Navigating different time zones is an inescapable reality for the workforce right now. Companies are becoming more global and diverse, and with the rise of remote work, it’s possible to hire great talent from anywhere in the world. 

The most challenging aspect for distributed teams is communication. It’s hard enough to get communication right when teams are sitting next to each other, now add in a time difference and different working hours, and things become a lot more difficult.  But there are ways to preserve collaboration and keep communication alive and effective, no matter where your team members are located.

Pros of working across time zones:

  • You can hire the best, most diverse talent from across the globe.
  • Promoting flexible working hours and locations can boost productivity.  
  • There’s always someone online. 
  • Much fewer distractions (no constant pings on Slack, for example).

Cons of working across time zones:

  • It’s harder to find ways to collaborate. You have to patiently wait for a task to be completed or for someone to log on to ask for input. 
  • Meeting times can be inconvenient for some team members (too late or too early), depending on location.  
  • Dispersed workers can feel isolated from the rest of the team and from each other. 
  • Less visibility, especially if you’re the only one in the team in a different time zone.

Tips for working with teams in different time zones:

1. Set time zone boundaries, and communicate them clearly

Whether you’re working in a global office outside of your main headquarters, in a hybrid work team, or completely remotely, make sure you set your own work hours and boundaries with your dispersed team. HR should tell managers not to set meetings outside of the working hours of a dispersed teammate. It might be hard to find times that work for everyone, but resist the urge to ask your dispersed workers to hop on a call at 7 am because that’s the only time that works for everyone else. If you wouldn’t ask your teammates at HQ to log on for a 7 am meeting, then don’t ask the same of your dispersed workers. Dispersed employees can help by making their work calendar available to the rest of the team for full transparency and better coordination.

2. Respect employee work hours 

If, as a manager, you have established time zone boundaries and preferred work hours with your employees, the next task is to respect them! If you need something from someone sitting 6 time zones away, you need to determine how urgent the task is before sending it via instant messaging. When your global teammates feel like their schedule is respected, they will feel happier at their job, less stressed, and more seen. 

3. Schedule emails to avoid working outside of work hours 

When you work in different time zones, it’s important to be aware of when you’re sending a message or email. If you have to send a message before or after work hours, some communication platforms, like Gmail, will allow you to schedule emails in advance. This can be helpful if you’re working late and don’t want to bother your team with an inbox notification. It can also be helpful when you want to send a non-urgent message to global teammates.

Most effective tools to support a distributed team:

1. Calendly 

If you’re booking calls with customers or contractors who aren’t on the team, use an app like Calendly that helps prevent people from booking research sessions with you at 2:00 a.m, your local time. Calendly automatically shows available meeting times in the local time zone you’re in, so there’s no chance for any confusion.

2. World Clock Meeting Planner’s World Clock Meeting Planner makes time shift scheduling very straightforward. Choose the cities where everyone lives and the date for your meeting, and it’ll show in green, yellow, and red the times that are best, not too bad, and terrible for everyone.

3. Every Time Zone

For an even simpler way to see what time it is around the world, check out Every Time Zone. It shows the current time in your own city, along with others in popular time zones around the world. Drag the second indicator to the time you want to have a meeting, and you’ll see what time it’ll be in cities around the globe. It’s not a perfect way to schedule meetings but is a good way to get a feel for international time differences.

4. Google Calendar

This suggestion might seem basic but Google Calendar is packed with features that make it great for distributed teams. You can set your own time zone, and save the time zones you work with most to easily switch between them. It’s a simple, text-based world clock that provides updates at-a-glance.

Working 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 employees. HR is in the best place to promote collaboration and communication between dispersed teams by supporting dispersed employees with the right tools and training managers in how to set correct boundaries and expectations. 

HR best practices for working across time zones - Shiran-1-150x150.png

From Shiran Yaroslavsky

Shiran Yaroslavsky is the VP Product US at Hibob. She is the former CEO and Co-founder of Cassiopeia (acquired by Hibob), a startup that helps managers lead teams effectively with data. Shiran is a thought leader in people analytics and remote team leadership. She was featured in 2019 in Forbes’ 30Under30 list in Israel.