“What if time was the same everywhere?”
It was this very question that led me on a personal crusade to tackle the challenge of the global workplace: time zones.
It began a few years ago when I was working on a startup and felt the frustrations that came with scheduling calls across different time zones. Several times a week I would schedule calls between San Francisco, New York, London, and Berlin. I was spending time calculating what is most convenient for people in several time zones, over and over. And when someone wasn’t available anymore, I had to calculate it all over again. Such a mess.
It’s a problem we all know too well when working across more than one time zone. Google is certainly not the only company reporting challenges with teams working together based out of different time zones: “We had people participating in teams, [and] they would almost never see each other face to face. Often they were in different time zones, which meant they had to work harder to stay in sync.”
And meetings aren’t the only time-critical agenda point: global events like the Oscars, traveling with layovers, and things like Black Friday sales on Amazon can easily be confusing — and no one would have wanted to miss out on SpaceX’s 1st Falcon Heavy launch on the 6th of February 2018 at 3:45pm EST…so um…something your time.
Why do we even have this time zone mess?
Back in the early 1800s, cities and towns throughout the world established their own local times, defining 12 o’clock as the time when the Sun was almost overhead. Long travel times and a lack of long-distance communication made time differences barely noticeable. Following the railway revolution, American railroads maintained 100 different time zones. Each train station had its own clock. This made it impossible to coordinate train schedules and confused passengers to no end. Time calculation became a serious problem for people traveling by train. Time zones were then introduced around 1883 defining time differences quite accurately.
Over time, countries began to adapt their time zones based on trade and politics. However, there are no straight lines, nor universal rules. For example, the entire country of China has only one time zone, while the United States has six. In fact, China used to have five time zones but when the Communist Party came to power in 1949, these were dropped in favor of “Beijing time”. It was believed that a single time zone would help to create an illusion of national unity, despite the country being so vast. Then there are other countries like India that have 30-minute time zones. Even worse, Nepal has a 15-minute time zone — it’s crazy!
Daylight saving time makes it even worse. While 71.5% of the world doesn’t make any changes between summer and winter times, there are 70 regions, including the US, Australia, Europe, and many countries in Asia and Central and South America that enforce daylight savings. It would also be too easy if they just did this on the exact same day, right? Instead, these 70 regions spread their daylight-saving changes across 17 different days in the year — just to keep you extra sharp when you are trying to schedule meetings across the globe.
What solutions are there to cope with time zone calculation today?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right? Amongst others, Zapier thoroughly addressed the problem of working between different time zones. They recommended different solutions and tools to cope with time zones: Every Time Zone, World Clock Meeting Planner, World Meeting Time, Google Calendar, or even googling every time zone you work with and calculating the differences. The catch: all of these suggestions basically “solve” the problem by stacking different time zones together; pretty much like a hotel with a wall full of clocks for different times in the world.
Some might say, what about UTC and GMT? They are also unified no matter where you are on Earth. That’s right, but so are all the other time zones. UTC and GMT still don’t solve the problem of calculating a convenient time between different time zones. We still have to do the +1, +2, -9, and -7 calculations for every call. Keeping track of that is a headache especially when no one really knows for sure when Germany jumps ahead an hour.
There has to be a better solution!
Time is a fact of life. It comes from the universe. It’s there and we cannot change it — right now at least. A clock, however, is a human-made invention to measure time and, like all human-made inventions, can be improved.
I imagined a solution: an algorithmic clock that unifies time around the globe. I’d like to present to you the two solutions I am working on that make time zone calculations completely obsolete. I call them hTime. It’s going to be a bit technical, so feel free to get a cup of coffee and put your geeky glasses on.
Solution 1 — The Global Clock
A clock dial that rotates with you according to your time zone? A solution a friend of mine suggested when I told him about my idea for an algorithmic clock that unifies time. His name is Baraa Asfari. I ended up creating hTime, a clock dial that rotates with you according to your location on Earth. You can think of it as a rotating GMT on top of the normal clock, which unifies the reading of time everywhere.
