Technology can make the world feel smaller. Currently, working with a team in different time zones is more common than ever. Even before the pandemic, more and more companies were going virtual and opting to incorporate teammates located halfway across the globe.
Onboarding overseas employees allow many companies to diversify talent, cut costs, and reach new audiences. However, operating a team across several time zones presents challenges to productivity, cohesion, and company culture.
Startups and Fortune 500 companies alike are asking:
- How do I schedule a meeting for team members from four different time zones?
- Is it better to do all video-conferencing meetings, or can some meetings be asynchronous?
- How can I make sure the entire team stays on the same page?
- What is proper time zone etiquette for business?
- Which project management apps and online tools should my company be using?
Here at Rootstrap, we have team members in New York, Los Angeles, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and beyond, working all hours of the day. Despite the scheduling hurdles, our international team has met daily with success.
We’re here with a comprehensive guide on overcoming the time-zone-related challenges of running a global team.
Get a Project Manager
Trying to figure out when is a good time to FaceTime a friend living overseas is tough enough, let alone coordinating multiple professionals’ schedules across time zones.
If you are managing an international team, don’t take on scheduling alone. Designate a project manager and delegate.
If you are the project manager, here’s what you can do:
Know Your Team’s Time Zones
It’s up to the project manager to know and keep track of each teammate’s time zone. Learning everyone’s time zone in mind may be easier if your company operates out of a few set offices overseas. On the other hand, if your teammates are scattered across the globe, memorizing everyone’s zone may require more of a learning curve.
If you’re a project manager, try using visual aids to help you stay organized, including:
- A time zone chart on your desk
- A map representing time zones
- A separate clock on the wall for each team member’s time zone
One easy way to check on a teammate’s time zone is to add their time zone to the clock app on your phone. That way, if you’re not in the office, you’ll still be able to check what time it is across the world conveniently.
As the project manager, it’s essential for you to keep track of your team’s time zones. However, it’s also important information for the rest of your team. Encourage everyone to get familiar with each other’s zones in relation to their own, especially if they collaborate frequently.
Find a way to help your whole team to be aware of each other’s time zone. Use graphics, periodic friendly reminders, and other methods to promote ‘time zone empathy.’ Encourage teammates to be mindful of what time it is for their coworkers when they said emails and instant messages. That way, no one will get pushed over the edge by one too many 3 am pings.
Schedule Team Meetings
Project managers must work with oversight and the rest of the team to decide on team meetings’ frequency and time.
You’ll likely need to adjust the frequency of your team’s meetings as projects ebb and flow. Some meetings may involve your entire team, while others require just a handful of teammates.
If your team uses an Agile project management methodology, like the Scrum system, your team’s day should start with 15-minute meetings called Daily Scrums. These daily roundups pose a special challenge for teams whose ‘day’ begins at different times.
Strategize as a team how you will hold these regular meetings. If your time zones are relatively close, a video or phone conference may work. If you have coworkers spread across the world, you may need to compromise with an asynchronous meeting.
Try to minimize unnecessary - or unnecessarily long - team meetings. Aim to accommodate time differences as much as possible and avoid demanding extremes, but remember it’s likely not possible to set the ‘perfect’ meeting time for everyone.
Use Project Management Tools
Rather than depending solely on disjointed strings of text and emails, take advantage of digital project management tools. There’s a mountain of free and paid project management software choices that can help you and your team get organized and communicate across time zones.
Some popular project management platforms and tools include:
Your team may choose to incorporate one or multiple project management tools into your workflow. Research the features of each platform before committing to ensure it will meet the needs of your company. If you decide to integrate multiple tools, define when, how, why you’ll use each tool, and then clearly communicate that to your team.
Using project management software can take some of the load off you as the project manager, facilitating cooperation and helping the team interact more purposefully.
Beyond project management software, more tools can help you and your team make a realistic schedule.
Tools for Scheduling Across Time Zones
Most project management platforms will display each team member’s time zone in their profile. Still, clicking through everyone’s profile can be a bit of a roundabout way to schedule a meeting. Thankfully, there are plenty of online tools and apps to schedule a meeting across time zones more efficiently.
