How to deal with a remote team working across different time zones?

  • May 21, 2021
  • by Ola Rybacka
  • No comments

Recently released Remote Communication report showed clearly that online collaboration is a new normal. Fortunately, the results are promising – users appreciate working remotely and consider staying at home or going hybrid even after returning to the so-called “normalcy.” However, they also point out different locations still cause many misunderstandings when it comes to remote communication. How to deal with it, when the team is working across different across time zones?

What’s in?

Working across different time zones is nothing new

It’s not that working across different time zones is something only COVID-19 related. Many other situations involve distributed communication:

  • most of the enterprises have at least one satellite office or more all over the world, and their teams work together across multiple timezones,
  • during the business trips, we take advantage of virtual communication (or at least calls, now we’re able to hold video meetings instead of phone calls),
  • recruiters have become recently more open to search for talents regardless of the location,
  • jobseekers have been considering a remote work opportunity as beneficial for quite a while,
  • collaboration tools become famous even before the pandemic outbreak.

The thing is, it’s hard to get used to something new when it’s forced. The current situation forced us to communicate at least half-asynchronously. It’s a modern way of communication, but, it can be slightly awkward for those who were always used to get responded immediately after sending a request. However, it’s a huge help for teams who are working around the world and in multiple time zones.

What are the concerns of distributed teams?

The success of many renowned companies like Zapier or Gitlab shows that we shouldn’t be afraid of introducing a distributed operating model in our companies. Still, there’s something that stops us from it or makes us more suspicious when it comes to hiring remote workers from different countries. What we’re worried about the most?

The lack of control

Unfortunately, many managers worldwide still believe that strict control is the highest level of trust towards their employees. However, managing team members working in different countries makes the over-the-shoulder management slightly more complex, that’s why they prefer if the entire team stays in the office. The same goes for hiring – for them, the stationary candidate is a better one.

Questionable working results

A common stereotype closely connected to the over-the-shoulder management mentioned above. However, setting communication guidelines for the entire team, scheduling meetings at least once or twice a week, and keeping an eye on deadlines in a calendar should do the trick.

Poor communication

Our Remote Communication Report shows clearly that remote employees are satisfied with working from home. However, they also point its flaws, which is uncertainty due to the lack of face-to-face contact with teammates. Misunderstandings are expected when working remotely; however, it’s easy to avoid them introducing unified communication guidelines for the entire team.

Benefits of distributed teams

Managing a distributed team can be a struggle, but companies are now more willing to hire remote workers and implement different organizational methods. Having employees all around the world benefit the company in various ways!

Hiring talents everywhere

Thinking of your company through the prism of location limits the hiring opportunities. Sometimes it’s hard to find in the local labor market a person who’s a natural talent and also ready to come to the office five days a week. Seeking skills regardless of the location allows you to find people who genuinely deserve being hired for a particular position because of their knowledge and experience.

Exchange of experience

Although people, no matter the time zone, have similar work struggles, they can vary depending on their local economic and social issues. Sharing their experience, they add another value to their relationship as a team.

Priceless knowledge about different markets

Employees that work in different countries know their local markets the best. So that, if you’re thinking as a company about a global expansion, you should consider at least a partnership with a specialist from the country you desire to introduce your product or service.

24/7 support

Managing a team that works in different time zones is highly beneficial for supporting team coverage. You don’t have to worry about sending the employees to night shifts or even about the lack of people willing to work in the night hours. All you have to do is take advantage of workforce distribution and schedule the employees to cover most of the 24 hours. Luckily, there are many scheduling software tools on the market that help automate this process.

working across different time zones

How to streamline the team communication when working across different time zones?

Set communication and tech guidelines for the entire team

To make sure your team members stay on the same page, create a unified tool policy. Many teams use various apps for the same activities, e.g., a few different task management tools for organizing daily activities. Having only one mechanism for the entire team gives a transparent perspective and helps taking control of chaos. It clearly shows all the deadlines, who’s assigned to each task, and who’s currently available if needed.

