be coordinated across PDT, CDT, EDT, GMT, CET, UCT, JST.” Impossible? No. A challenge? For sure.

Working with an international team comes with its fair share of challenges. Projects, meetings, and events all require a bit more flexibility, effort, and coordination. Nonetheless, hiring internationally gives companies the possibility to expand quickly, build a diverse workforce, and foster innovation. To help you navigate working across multiple time zones, we have provided a guide with tips on keeping yourself and your team on track. We came up with the 5-C principle: Coordination, Communication, Compromise, Connection, and Compassion. Keep this in mind when looking to execute seamlessly with an international team.

Coordination

No matter the size of your team, good time management is essential when it comes to working effectively and efficiently. Here are some tips on how to do that virtually and across multiple time zones:

Keeping Track

Mark your standard hours in your calendar. This helps achieve greater transparency and allows others to coordinate accordingly when scheduling meetings.

Keshia Theobald-van Gent (Program Director, German Accelerator U.S.):
“Ask team members to keep calendars up-to-date so that scheduling meetings is easier. Reserve blocks in your calendar for different time zones (for example I block my early mornings for Germany, my late mornings for East Coast, my afternoons for the West Coast, and my evenings for Asia – I’m generally very good about sticking to this).”

Split Shifts

A method where you cater your hours to a different time zone one or more days a week, e.g., Monday through Wednesday you work 9 am-5 pm, and Thursday/Friday you work 11 am-7 pm. This can be extremely helpful when you have projects that require high collaboration. Alternatively, you could split your hours and work, e.g., 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon/evening.

Christian Jorg (Operating Partner, German Accelerator U.S.):
“Reserve separate parts of the day for separate time zones; keep either early morning or mid/late evening free to not end up with a 16 hour day; respect people’s time in other timezones.”

Rotating Shifts

Always having someone online can be very beneficial, especially when working with clients or customers across the globe. If you have an email inbox or other communication channels that are managed by the whole team, you can coordinate who checks and answers these channels based on different time zones. This will allow you to have seamless communication around the clock.

Daylight Savings

Daylight saving time is now used in over 70 countries worldwide, at least in some parts of the country, and affects over a billion people each year. The start and end dates vary from country to country.  For example:

→ Central European Summer Time (CEST) | March 28, 2021 + 1 hour
Central European Time (CET) | November 25, 2021 – 1 hour

→ Eastern Standard Time (EST) | March 03, 20201 + 1 hour
Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) | November 07, 2021 – 1 hour

On the contrary, there are countries, e.g., Japan, India, and China, that do not observe some form of daylight saving time. Keep this in mind when working with an international team.

Tools

Here are some helpful tools to consider for effective time management and meeting coordination.

Every Time Zone: Check out every time zone to coordinate meetings.

Time Zone Converter: Calculates the time differences between countries. You can select multiple countries at once.

Doodle: Helps you schedule meetings as everyone can indicate their preferred time. If you give your teammates options, you can find a time that works best for most instead of going back and forth via email.

Calendly: Helps you show multiple calendars at once and assists in scheduling meetings without going back and forth via email.

Communication

Set Up Expectations and Guidelines From the Start

Make sure to define standard channels of communication and meeting times, as you switch to remote or onboard new team members internationally. Having standards set from the beginning will help avoid confusion and frustration later on.

Keshia Theobald-van Gent (Program Director, German Accelerator U.S.):
“Keep communication to one tool and encourage everyone to use it.”

Set Boundaries

Clearly communicate your own boundaries and what works and does not work for you. While we all need to make compromises and change the way we might be used to working (e.g. previously 9 am – 5 pm), it doesn’t mean you should be up at 2 am in the morning. Talk to your team about what works best for you.

Double Up

Have a designated partner that can catch you up if you can’t make it to a meeting, or are missing things because you are working remotely in a different time zone. You can meet with this person on a regular basis to talk about the outcomes of meetings you can’t make and what’s on the agenda.

Asynchronous Communication

Make sure to coordinate dates and project deadlines across time zones. If you need to send an email outside your work hours, you can send scheduled messages through your preferred communication channel, e.g., slack or email. This will help you manage asynchronous communication.

Compromise

Set Fair Meeting Times

Be mindful of other people’s standard hours and compromise on meeting times. Talk about alternatives and try to find times that are okay with everyone.

Keshia Theobald-van Gent (Program Director, German Accelerator U.S.):
“ALWAYS use both timezones when suggesting times (e.g. 8 am PT/11 am ET/5 pm, CET) and never just send “11”, always designating a time zone (e.g. 11 am PT).”

Try to Make up for the Inconvenience

If colleagues have to be online very early or very late, try to make up for the inconvenience by changing your standard hours the next day or accommodating to their time the next time you meet.

Connection

Virtual Coffee Chats

Get to know your colleagues through virtual coffee chats and learn about their culture, what their day usually looks like, and how they manage their time. Getting to know your colleagues outside of formally scheduled meetings will help you when you need to organize and find compromises.

Communication Tools

Tools such as Slack are a great way to keep the usual office banter online and visible for everyone. Use it to involve everyone and continuously build relationships within the team.

Compassion

Be Respectful of Cultural Norms and Differences

Different countries have different holidays, different norms on working overtime, and different break hours during the day. Try to find out about these differences when working with someone from another country. It might be worth creating a group calendar where everyone indicates their local holidays and days off.

Don’t Expect Your Colleagues to be “Always-On”

Even if it seems that way nowadays, don’t assume your colleagues are “always-on.” This type of culture is unhealthy and can quickly lead to burnout. Many colleagues mute their phone until they are back the next morning, be mindful of this. As a team, agree that you don’t expect people to answer messages or emails outside of working hours. If it’s okay with everyone, agree on how to get in touch in case of an “emergency” to reduce the pressure of checking emails before going to bed.

Lydia Koh (Head of Marketing Communications and Events, German Accelerator Southeast Asia):
“Remember to take breaks in a week. I think personally, working across German, U.S., and Asia time zones is mentally challenging because you can’t avoid not taking calls at night with a 12-13 hour difference with the U.S. (from Singapore). Where possible, try to keep 1 to 2 days of free ‘evenings’ to recharge and relax, and I’m also grateful that we now work from home and can have flexibility in our working hours.”

Top Tips on How to Work Seamlessly Across Time Zones From the German Accelerator Team

  1. Always consider and include all time zones when suggesting meeting times – to make things easy, set your calendar to show multiple time zones.
  2. Reserve and dedicate separate times throughout the day or week for respective time zones and make sure to take proper breaks in between.
  3. Make sure to plan and coordinate ahead to allow time for preparation and with other time zones in mind.
  4. Be respectful of your colleagues’ time and other countries’ social norms and holidays.
  5. Get to know your colleagues through informal coffee chats to learn about their culture, what their day usually looks like, and how they manage their time.
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