9 Tips for Working With Teams in Different Timezones

As remote work and satellite offices become more common, marketers are discovering that global teams can be incredibly beneficial to a company’s culture and ability to hire diverse talent.

In today’s workplace, diversity breeds new and unique ideas, allows us to look at our campaigns from different points of view, and benefits companies financially. In fact, by 2022, Gartner predicts that 75% of businesses with diverse frontline decision-makers will exceed their financial targets.

But, despite all the benefits of having a diverse global staff, companies are still trying to figure out how to work successfully across different timezones.

As someone who’s managed marketing initiatives at companies with remote employees and offices around the world, I’ve seen what successful and unsuccessful international collaboration looks like first hand.

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When you have a successful game plan, you’re regularly able to video chat with colleagues, hear their thoughts, and gain insight into what the workplace is like on the other side of the world. These benefits allow your team to work better together and can lead your international teammates to feel more included in your team’s day-to-day work.

When international collaboration is done poorly, you might run into frustration from colleagues, all sorts of misalignment, and a sense of personal and professional disconnection across teams. These negatives aren’t helpful for retaining employees or building a positive company culture.

While creating processes that allow employees to work in different timezones is logistically beneficial, on a deeper level, it also makes it easier for diverse global talent to join your team.

Tips for Working with Teammates in Different timezones

1. Communicate clearly about timezone boundaries with your team.

As a hardworking employee located farther away from your company’s office, you might find feel pressure to say yes to every meeting you’re invited to. Additionally, you might also find it hard to say no to meetings — or suggest other times — for meetings scheduled outside of your regular working hours.

However, many HubSpot marketers say that you should keep a dialogue going with your global counterparts to ensure that everyone’s boundaries are being respected and that there are equal odd-hour meetings for both teams.

“If you’re clear about why you can’t work every hour of the day across all timezones, teammates will understand that. Just make sure you propose alternatives,” says Nataly Kelly, HubSpot’s VP of Localization.

Whether you’re working in-office, remotely, or in a global office outside of your main headquarters, make sure you are open to discussing your own work hours and boundaries with your dispersed team. Similarly, invite your teammates to discuss their own work hours and boundaries so that way you all are familiar with the different timezones your everyone is working within.

If you’re based in your office headquarters, Kelly says you should “remember that your counterparts in most international offices are accustomed to working odd shifts all the time.”

Meanwhile, if you’re not working in the same country as your broader team, “don’t be afraid to ask for meetings that are outside of others’ timezones.”

“There’s a give and take. So long as you check with the person on their preferences, it’s fine to ask. Some might even prefer to work a non-standard shift anyway,” Kelly explains.

Even after having an initial conversation, you should also speak up if you’re having issues attending many meetings in multiple timezones. Likewise, you should also encourage colleagues to communicate when they’re running into timezone blockers. These discussions will better help your team learn how to strategize and identify respectful or empathetic solutions to timezone-related challenges.

Aside from specifically discussing timezone-related needs and boundaries as needed, you can also mark your standard work hours on a team calendar — while encouraging colleagues to do the same.

When you have a successful game plan, you’re regularly able to video chat with colleagues, hear their thoughts, and gain insight into what the workplace is like on the other side of the world. These benefits allow your team to work better together and can lead your international teammates to feel more included in your team’s day-to-day work.

The strategies above will give you and your team a better idea of when to schedule meetings or when you can respectfully send emails, questions, or task assignments to global colleagues.

2. Get specific when discussing dates and times with peers.

“When working with team members from different timezones regarding deadlines, I’ve found it helpful to explicitly state the deadline we are working to in both my timezone, and their timezone so there is no confusion on either end when the deliverable is expected to be complete,” says Lestraudra Alfred, a California-based marketing manager and staff writer for the HubSpot Blog.

Even when you’re working with a colleague in the same country as you, not getting as specific as possible about dates or times can cause confusion or slow your processes.