Here are some tools to schedule a meeting for team members in different time zones:
- timeanddate.com - Add multiple cities or zones, see the time difference between them, and get visuals gauges (red, yellow, or green) to help you decide whether a meeting time is good or not so good for your teammates. Download the app for an easy meeting planner.
- thetimezoneconverter.com - A basic, intuitive converter from time zone to time zone.
- www.worldtimebuddy.com - After adding your teammate’s time zones, you’ll get an easy-to-read chart comparing all the times and have the option to create an event and send a notification to your team regarding a meeting at a specific time.
- spacetime.am - This platform takes the math out of time conversions and presents your team in a neat and fun chart, even letting you see the weather in each member’s city. The app even works within Slack and makes it easier to find your team’s ideal meeting time.
- Google Calendar - If you use your Google Calendar to track meetings and stay organized, you can go into Settings and add multiple time zones to help you stay on track with your team.
- timezone.io - Plug each team member into this tool and visualize what time it is for everyone. Click and drag to see what times will work for meetings and who may be sleeping.
Honorable mention: Boomerang - While it’s not a time zone converter, Boomerang integrates into your Gmail and allows you to schedule emails to be sent later at a time more convenient for your teammate. It also lets team members press pause on their inbox while sleeping, or at times they need to work distraction-free. Beyond that, it can simplify the process of scheduling via email.
Now that you have the tools you need to get your team organized and operating across time zones, what else should you keep in mind as a global company?
When working with teammates on the other side of the world, it can be easy to unwittingly pressure them or pressure yourself to be available 24/7. The ‘always online’ approach is both unrealistic and unsustainable.
How can you make sure nobody on your team gets burned out?
Set Limits and Expectations
Navigating time differences can be taxing. From the outset, establish clear boundaries for yourself and encourage your team members to do so as well. Let your team know what hours you are available, and stick to it. Then, respect the limits that others have by not expecting them to get back to you ASAP on their off-hours.
Try to get needed rest and then focus on being alert and present during your working hours, avoiding being glued to your devices. Remember, not all emails or messages merit an immediate reply. At the same time, be a flexible team player. If your assistance is needed with an urgent matter during non-office hours, be willing to make exceptions within reason.
If you’re the manager, make sure all employees have a clear understanding of your expectations and are accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities from afar.
“Because you won't be as available to overseas employees, it is important that you are clear about what you expect,” advises Leni Zneimer, Vice President of Community WeWork in the U.K. and Ireland in Entrepreneur. “Setting objectives and summarizing actions for each week will help to keep everyone in the loop while ensuring that all employees are aware of what is expected of them in terms of delivery -- regardless of whether their working hours overlap with yours.”
Of course, the key to setting limits and expectations is good communication.
If you’re starting to feel burnt out from too many early mornings or late nights to accommodate your distant teammate’s schedule, don’t hesitate to speak up. Keep it kind and calm, but share how the schedule is placing a strain on you. On the same token, give an ear to your teammates if they voice concerns over scheduling.
Being transparent can help your team adapt and conquer challenges together instead of bottling up counterproductive grievances. If you’re in a management position, remember that it will be easier to retain talented employees if you create a positive working environment where your employees feel heard.
Identify times when you and your coworkers’ in-office hours overlap, and then take advantage of that time to communicate, hold meetings, and collaborate on team projects. Save solo work for when your overseas teammates are asleep.
Share the Load
Since making a cross-continental working relationship succeed is a team effort, it’s essential to share the burden.
It can be tempting for management to schedule meetings that work best for them or plan around the time zone at HQ. However, this approach does little to encourage friendly feelings and loyalty within the team.
Instead of accommodating just one zone and asking teammates on the other side of the world to sacrifice sleep every time, why not take turns having meetings at a convenient time?
“Several months ago we started a rotating meeting schedule,” says Donna Flynn, Director at Steelcase in Harvard Business Review. “Every month, each team member now has one evening, one mid-day, and one early morning meeting, and misses one meeting that falls in the middle of their night. No team member is expected to attend a team meeting between 10 pm and 7 am.”
Scheduling around multiple time zones is a difficult dance and requires cooperation on everyone’s part, but it can work if everyone is on board.
