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Strong opinions and shared thoughts on companies, culture and Work — by the makers and friends of Ninety.io

2 MIN READ

Managing International Teams and Digital Nomads Across Time Zones

Summary: With shifts in how and where we work, it can be challenging for teams working across miles and time zones. Here are six tips to make it Almost Easy™ to stay connected.


One of the advantages of adjusting company policy to allow for remote work and the ability to Work From Anywhere™ (WFA) is the freedom it provides employees and managers. Freedom to access the best talent in the world – from all over the world and freedom to work where you are most productive - which is an unexpected benefit of COVID workplace disruption.

Well-managed dispersed teams (including digital nomads who once may have been in the office) lets the organization take full advantage of a 24-hour day. Team members in London working with colleagues in San Francisco and Bangalore, for instance, can continue to be productive around the clock and around the globe.

This can be enormously liberating for companies and team members. But there are challenges to leading a WFA team working across different time zones.

With a workforce that’s in flow and increasingly global, here are some tips on how to accomplish extraordinary things with a remote or hybrid team.

Build a communications strategy.

In a global WFA environment, we suggest a communications strategy with an infrastructure to support it. Obviously this includes live video calls. They’re important, especially for weekly Level-10 Meetings. But as important as live video meetings are, the successful and happy management of remote teams requires additional tools to support collaboration. It’s just too taxing and complex to schedule.

Establish reasonable expectations for response times.

When working with people across time zones and borders, internal communication processes might include response time, setting expectations and agreements to minimize concerns. For example, some colleagues may already be asleep at the start of the workday for others, so leaders must allow for that. Some teams might require some overlap in working hours for meetings and collaboration. Others put whole company operating systems in place, increasing the visibility and transparency of the work being performed, by whom and on what timeline.

Embrace written communications.

While writing emails, whole-company operating system comments and instant messaging may not be as rich an experience as live video conferencing, they do have their advantages. Overall, people tend to take more care with what they type or write. Leaders can build on this by coaching team members to be even more clear and concise in their communications. Mindfulness matters. Because context is often absent from text and/or email communications, it's important to provide necessary specifics to prevent misunderstandings.

Know every team member’s current local time.

No one likes to take a meeting at two in the morning. Use calendar tools or other apps as a simple way to ensure that everyone knows the current local time for their colleagues and is respectful to their needs. Slack, for example, has a feature that shows local time on a person’s profile. Some use the directory feature in Ninety to include each person’s local time when it’s noon in the office. Whatever means is used, it needs to be simple to use, easy to access and part of the processes within the organization.

Be precise when scheduling.

If Tom in Atlanta asks Monique in Paris if she’s free for a meeting on Tuesday at Noon, is that ET or CET? Coach team members to be specific and clear when scheduling to avoid miscommunications.

Consider adopting an official time zone.

Having a set time zone as the company standard can help to reduce confusion. Also, encourage people to double-check time zones of meeting invites to confirm alignment. Web-based calendars (like Google Calendar) can help because they automatically convert invitations to local time zones. Web apps like World Time Buddy can help team members easily visualize local time across multiple locations.

Establish agreements around work-time boundaries.

Just as WFA teams must set firm boundaries around working hours, we need to establish agreements around time zone boundaries. No one should be expected to attend meetings at one o’clock in the morning in their local time unless it’s agreed upon as part of their workday or is an extreme circumstance.

Reserve a block of time when everyone can be available.

Company culture is supported with live (albeit virtual) interaction. Blocking off time to get everyone together may mean that some people will need to get up very early or stay up very late, but there’s no substitute for live communications. For standing meetings requiring attendance, consider moving the time block around periodically so that it’s not the same people always making the sacrifice.

Don’t forget the fun.

It’s important to get team members together for more than just work. Provide ample opportunities for people to have fun with each other. Perhaps a quick “game break” for multiplayer online games as a team-building exercise. Virtual happy hours, coffee breaks, book clubs or continuing education as a team can also increase connection across the meridians.

Find out how you can thrive in today's Work From Anywhere World.

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Topics: People

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