The clock integrates both local time and global time. Just like on a digital clock, you see digits that represent 24 hours, 60 minutes, and 60 seconds. There is also a global time dial with 24 global hours presented in alphabetic letters. The concept here is not to change time, but to extend it by adding a new global dial.
This new dial rotates with you according to your location on Earth and points at the same letter — no matter where you are on Earth.
Then comes the question: how does this clock factor in working times, day and night in different places? hTime has you covered. I’ve built in a feature called Time Intersect. It allows you to see the best time slots based on office hours in two or more locations. For instance, it’s best to set up a meeting between Q and T for San Francisco, New York, and London. This means you won’t end up accidentally scheduling a call or meeting in the middle of the night for one or more participants.
This solution makes it much easier to coordinate teams and schedule meetings across different time zones. Let’s say you have a global meeting which will take place at 9:30am PDT. This is 12:30pm EDT in New York, 5.30pm BST in Dublin, and 6:30pm CEST in Berlin. Instead of using these four different time zones, we can say that the meeting will take place at Q:30, which is the same in all four locations. Simple.
Like our current clocks, this solution is obliged to use a point on Earth (Greenwich) as a reference. It therefore regards hours, minutes, and seconds, but not days and months. The global clock does bring more convenience, but there is still the case where, for instance, R:00 could be in two different days at the same time. Monday R:00 in Greenwich is Tuesday R:00 in Sydney. So, for a truly unified time, we need to consider other references.
Solution 2 — The Truly Unified Time
What if time now was 10:30:47 everywhere, and that’s it? No Monday, no Tuesday, no July, no August, just 10:30:47? This would be a truly unified time. Some say: “Think outside the box”, so for this solution I thought outside-of-Earth, literally.
On Earth, to determine our local time we need our current location and a universal reference one to which we relate as the point zero. We use Greenwich for that. For example, San Francisco is at GMT-7. Following the same logic for global time, what would that reference be? Greenwich alone won’t work since it’s on Earth itself. Monday 06:00pm in Greenwich is already Tuesday 3:00am in Sydney. That’s neither unified nor global.
Let’s think outside-of-Earth. The Earth going all the way around the Sun makes one year (365.25 days), while a full rotation around itself constitutes one day (24 hours). Both rotations clearly contribute in the making of our time. Using a combination of both Greenwich and the Sun as a reference for a global time therefore makes all the difference. By determining both your location on Earth and the Earth’s location around the Sun, we can create a global reading of time.
We solved a similar problem for local time calculations by dividing Earth into 24 longitudes, which are in fact the basis for the original time zones. I’ve created an algorithm that applies the same concept for Earth’s orbit around the Sun and maps your location on Earth + the Earth’s current location around the Sun into a global time, a time that tells your hour, minute, second, day, and month all in one reading — the second hTime solution.
To simplify the reading, I’ve created an extra mapping that shows the global time in a 3-letter combination ranging from A-Z. So, now we can say time is YOU which represents December 11th 10:00pm, or SUN which is September 21st 18:30am, or even… FUN.
This hTime solution is a truly unified time. There is no notion of different days between different locations, no month names, and no February 29th anymore. Just one year expressed by AAA through to ZZZ.
Fun fact: An extended feature of this solution is that it could be applied for other planets in our galaxy — when we colonize Mars for example. The way it works is by applying the same algorithm used for Earth: divide the orbit of the planet into longitudes, find its location on its orbit, and then calculate the 3-letter time. An inter-planetary time can be determined on top of that. So we say: when time is ABC on Earth, it’s MBA on Mars. Communication between planets made easy!
What do you think?
I know that people are happy using local times to plan their days, knowing the Sun rises at around 5 or 6am, they have lunch at 12pm and so on. However, the global citizens, the travelers, and people that live and work beyond thinking in their local times need more than that. They will benefit the most from these two solutions, hTime.
You can check the first solution on thehtime.com, and the second one on thehtime.com/orbit-time. If you like, sign up for a free account to see how hTime works for yourself. I promise not to send spam! I’m currently looking for more user feedback, so please let me know what you think.