Across Borders: How to Manage Different Time Zones Teams
The current ascendance of the remote phenomenon allows not only more flexibility in terms of where we work from, but also in adapting our companies’ procedures to asynchronous teams. We no longer depend as much as in the past on a fixed office or a daily program. In addition, a promising consequence of asynchronous activity is the possibility of building teams that cover different time zones.
Why would we look for employees living in different corners of the world?
Sometimes, it can be a temporary situation, determined by the personal life circumstances of an employee that we do not want to lose and with whom we negotiate an asynchronous collaboration for a certain period of time.
Perhaps our best marketing specialist earns a scholarship halfway around the globe and wants to keep a part-time collaboration with us. Or maybe a precious employee wants to spend the next year travelling abroad without interrupting his/her professional activity.
If the above examples seem unrealistic, we dare to contradict you. Indeed, these might be opportunities insufficiently explored yet, but the case of our colleague, Anca, is evocative for all those who intuit the advantages of international teams. In one of her articles, Anca shared the observations and solutions she reached by travelling and working from different time zones than the rest of the Pluria team.
There are also domains that allow us to design our activity starting from the idea of global teams. We can build an international business, in which case the integration of different time zones is not an exceptional issue, but a fundamental hypothesis for our organization. Although in this situation we must take into account additional legislative requirements, depending on the nationality of each employee, we can also gain important advantages:
- the cultural diversity within the company can generate a strong organizational culture, a dynamic and valuable work environment;
- international recruitment offers access to an extensive candidate database; we can hire best specialists without being conditioned by geographical borders;
- we can cover the whole day, 24h/24h, without night shifts or waiting hours between the end of the program and the next working day. In some business areas, this continuity makes a big difference.
How can we effectively manage different time zones team?
While an unsuccessful international collaboration can unquestionably generate feelings of professional and personal disconnection, as well as a frustrating decrease in performance, the advantages of worldwide hiring have led leaders to look for intelligent solutions in order to build global teams at their full potential.
Successful examples of companies such as Zapier or Help Scout, referred to in a wide article on this topic, or Basecamp’s experience, described in the exceptional book “Remote: Office Not Required“, offer a number of specific strategies for managing time zone gaps:
- Although a total asynchronous collaboration is not impossible, ideally there should be a few hours a day in which international teams overlap. If the time zone difference is too large, you can adjust the schedules so as to ensure this shared working time (e.g., one team works from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, another between 11:00 am to 7:00 pm).
- During the overlapping working hours, you should take care of important activities which involve direct interaction, such as videoconferencing. These can be registered, in order to be accessed later by those whose programs hardly overlap with the rest of the team. A natural consequence is making meetings more efficient: we will ask ourselves twice if they are really necessary before scheduling such an event.
- Within international teams, certain tools allow quick access to essential information: time converters to manage different time zone teams. It is recommended to establish a reference time zone for the whole company and to keep a group calendar for all employees. Within it, you can specify the date and time of a particular event converted for all areas where the company has employees. Also, countries on the north-south direction to each other have similar time zones, while the ones on the east-west direction are on different time zones. Thus, if possible, it is recommended that companies group their international teams according to the first criteria, the north-south direction.
- Asynchronous teams involve asynchronous communication, so we must make sure that our employees have equal access to all the information they need, maintaining transparency and high-quality written communication within the organization.
- Besides granting access to shared databases, it is important that processes are thought out in a well-distributed way, so that there are no interruptions in activity until a colleague from another country starts his/her working day and saves us from a stalemate. This is not only about leaders’ responsibility to design intelligent procedures, but also about each employee’s spirit of initiative: if we end up depending on a colleague who cannot be reached immediately, we need to put that task on hold for a while, by flexibly and intermittently taking care of several projects at once.
Thus, we come to another fundamental rule of working from different time zones and of remote work in general: in order to be successful, companies must look for people capable and willing to work autonomously, who can establish their own working methods while staying aligned with the organization’s goals.