People Operations
How To Manage a Team Across Time Zones
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How To Manage a Team Across Time Zones

October 15, 2019
time zone clocks on a wall

Remote teams and businesses that have a lot of telecommuters are used to navigating time zones. And if they aren't completely comfortable with it, their teams learn pretty quickly that scheduling meetings and completing projects across multiple time zones is one of the most tedious aspects of work. Sometimes even in the best circumstances, a lack of communication and precise planning causes remote teams to lose productivity and overall connection with the company.

Here are a few tips to stop that from happening. With just a few standard rules, your team will be able to breeze through scheduling across time zones:

Set Fair Meeting Times

Not only is this considerate of other coworkers, this principle is essential maintaining efficiency among team members. For example, it's not fair if for one team member, meetings are consistently scheduled at 4 a.m., while for everyone else, meetings take place at 3 in the afternoon. In this case, it would be unreasonable to expect the 3 a.m. team member to be as productive or focused as the rest of team who live on the same continent. Therefore, it may take some compromise and understanding to keep meetings at a time that is reasonable for everyone.

If it's simply not possible to create one standard meeting time that is fair (perhaps the team is international and spread too far), then you could consider rotating meeting times so that everyone gets a break from the unusual schedule every now and then. This isn't ideal, but it does encourage remote teams to sync more with their coworkers and be more attuned to the various work schedules happening within the team.

Set One Official Time Zone

Setting one official time zone for remote team meetings could prevent a lot of confusion, especially in fast-paced environments where deadlines and benchmarks are always changing. Once your team adopts an official time zone, it eliminates the need for questions at the end of every meeting or email clarifying which time zone is in question for the next meeting. For example, if your company has two locations, one in the U.S and one in Europe, it might be helpful to everyone if all meetings and projects were centered around the time zone of the headquarters (or the larger office). This allows everyone to easily be aware of the time difference for their location.

Use a Standard Tool to Sync Meeting Times

Having everyone in the company use the same tool to schedule meetings across time zones is crucial. While all time zones are based on GMT (also known as Greenwich Mean Time or UTC), different platforms often have confusing ways of displaying different time zones. Whatever project management or scheduling tools your team uses, be sure that everyone is on the same page. This may also help when navigating daylight savings times. As long as everyone is working around the same clock, there's no need to wonder whether New Zealand skips an hour ahead or who needs to adjust their schedule.

Tools like Google Calendar and Zoom have become ubiquitous among delocalized teams for their ability to clearly show multiple time zones at once for meeting invites.


Be Precise

In conversations with coworkers, there's no room for ambiguity when setting meeting times. Saying, "Let's meet around 4," in the group chat doesn't mean anything to someone who is working a few hours ahead or behind. Try to keep meeting times consistent and...timely (be strict about starting and stopping meetings on time!). While it is ideal that everyone on the team is well-acquainted with each other's calendar and daily schedule, that's rarely the case. It's important for every member to schedule or request meetings with the consideration that people may have several other things they need to schedule into their day. So sending a meeting invite and then postponing the time several times throughout the day is a surefire way to annoy your coworkers and even impede communication. In the end, when you are precise with your meeting invites, you are being considerate of your coworkers' time.

Don't Neglect Real-Time Conversations

Running a remote team across time zones requires expert people skills, so it's important to maintain the flow of communication constantly with internal messaging boards and emails. As a remote team manager, it's essential to show everyone on the team that they are a valued member, not just an optional addition to various meetings. Working remotely can be an isolating experience for some people, especially when their team only meets strictly for business for a few minutes at a time. Taking some time for real-time conversations, whether it's through messaging or impromptu calls, is a large part of making remote team members feel included and invested in the business.

Written by:

Ashley Davis
Associate Editor at Kisi