Here are some of the best types of tools for managing a distributed teams (make sure to check if it offers a free trial to give it a try before purchasing):

  • project management/task management – the market offers various tools that are based on the most popular management methods – Kanban (HeySpace, Trello, Clickup), Agile (Monday, Wrike, Pivotal Tracker), Scrum (Asana, Meistertask, Jira), or Waterfall (Smartsheet, Teamwork Project),
  • time tracking – managing a distributed team requires paying particular attention to logging working hours from both employees and the employer’s side. With TimeCamp, you can be sure that no matter the location your employees work in, they’ll be fairly paid for their job,
  • collaboration – helpful for flawless asynchronous communication, automatically keep the team on the same page, e.g. Slack or HeySpace,
  • scheduling – working in different time zones can confuse the employees on who’s already clocked in or out, so it’s good to give them a tool that shows clearly the colleagues that are available at the particular moment,
  • videoconferencing – a must-have to conduct an effective meeting, especially across multiple time zones,
  • email client – be sure all your team members use the company’s email address for business communication. Use the one client for the entire team – decide if you want to do it using Gmail, Outlook, or another provider,
  • cloud service – another must-have for a remote team, allows to keep the resources in one, easy to search place that all the members have access to. Most of the team communication tools offer integration with storage services so that you can add files straight from the cloud without sending endless emails with attachments,

Make sure the entire team stays on the same page

Making sure that everyone is well-informed about the current situation isn’t easy, even in the office. it’s not particularly hard to find somebody who’s complaining about they didn’t hear anything

  • Schedule meetings: plannings, follow-ups, and reviews – for maximum transparency. Let your team members share what they’ve been working on recently and their plans for the next few days. Such meetings are also a perfect opportunity to discuss the current workflow, point out the flaws, and find out the solution that suits (almost) everyone. The biggest struggle will probably be finding the right time for each time zone; however, scheduling meetings early enough allows everyone to be ready and prepared. Remember not to exaggerate it – too many meetings disturbs the workflow and keeps the employees off track,
  • Create a space in your collaboration app dedicated to the updates – of course; it depends on what type of workflow your tool is supporting. You can set up a separate workspace or create a list in the existing one and keep all the information in one, easily accessible place. Your employees will be allowed to leave the comment or respond to others there in case they need to discuss something.

Prepare before the meetings

As I mentioned before, it’s not too hard to exaggerate the number of meetings in a short period. Keep the golden middle – try to schedule only these meetings that are really necessary for flawless workflow. Make sure all of them are always planned and put in the team’s calendar. Keep each meeting time short and discuss the matters according to the agenda prepared before (it’s good when similar meetings share the same plan, it’s much faster to go point by point then).

Manage a team, not just a bunch of people

Working in the office is much easier for team integration; however, working remotely doesn’t make it more impossible. Sure, the teammates are often strange to each other, with high chances they’ve never met each other in person before. Lucky if they’re kept in touch via collaboration or video conferencing tools because they share similar work responsibilities.

Managing a remote team, especially a highly distributed one, often makes us forget that we need to maintain the relationships between the teammates. A team is a small family; each member should know at least a little about the others – e.g., what are they responsible for or what’s essential for a successful remote team up – their availability.

Besides the ordinary company meetings, organize e.g., monthly department-only meetings. They’re priceless for helping the teammates get to know each other well from the other, more private side. Try to find an hour that would be suitable for everyone. Sure thing it’s a challenge, especially when they work on different sides of the globe, but the effect will be worth it!

Looks worse than it is!

Successful team communication in different time zones is something absolutely achievable. It’s proven by many companies that have already switched to this model and still deliver the highest quality work results (we know something about that in TimeCamp!). The secret of working together effectively in a virtual world is trust and keeping friendly relationships between teammates. No matter where you all are, you’re still on the same boat – depends on you if will sink or swim ;).

Knowing how much time your team members usually spend on their activities helps the entire team stay on the same page without failing to meet the deadlines. Let TimeCamp help organize your time!

Sign up for free!

PS. I’m happy to share a short interview with me about TimeCamp – read it here

Ola Rybacka

Community Manager at TimeCamp, Ph.D., and speech therapy student, full-time otaku. よろしくお願いします!

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