Challenges and Benefits of Working Across Time Zones
With the proliferation of remote work comes the likelihood of working with colleagues in different time zones. This was a possibility even before many people started working from home—for example, between a home office in New York, New York, and a satellite office in Los Angeles, California.
But today, for many fully distributed teams and companies that have employees based in a hodgepodge of places worldwide, working across multiple time zones has become a daily reality. Businesses likely have even more schedules to juggle, with some workers awake and logging in for the day while others are just signing off.
It’s easy to think of only the problems that can come about from coworkers trying to collaborate from different locales without having the same start and stop to their workday. But this asynchronous setup confers some advantages alongside the drawbacks.
Benefits of Working Across Time Zones
Working across time zones can yield benefits for both employees and employers, from improving work-life balance to widening the talent pool for new hires.
Creates Better Work-Life Boundaries
Pinterest Coach Laura Rike works with a team of remote employees across time zones and has done so even before the pandemic started. Rike believes one benefit is that the structure in and of itself lends itself well to employees setting and keeping their own boundaries around their schedule, which improves job satisfaction.
“We encourage our team to take real time off and turn off notifications of Upbase, and as long as they meet
deadlines, it doesn’t matter what time they work,” Rike said. “Since much of our team does creative tasks, it helps that they can choose hours that align best to when they feel most productive.”
Freelance Brand and Marketing Strategist Janine Maral, who is currently based in Eastern Standard Time, has experience working remotely across different U.S. time zones as well as with global clients. She too has found that working this way can allow more flexibility to structure your day. The benefit, according to Maral, of sticking to your own 9-to-5 schedule while your company or client is on their 9-to-5 is that you have more uninterrupted work time, free of meetings or messages on Slack or Teams.
“When it comes to working in different time zones, I think anyone in any industry has to be flexible—you may have to be present hours outside of the usual 9-to-5 depending on where you are and where your clients or company is based,” Maral said. “But with that, it gives you the benefit of being able to structure and see your day differently, whether it be having free mornings if you work in the afternoon into the evenings, or starting much earlier and freeing up your time earlier.”
Improved Responsiveness to Customers
It’s not only employees who can potentially benefit from working across time zones—this arrangement also allows distributed groups to be more responsive and available when customers need help.
“When you have team members in multiple time zones, that expands the hours you’re available for all of your customers, not just those who live in a different time zone than your main office, since you have team members scheduled and able to communicate with customers for a higher percentage of the hours in any given day,” explained Matt Erhard, a Managing Partner with the recruiting firm Summit Search Group, which has multiple offices across Canada.
Access to a Wider Talent Pool
“When you only work in a single time zone, that limits your potential employees to people who also live in that region (or are willing to work during those hours, if they live elsewhere),” Erhard said.
Challenges of Working Across Time Zones
Alongside the benefits of working across time zones, there are some challenges to consider as well.
Rike has found the biggest challenge of team members working from different time zones is getting everyone on a company meeting at the same time. “It usually isn’t necessary, but definitely helps to build morale and keep spirits high when we can put faces to names and not feel so lonely in our remote settings,” Rike said.
“Scheduling meetings and collaboration sessions can be challenging,” Erhard agreed. The managing partner explained that his company’s teams frequently need to collaborate across “adjacent” time zones, as well as internationally with clients in the United States and elsewhere.
“This is less of an issue when you’re working across adjacent time zones, like at Summit,” he said. “For truly international companies, though, you could have employees whose schedules don’t overlap at all, which can make it difficult for these teams to communicate and work together on projects.”
Getting Pinged After Your Work Hours
You’re off-duty, but one of your team members in another country just messaged you with a question. Getting pinged after hours—and feeling the uncertainty of whether you should respond now or wait until your own working hours—is a situation that Michael Filippo, Head of International Sales at Revelo, commonly faces.
One of Filippo’s favorite tools that he uses to respect his team’s time is the “send later” option both in Slack and email. “That, as well as everyone setting their working hours and turning off notifications outside of those hours, can really help to create and maintain a healthy work environment,” he said.
Greater Risk of Miscommunication
A broad team that spans multiple time zones also spans a variety of regions that often have distinctive cultures, points out Erhard. “That can be a benefit, broadening the perspectives that influence your decision-making, but it can also lead to misunderstandings and communication difficulties,” he said.
“Simply the fact of being distributed can also cause its own issues, like slow responses or a lack of real-time interaction, that can make it more difficult to communicate clearly as a team.”
April Hoffbauer, Vice President of People at Maze, a global and fully distributed tech startup, also flags missed messages or crossed wires as a potential problem with working across time zones. To address this challenge, she recommends that when communicating this way, organizations should designate an expected time frame for responses and what medium of communication is for urgent versus nonurgent questions. “There may also be questions that are sent in a private channel that could receive a faster response in a public thread,” Hoffbauer said.
To avoid incomplete thoughts and endless back-and-forth, Hoffbauer shared that Maze recommends that questions and requests include as much information as possible, including anticipating the follow-up questions somebody may have in order to move things forward efficiently.
Unintended Consequences of Ineffective Communication
Hoffbauer noted that cultural differences are important to keep in mind when communicating across time zones, and training on tone and language choice can help increase the chances that feelings remain positive and unintended consequences of ineffective communication are avoided.
One unintended consequence could be a lag time on projects. “Setting the stage with all stakeholders at the beginning of a project and setting expectations on response times can keep everyone on track,” Hoffbauer said.
The VP explained that Maze has 120 team members across 36 countries, and while all of them are full-time, the company operates across time zones and outside of “regular” business hours. So, another way that Maze seeks to hurdle the challenges of working across time zones is by encouraging asynchronous work and having a policy of “results not hours.”
“In our benefits and handbook, we explain that we want our team members to work when and where they are the most productive, as long as they get their work done and communicate effectively with their colleagues,” Hoffbauer said. “At Maze, we are asynchronous-first, which means we operate as though we are the only ones online at any given time. This working style means that we must document thoroughly and communicate thoughtfully, putting efficacy and comprehensibility at the forefront while respecting others’ time.”
Teamwork Across Time Zones
While a remote team distributed across various time zones can entail potential pitfalls, considering and planning for these challenges ahead of time and leveraging remote work best practices can ensure that remote team members work well together and respect one another’s time. And companies can leverage the benefits of having workers across the nation—and the world.
To learn more about building a remote team, check out our Q&A with companies that have already done it successfully!
By Robin Madell | Categories: Build a Remote Team