For example, if a Boston-based marketing manager gives a California-based blogger a deadline for “9 a.m. Monday,” it might be hard to determine whether the deadline was for 9 a.m. EST or PST. This could cause content to be published later than expected.

Similarly, if a hiring manager in California gives a Dublin-based job candidate an interview time without noting EST or PST, the job candidate might log on for a video interview at the wrong time.

While acknowledging a timezone seems like a no-brainer, many of us have forgotten to do it when working with international colleagues or even planning video calls with loved ones abroad. Because it’s such a common mishap that has the ability to totally mess with schedules, this tip is absolutely worth noting if you work with international teams

3. Be mindful of other teammates’ designated work hours.

Once you and your team establish timezones boundaries and preferred work hours, respect them. This means that if you need something from a global teammate, you determine how urgent the task is before sending it. Or, this could mean that you develop a virtual team meeting schedule that fits within everyone’s active work hours — rather than making some teammates call in late at night or in the early morning.

When your global teammates feel like their schedule is respected, they might feel happier at their job, less stressed, or have an easier time tuning out of work communication outside of their main work hours. Ultimately, these things will help boost job retention, productivity, and your team’s overall performance.

4. Test out split shifts or workdays that cater to different timezones.

If you work in an office within one country but half of your team is in another location, talk to your manager to see if you can do a half-day in the office and then work remotely at night or early in the morning one or more days per week. Working during one chunk of the day caters to your timezone, followed by another shift that caters to another team’s timezone, is often called a split shift.

Splitting your hourly schedule around your team’s timezones allows you to be more available for meetings or quick communication with your international colleagues without ignoring the colleagues in your office. It will also ensure that you’re available to your international department without needing to stay up all hours of the day.

“If you’re working two timezones that don’t overlap much, why not split your shift into two instead of doing the same number of hours consecutively?” asks Kelly.

“Because I often work during Asia Pacific hours, I’ll go into HubSpot’s Cambridge office for half the day. Then, later on, I’ll work another half of the day from home. Usually, this shift lasts from 8 p.m. to midnight, which happens to be my highest productivity time of day anyway.”

Alternatively, Kelly says you could also consider picking a few days per week where you’ll work on another international team’s schedule entirely.

When Kelly works on days that cater to European, Middle Eastern, and African regions (EMEA), she says, “I go into the office super early and leave early. To do this, I book a full-day event on my calendar that says “EMEA hours: 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. EST” so that people in my timezone won’t book me. I also mark 3 p.m. onward as “Busy” so I won’t get booked then.”

“Alternatively, you can also block the time at the end of the day with a private reminder that says, “Go home now, you’ve been here since 6 am,” Kelly adds.

“The hardest thing to do is to make sure you don’t end up working 12-hour days routinely,” Kelly notes. “Booking the times I mentioned helps you avoid that.”

5. Embrace virtual processes and project management tools.

With all of the technology at our fingertips, many teams are no longer required to work in the same location or at the same time.

To keep your team on task and working efficiently across the globe, leverage tools like instant messaging apps, task management software, and progress trackers which will enable anyone on your team to strategize and update teams on their progress at different times of day.

Aside from allowing people to work on the same projects in different timezones, these tools allow global employees to stay on the same page about what aspects of a project have been completed.

For example, if an employee in Australia is working while U.S. employees are offline, the U.S. team can see what the Australian team completed when they were logged in and identify which tasks need to be completed next.

To learn more about tools and software that can help global and remote teams, check out this helpful list.

6. Schedule less urgent emails to send at a time where international teammates are active.

“When you work in different timezones, it’s important to be aware of when you’re sending a message or email,” says Rebecca White, a junior writer for the HubSpot Blog.

“For example, if you’re expecting a response the day you send the message, you might need to send it early on in the day to ensure the recipient gets the message during their normal work hours,” White advises. “I recommend sending messages a day or two in advance of when you need a response. This gives people time to respond if they don’t receive your messages until the next day.”