Strategies for Midnight Calls
If your team is spread far and wide, but you desperately need all-hands-on-deck for a real-time meeting, there may be no choice but for part of your team to tune in at midnight.
Have a Plan
For some teams, the occasional late night or early morning call may be unavoidable. In that case, the team member who will be leading the meeting should plan ahead. Establishing a concrete agenda can help the meeting move along, cover all the important bases, and let sleep-deprived team members get back to their rest without further adieu.
Put a Cap on it
Since meetings often run longer than planned, try to agree on a time limit as a team and stick to it. If you find your team straying off-topic, kindly suggest making a note of the matter and discussing it at a later time, perhaps via messaging.
Whether your team meets through video or phone conferencing, be sure everyone involved has an opportunity to speak up. This may be especially tough if some of your team meets in person while others tie in virtually. Even if it’s midnight their time, your teammate may have a game-changing idea to share with your team. Include everyone by asking for comments and questions throughout the meeting.
Waking up early and staying up late can take a toll physically, mentally, and emotionally. When a team member is willing to be flexible or even bends over backward for the good of the rest of the team, be sure to thank them. Sometimes a little commendation is all someone needs to go from feeling ‘grumpy I had to wake up to ‘glad to be here.’
Keys to Successful Async Meetings
In many cases, it’s possible to hold successful team meetings without meeting in real-time.
Of course, there’s no replacement for the value of face-to-face or voice-to-voice communication. Your team will need to meet over video or phone conferencing at regular intervals. Still, shifting to asynchronous (AKA async) meetings may be best for Daily Scrums and other frequent meet-ups across time zones.
Asynchronous meetings let teammates discuss a topic in a virtual space — such as on a project management platform or using an instant messaging app — without necessitating an immediate reply.
Benefits of async meetings include:
- More productivity: Instead of stopping in the middle of a project to have a team meeting or spending hours trying to schedule a time that works best for everyone to meet, an async meeting allows the team to participate in the discussion when they can.
- Less note-taking: Depending on your project management software, your team’s meeting will be automatically documented in writing on the platform, so you can easily refer back to it.
- More communication options: Since some team members prefer text over voice communication, you can draw out ideas that may not have come up over a video call. Additionally, the low-pressure environment acts as a filter, helping team members stop and articulate responses before speaking up.
- Less inconvenience: None of your team members will have to set a 4 am alarm for daily meetings.
With async meetings, your project manager in time zone A can start a meeting with your team of software devs in time zones C and D without requiring them to participate in real-time. Later, during their working hours, the devs can tune in and contribute, whether via message, voice note, or other means.
If you want to incorporate async meetings into your team’s workflow, what should you keep in mind?
Here are a few pointers on holding successful async meetings:
- Pick a virtual venue: Whether on Slack, WhatsApp, Soapbox, a Google Docs comment section, or whatever works best for your team, establish how you will communicate.
- Create an agenda: Like a typical meeting, an async meeting should have a plan and a point. It should differ from ongoing team chats and focus on a specific project, task, or challenge.
- Set Expectations: While everyone won’t be able to join the discussion all at once, establish a timeline for when each team member is expected to participate.
- Include Only Relevant Teammates: Keep meetings to a minimum for each teammate by only including members directly involved in the project. Keeping participants to a minimum will cut down digital clutter and make your team more willing to take part.
Async meetings have their place, but if your team is struggling to get something done over an async meeting, don’t hesitate to schedule a more traditional meeting. Making time for periodic video meetings can help your team get more familiar with each other and prevent feelings of isolation.
IT Staff Augmentation Services
As a global team at Rootstrap, we know what it’s like to juggle time zones. Making a success of cross-continental working relationships is definitely in our wheelhouse.
If your company is seeking to expand its team overseas and diversify digital talent, Rootstrap’s IT staff augmentation services can help. Whether you need a little extra IT muscle on your side or a full-blown software development team, we can supply you with the right talent at the right time.
Our talented devs will be an asset to your team since we know what it’s like to work virtually and collaborate with coworkers in different time zones.
Get in touch with us! We’d love to chat about how outsourcing your IT department can help you minimize development costs while your team.