“Your time or mine?” -How we might help the remote working to remove the barriers between multiple time zones.

Christine Eum
7 min readAug 26, 2021

Last summer, I had a chance to work with a group of students around the globe in a virtual international design camp. I was invited as a tutor, where my primary responsibility was to lead the team as a project manager.

Our team was dispersed between three continents- Asia, Australia, and North America. We had to meet at least every other day to make meaningful progress, given only two weeks to bring outcomes.

All of us were complete strangers to each other- we all came from different backgrounds, and we didn’t have much knowledge about each other’s lives. Some of the challenges we faced were finding agreeable times to meet, communication continuity, and building trust.

For each meeting, I had three different time zones to consider.

“Okay, so our next meeting will be Tuesday 12pm for Epi, Tuesday 10am for Hye, and Monday 5pm for me.”

At one point, I started stating the meeting time for each of our team members before we end the meeting to prevent being asked, “Your time or mine?”

A screenshot of my desktop showing the different scheduling tools I used

Even doing so, there were always one or two members in the team who were confused about the schedule. We all had multiple calendars to work with, so the schedule often got buried in the Teams app, which the program had required us to use.

COVID-19 pandemic has forced many organizations to adopt remote working, but the available technology has accelerated the transition.

Many scholars have previously studied the impact of remote working. My study focuses on understanding the effects of global time zone separation in team collaboration.

The Benefits

To better understand the current remote working environment, I started by looking at the benefits remote working can bring.

Productivity

Productivity increases while working remotely, most significantly when there is no overlapping in the time zone at all(Espinosa et al., 2018, Alexander et al., 2020, and Holmstrom et al., 2006)

Cost efficiency

Companies may benefit from reduced costs by needing less physical space and international labor(Alexander et al., 2020),(Holmstrom et al., 2006).

Optimizing the hybrid virtual continuum, Alexander et al., “Remaining the Postpandemic Workforce” 2020.

Access to a bigger talent pool

Companies can gain access to a larger pool of expertise and talents regardless of location(Holmstrom et al., 2006, Alexander et al., 2020, and Tang et al., 2011)

Keeping a better record of track and the process

From a study conducted by O’Leary & Mortensen(2012), teams with isolated members performed better(based on effectiveness measures of identification with the team, transactive memory, amount of conflict, and coordination problems) than evenly balanced teams or even wholly co-located teams. Having one isolate created a novelty effect and prompted the entire team to plan more organized and proactive.

Discontinuities in remote work can also be a powerful way to understand virtual environments. They draw attention to underlying process issues and potential problems created by invisible boundaries(Chudoba et al., 2005).

Diversity

International teams can build products and services richer in diversity and can benefit from local customs and cultures to reach out to the global market(Tang et al.,2011, Holmstrom et al., 2006)

The Challenges

As benefits from remote working allow us to envision great possibilities for future workplaces, we must also understand the existing challenges in the teams with dispersing geographic locations to design a better experience.

Isolation

A remote worker may feel isolated and excluded from the knowledge and social network. The lag in response time could leave remote workers with it a feeling of “being behind” and “missing out” — this, in the long run, could make people feel frustrated and may cause burnout (Dashpande et al., 2016, Holmstrom et al., 2006).

An isolated work environment could cause loneliness | @Yasmina H, Unsplash

Values and Trust

A lack of social interactions to understand values for the co-workers was a challenge(Dashpande et al., 2016). As face-to-face interactions create more opportunities for rich, informal interactions, emotional connection and encourage “creative collision.”

Missing out on everyday interactions could also limit members from building personal relationships to strengthen social networks and shared trust (Alexander et al., 2020).

Accuracy

A study conducted by Espinosa et al. (2018) found that the most overlapping time zones while remotely working causes a decreased accuracy from delayed responses. Similar findings were suggested by Dashpande et al. (2016), where poor communications were seen for remote workers in large group sessions, possibly caused by a lack of presence awareness(not being aware of the background “vibe”).

Productivity

The same research suggesting no overlap in time zone maximized productivity showed that smaller time gaps caused a significant decrease in productivity(Espinosa et al., 2018, Alexander et al., 2020). Meetings scheduled in out-of-work hours can cause frustration and fatigue for its members, contributing to blurred boundaries between work and life.

Leadership

Leadership can also be challenged as hierarchical leadership can be less effective at a distance with limited chances to inspire and motivate (Alexander et al., 2020).