If you have to send a message before or after your own work hours, some communication platforms, like Gmail, will allow you to schedule emails in advance. This can be especially helpful if you’re working late and don’t want to bother your team with a message. But, it can be helpful when you want to send a non-urgent message to global teammates without waking them up incredibly early in the morning or disturbing their nighttime routine.

To do this on Gmail, create the email as you would draft any other message. Then, when you’re ready to schedule the email, click the arrow on the send icon for the “Schedule message” option.

Schedule send your emails on gmail

When it comes to quick communication some tools, like Slack, will even give you a notification before or after you send a message stating which timezone your recipient is in.

timezone warnings on Slack

Timezone messages like the one above can help you be mindful of what to send when to send it, and if your message is urgent enough to send as soon as possible. For example, if you have a few messages you want to send, but notice it’s 9 p.m. in another employee’s timezone, you might either want to avoid sending til the morning or schedule an email.

7. If you must send an unscheduled message, be patient.

Colleagues in different timezones don’t want to be bombarded with messages and emails right when they wake up or as they’re going to bed. Because of this, many global employees will make an effort to tune out by snoozing their instant message notifications or turning off their work devices when they’ve finished working for the day.

Expecting your teammates to be “always-on” doesn’t create the best culture and might make them feel disrespected. So, to avoid this, minimize the messages you send after hours and be patient if you don’t immediately get a response back. Odds are, a great teammate will get back to you when they begin working the next day.

8. Be mindful of international employees when scheduling meetings.

Whether you’re aiming to book a standard meeting, a virtual water-cooler for team bonding, or even a coworker’s birthday celebration, you should try to schedule these events at a time that makes sense for all company employees. This may not always be possible, but being mindful of international schedules ensures that all employees feel included and that their time is respected.

In a previous blog post, Siobhán McGinty, a Principle Marketing Manager, explained that scheduling meetings or virtual events at times where all teammates can be included can be beneficial for both remote or global employees.

“That feeling of inclusion can make such a difference to employee retention, happiness, and performance — so the little things actually matter quite a lot,” McGinty said.

Sometimes, scheduling a meeting at a time that works for all timezones is easier said than done. For example, if you’re based in the U.S. and have teams in Asia and California, finding a time that fits into everyone’s schedules and usual work hours can be tricky.

If you must schedule a virtual meeting at a time that’s later at night or early in the morning for people on your team, try to make up for the inconvenience in some way to show that you’re being empathic to your colleagues.

On many HubSpot marketing teams, if we schedule a meeting that requires people in other timezones to wake up early or stay up late, we try to be empathetic to those colleagues in some way. For example, our managers might expense dinner for people working late in another timezone or they might decide that the next meeting will be before or after the U.S. office’s work hours and so it fits within a global teams’ workday.

9. Know when to be flexible.

When you’re working remotely or in a different location from other team members, you can’t easily turn to them, ask a question, or make conversation. This can make it hard to communicate and develop a relationship with your colleagues.

To avoid team blockers related to timezones, one thing Susanne Ronnqvist Ahmadi, HubSpot’s Vice President of International Marketing, says you should aim to have a flexible schedule at certain points of the day.

“Be ready to jump on a call/video-call without having to schedule a time for it,” Ronnqvist Ahmadi advises. “Let your team know you’re available over Slack (or whichever tool you use), and build in ‘air-time’ in your agenda for check-ins or quick chats.”

The Key to timezone Etiquette

Ultimately, most important things to embrace and keep in mind when working with team members in different timezones are respect, empathy, and inclusion.

All of the steps above will enable you to create a schedule that works for your global team, include everyone in virtual meetings, and allow your diverse global teammates to contribute great ideas during their own work hours.

To learn more about key aspects of working with international or remote teams, check out these blog posts on hosting virtual meetings, working with global teammates, and international communication tips.

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Originally published May 6, 2020 7:00:00 AM, updated May 06 2020

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