Navigating different time zones is an inescapable challenge for modern workforces. With companies becoming increasingly global and diverse and remote work well and truly on the rise, HR professionals need a finely tuned toolkit for keeping their teams connected and productive when spanning multiple time zones.
It’s possible to hire great talent from anywhere in the world, but these distributed teams create a particular challenge around communication. It can be hard enough to get this right when your people work in the same office and the same time zone, but when you add in time differences, different working hours, and varying cultural expectations, things become a lot more difficult.
The good news is that a number of best practices have emerged that support collaboration and keep team communication alive and effective, no matter where your team members are located.
Why have so many businesses embraced the multi-national model?
Remote work isn’t new, but its uptake has exploded dramatically in recent years. Businesses have discovered that a global recruitment approach unlocks access to the best, most diverse talent out there and allows companies to provide an “always-on” service with a 24-hour presence.
This approach yields tangible results for businesses: By promoting flexible working hours and locations, organizations can dramatically boost their productivity, and multi-national teams directly contribute to business success. According to Gartner, 75 percent of organizations with frontline decision-making teams that reflect a diverse and inclusive culture will have exceeded their financial targets in 2022.
What challenges face multi-national organizations and teams?
While the advantages are clear, international teams also bring several challenges for HR to tackle. First, it can be more difficult for people to collaborate, and it can take time for team members to adapt to an asynchronous communication environment.
Similarly, meetings can be difficult to schedule, inconveniencing those who need to attend, especially early or late in the day. People working on dispersed teams can also feel isolated from one another, leading to a lack of connection, and even become less visible—especially if they are the sole team member in their time zone.
However, you can successfully address these challenges with the right approaches and tools. For example, one tool that can greatly simplify communication and coordination is a meeting notes template, which can ensure that all team members have access to the same information and action items, no matter their time zone.
Tips for working with global teams across different time zones
1. Set time zone boundaries and communicate them clearly
Whether they’re working in a global office outside of your main headquarters, on a hybrid work team, or entirely remotely, it’s important to help your people clearly communicate their preferred work hours and set boundaries with their dispersed teams.
It’s just as critical for managers to set meetings only within the working hours of team members: Help your managers and their teams find times that work for everyone and help dispersed team members resist the temptation to hop on a call at 7 am simply because that’s a convenient time for everyone else.
Ideally, use a tool that lets team members share their work calendars to improve transparency and aid better coordination. Facilitating an open conversation about working hours and expectations is also a great way to close any cultural communication gaps. For example, talk to your people about blocking off time for lunch breaks and refraining from checking work diaries and emails outside of working hours.
2. Set appropriate expectations and avoid micromanagement
Working across time zones also means reconfiguring expectations around work. The time difference may mean your people can’t get immediate responses to requests. Instead, they should determine how urgent a task is before sending instant messages or emails, helping remote colleagues feel that their teammates respect their schedule. In turn, that will make them feel happier at work, less stressed, and more seen.
Scheduling emails and instant messages to arrive during work hours is another great way for people to connect with colleagues on their terms. If someone has to send a message before or after work hours, many communication platforms will allow them to schedule messages in advance.
Empower your people to use these tools. Doing so will help to close any cultural communication gaps, supporting a respectful working culture.
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3. Regularly check in with your people
Regular communication, check-ins, one-on-ones, and feedback sharing are crucial when working with globally dispersed teams.
There are many tools that can help: Calendly is excellent for booking meetings within preset time slots. Similarly, TimeandDate.com’s World Clock Meeting Planner makes scheduling meetings across time zones easy by calculating the time in each team member’s location. Likewise, Slack allows people to schedule chat messages and shows what time the message will send in the other person’s time zone.
Even more simply, Every Time Zone is a great way to get a clear understanding of different time zones. Finally, Google Calendar is packed with features that make it great for distributed teams, such as setting your own time zone and easily switching to team members’ time zones.
Once you’ve arranged these meetings and messages, ensure managers and professionals receive training on appropriate meeting etiquette. Timing; dress codes; humor; and approaches to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) vary around the world, so make sure your teams are suitably sensitive to their colleagues’ expectations.
Work as a team while working from anywhere
As companies ramp up their global hiring efforts and the world becomes more connected, working across dispersed teams will be a fact of life for many modern professionals. HR is in the best position to promote collaboration and communication between dispersed teams by supporting remote employees with the right tools and training managers to set correct boundaries and expectations. Doing so will let you take advantage of the significant positive impacts of building a multi-national, diverse, and inclusive workforce.