What are some opportunities?

After learning about the benefits and challenges in the remote working environment, I drew out a few opportunities to resolve with better UX designs.

Integrated tools

Several participants from the research literature mentioned the desire to integrate the tools. Many teams had to manage multiple tools for different purposes- video conferencing, phone, IM, email, scheduling, computer window sharing, shared file repositories, etc.- totally separately.

Yet, the use of those tools had to be coordinated together, often in the context of synchronous, cross-time zone meetings.

Smart calendaring

Shared online calendars were needed at the top of the list to support easier time management with time zone-shifted collaborators. The current interface for the modern calendaring system only presumes regular work hours with a default time zone.

Yet, the researches show that people may be available for work at different times throughout the day. This flexibility is essential when negotiating times to meet synchronously with multiple time zones and in different times like under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Support isolates

Many of the teams studied in the researches showed that isolation was one of the main challenges. To work more effectively with members in multiple geographical locations, providing experiences with human touch and promoting personal relationships should be present within the technology.

UX community is at the forefront of leading the shifted culture of adopting remote work as a new norm. As UX professionals, it is our responsibility to improve the quality of our work-life environment.

How might we help remote working teams from different locations manage their time effectively?

When designing a solution that answers this question, I had two main goals: integration and smart scheduling.

OneCal is an integrated calendar app that provides a one-stop service to make remote working and life scheduling easier. With less time spent switching between different apps, some of the key features in the app include:

  1. Separated views for each group in the calendar.
  2. A view of the invited group’s schedule for easy scheduling.
  3. Connected services to other apps within OneCal to schedule and send invitations.
Three main screens that display key features on OneCal @Christine Eum

For an interactive prototype, click here.

The future is already happening.

Remote working will undoubtly continue to grow as more people want to work remotely, and more jobs can be done with the help of technology.

Could managing too much technology prevent us from enjoying the benefit of extra hours earned? With a help of an integrated, smart scheduling tool such as OneCal, we can manage our time wisely and efficiently.

Sources

  1. J. A. Espinosa, N. Nan and E. Carmel, “Do Gradations of Time Zone Separation Make a Difference in Performance? A First Laboratory Study,” International Conference on Global Software Engineering (ICGSE 2007), 2007, pp. 12–22, doi: 10.1109/ICGSE.2007.20.
  2. Deshpande, Advait; Sharp, Helen; Barroca, Leonor and Gregory, Peggy (2016). Remote Working and Collaboration in Agile Teams. In: International Conference on Information Systems, 11–14 Dec 2016, Dublin, Ireland.
  3. H. Holmstrom, E. O. Conchuir, P. J. Agerfalk and B. Fitzgerald, “Global Software Development Challenges: A Case Study on Temporal, Geographical and Socio-Cultural Distance,” 2006 IEEE International Conference on Global Software Engineering (ICGSE’06), 2006, pp. 3–11, doi: 10.1109/ICGSE.2006.261210.
  4. Robb, M. (2020), Timing it right: Tips for planning remote meetings across time zones. Nurse Author & Editor, 30: 35–37. https://doi.org/10.1111/nae2.10
  5. Chudoba, K.M., Wynn, E., Lu, M. and Watson-Manheim, M.B. (2005), How virtual are we? Measuring virtuality and understanding its impact in a global organization. Information Systems Journal, 15: 279–306. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2575.2005.00200.x
  6. Bulut, S. ve Maimaiti, R. (2021). Remote working in the period of the COVİD-19. Journal of Psychological Research, 3(1), 61–65.
  7. Alexander, A., De Smet, A., Mysore, M.(2020), Remaining the Postpandemic Workforce. McKinsey Quarterly. https://www.asiascot.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Reimagining-the-postpandemic-workforce-vF.pdf
  8. Marcin, S.(2021). Follow-the-Sun Is It Really a Strategy From the Perspective of the Strategic Management? Prace Naukowe Uniwersytetu Ekonomicznego we Wrocławiu, 138–149.
  9. Lowenthal, P., Borup, J., West, R. & Archambault, L. (2020). Thinking Beyond Zoom: Using Asynchronous Video to Maintain Connection and Engagement During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education. 28 (2), pp. 383–391. Waynesville, NC USA: Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education.
  10. CSCW ’11: Proceedings of the ACM 2011 conference on Computer supported cooperative work March 2011 Pages 235–244 https://doi.org/10.1145/1958824.1958860

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