How to Work Across Time Zones or Countries as a Remote Team or Company

Implement these best practices to make your organization’s remote working arrangement successful.

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How to Work Across Countries or Time Zones as a Remote Team or Company

Remote work, or better referred to as a flexible work arrangement, is part of our new normal. A 2021 study found that 70% of companies surveyed planned to adopt a hybrid work model, and 80% of employees said they would choose a job that had flexible work options over another job without those options. Moreover, many employees have felt more productive, happier, and less stressed working remotely. Of course, this isn’t true across the board, but having the option to work remotely is what many people want.

Numerous companies who have a remote working option are now casting a wider net when recruiting. If you’re one of these companies, this means that your workforce might be distributed across several states, or even countries. But remote work, especially across time zones, presents its own issues: Collaboration is more challenging, meetings might be very early or very late for some team members, and it takes more effort to stay in contact. That being said, with the right tools, practices, and processes in place, your remote team can not only be a success, but an advantage.

Below we look at some best practices you can put in place to make a remote working arrangement a success, and other considerations.

80% of employees said they would choose a job that had flexible work options over another job without those options.

1. Explore implementing core working hours

When possible, it’s best to implement core hours, meaning the hours you expect people to be available for meetings and calls. This is much easier when everyone is in a similar time zone. If your company is spread across the United States, your core hours might be noon-5 pm EST (so 9 am-2 pm for your west coast employees). This means that meetings and calls should be scheduled during that window so it’s accessible for everyone. If you’re working across an even wider timezone, your core hours might have to be slimmed down.

Alternatively, if you only have 1 or 2 employees in a different timezone, they might have to provide some flexibility a few days a week to join team meetings. But this flexibility should be reasonable, meaning an occasional 8 am or 6 pm meeting might be expected, but should not be the norm.

2. Allow employees to have time zone boundaries

Some employees have a hard time saying “no.” This applies to work assignments, meetings, and expanding duties. But people who can’t say no to their bosses are at a higher risk of burnout, so it’s important to let your people set boundaries. When scheduling meetings, be vocal that if a time doesn’t work for an employee, they’re welcome to suggest alternatives. While some flexibility will be expected from the lone Australian employee if everyone else is based in the U.S., they shouldn’t be expected to meet every morning at 7 am — unless that was explicitly agreed upon.

3. Be very explicit about deadlines and meeting times

The idea here is that it’s impossible to over communicate. If a project is due at the end of the week, make it clear what time zone you’re referring to. As Hubspot suggests, it’s even a good idea to say the deadline in both your timezone, and theirs, so there’s no confusion. For example, in your email you could clearly write “the report is due at 5 pm EST/2 pm PST.” if they’re based on the west coast, and you’re based on the east coast.

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4. Invest in asynchronous communication tools

you’ll need tools to help your team members see what’s been done, what’s left, and who’s working on what when they log on for the day.

Your company is probably already using synchronous communication tools, like Slack. With a workforce spread across time zones, you’ll also have to start thinking about investing in asynchronous technology. We Work Remotely has a great guide to help you understand the ins and outs of asynchronous communication tools, but the general idea is that you’ll need tools to help your team members see what’s been done, what’s left, and who’s working on what when they log on for the day.

When communicating asynchronously, it’s critical to be clear and thorough. If you’ve left out important details and the reader has questions, it could be an entire work day that passes before you clear up any ambiguities. Some important questions We Work Remotely suggests asking yourself before sending a message include:

  • Does my recipient have everything they need to complete the next step?
  • Can I make anything clearer?
  • Is there anything I can attach to facilitate work (such as spreadsheets, case studies, meeting memos, etc.)?
  • Does my recipient have access to the resources I’m sharing?

Some tools to explore, aside from emails, include Trello and Basecamp.

Other considerations

A distributed workforce means you might have to think more about the following, or ask yourself:

  • Is this meeting really necessary? Before scheduling a meeting where some people might have to work outside their typical hours, make sure the meeting is necessary. Or meet in smaller teams if possible.
  • Be patient. When sending an email or message, you’ll have to adapt and be more patient. In other words, expect to wait for a reply. And also, mind your tone! Remember, non verbal cues can be perceived differently across time zones and culture.
  • Try to meet as a team in person if possible. If your budget allows for it, it’s a great idea to get everyone together in one room and mingle!

Remote work is part of our “new normal,” and having teams spread out geographically is something you might have to learn to work with. While a remote workforce might present some challenges, it’s not only doable, but can be a major advantage if executed properly. The bottom line is be aware and respectful of everyone’s time zones and boundaries — and invest in the right technology to ensure your remote workforce is set up for success.

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