Though remote work has been around for decades, the pandemic accelerated its adaptation.
Forty-four percent of employees are working from home five days or more per week in the United States alone. Before COVID-19, that number was just 17%.
There are widely accepted benefits to distributed work, and anyone who manages remote team members is well aware of them. Expanding the talent pool, running operations 24/7, and valuing deliverables over seat-warming are just a few.
Nevertheless, there are two sides to the same coin, and working with distributed teams also brings with it its challenges—one of which being how to manage them across time zones.
Join us as we go through common challenges of managing remote team members across time zones and five practical tips to overcome them.
Common challenges of managing remote team members across different time zones
Some of the most common challenges of managing remote team members include:
- Minimal real-time communication. Being respectful of your remote team members’ office hours may equate to less synchronous communication.
- Meetings at inconvenient hours. With such a gap between certain time zones, it can be difficult to host meetings at a time that works for everyone. For example, when it’s 8 a.m. in New York, it’s already 10 p.m. in Melbourne, Australia.
- Confusing calendar syncing. Without the right tools, trying to manage remote team members across time zones is a chore, especially if calendars don’t sync properly.
- Takes more effort to stay in sync. Aside from calendars, it also just takes more effort to stay connected with the team in general. This is especially true the smaller your team is as it may be more uncommon for members to be in the same time zone.
- Lack of sense of belonging. With global teams, in-person lunches, happy hours, etc. are rare, if not impossible. This could cause lack of sense of belonging, the result of which could lead to lower organizational commitment and engagement. (On the same note, here are some of our best tips to fight isolation in remote work.)
5 tips to overcome common challenges
Acknowledging the challenges faced with managing remote team members across time zones is the first step to overcoming them.
The next step? To follow these five tips:
1. Use tools to help with time zone management
Gone are the days where you just need to know Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific time zones.
While you may be good at guesstimating, tools can help you get times right, every time.
Some tools proven to help with time zone management year in and year out include:
- Google. Just search for the current time zone in the city/ country you’re trying to coordinate with.
- Google Calendar. It’s not just another calendar. Set your current time zone, and save the time zones you work with most to easily switch between them. You can also turn on the World Clock in Settings, which places a text-based clock at a glance.
- Slack. Click on team members’ names, and you’ll automatically be shown their local time. (This is helpful to check before you message them!)
- Every Time Zone. The visual time zone converter helps you easily find the exact time difference between locations.
- World Clock Meeting Planner. Though not as intuitive as Every Time Zone, World Clock Meeting Planner from TimeAndDate.com lets you pick the locations and date for your meeting. Then, the tool color codes the times that are best (green), not too bad (yellow), and the worst (red).
2. Encourage flexible work hours
There are many benefits to flexible work hours.
For starters, flexible work hours have been scientifically proven to reduce burnout, stress levels, and psychological distress while increasing job satisfaction.
Flexible work hours also give team members a chance to work when they’re most productive, whether that be all morning, all afternoon, all night, or a mixed schedule.
Some companies that are already going this route include HubSpot, Zapier, Upwork, Automattic, DuckDuckGo, and GitHub.
However, when you throw various time zones into the mix, things can get a bit trickier as any questions or concerns that arise can’t always be answered instantaneously.
To curb this issue, encourage team members to build some “cushion” into their normal work schedules for check-ins or quick chats.
3. Allow for synchronous and asynchronous communications
If we lived in a perfect world, all communications would be face-to-face and voice, like meetings and phone calls.
However, when you’re managing remote team members, not all communication happens in real-time.
Therefore, it’s crucial to encourage good, consistent documentation in asynchronous workplace tools, such as Notion, Google Drive, Slack, and project management options like Asana or Trello.
This way team members can digest all the information they need at a time that suits them, without having to worry about falling behind or missing out on crucial work details.
4. Set clear expectations
Likewise, when tasks are uploaded to asynchronous communication channels, set clear expectations on working autonomously.
At a minimum, this means to:
- Ensure all team members understand correct usage of workplace tools.
- Adjust project deadlines according to time zones.
- Keep shared calendars up to date.
- Double check team member work hours and availability.
- Make sure each team member is aware of the steps needed to execute work.
If there are any loose ends or confusion surrounding the entire process, clear the air as early as possible.
5. Organize virtual socializing for your team
It’s harder to get to know team members when everyone doesn’t work in the same office, not to mention in the same time zone.
Even if your company hosts yearly conferences, that’s still a lot of missed opportunities and time apart on a daily basis.
Luckily, organizing virtual meetups can help with team bonding among remote workers.
Hosting virtual weekly “happy hours,” icebreakers, or games can help distributed teams proactively build personal connections. You can even host clubs around specific interests and encourage team members to join.
If you’re at a loss for ideas, here are 57 virtual team-building activities, games, and ideas to boost remote employee morale in online teams.
The key to managing across time zones
When managing remote team members, the most important thing to keep in mind is to provide an inclusive experience for all.
No one way is better than the next as long as everyone is feeling seen, heard, and respected, no matter their location or work preferences.
When the team and management work together to discover the best way to successfully navigate global schedules, everyone benefits, and the company thrives.
Now that you know how to manage team members across multiple time zones, learn how to level-up your team’s skills.
Oyster is a distributed HR platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches or the expense.
Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll as well as great local benefits and perks.