This article covers my experience of working remotely from another timezone while running a business back home.
Note: The timezones below are calculated based on the time in Switzerland (Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00)
Running a remote business
Together with my three business partners I built a company where the work adjusts to our lifestyle and not vice versa. Our philosophy is that everyone of us should be able to work and live where and how they want. To reach that goal the most obvious decision was to become a remote company. Something that wasn’t seen often in Switzerland when we started.
We all live in different areas over Switzerland and Germany, but the team and most of our clients are pretty much in the same timezone (UTC+01:00), and we usually don’t face the challenge of working asynchronous. But since we built a remote company with all tools and structure needed, it doesn’t matter where we work from. Some of us travel a lot, either to conferences or just to work from another city.
From my experience I can tell that it’s slightly more complicated when I am working in another timezone than my team and clients. In each timezone I’ve been, I had different challenges to face.
- I had to catch up to a lot of emails and conversations, which I couldn’t attend in real-time.
- I had to think of what my team needs in advance, while I’ll be sleeping.
- There were gaps where my clients expected answers but I was offline.
- My calendar events got mixed up when synching with different Apps.
The 4 hours overlaps
Since I already work with most of our clients remotely they usually don’t notice where I am working from. But once I decide to work from another timezone it’s me who has to adjust and not the others. I don’t want to make excuses to our clients only because I work from another place in the world. Work and traveling the world shouldn’t affect the relationship between me, my team and our clients. Therefore, I try to adjust my working routine to have at least a four hours overlaps with Switzerland.
“Ironically, you’ll probably get far more done when only half of your workday overlaps with the rest of your team” — Jason Fried, REMOTE
What remote person am I?
Before I explain my working routine while abroad, it’s necessary to know how I work within my normal structures. When I don’t have to work for a client on-site, I get the most out of the day by working from home in the morning and go out to co-work with others in the afternoon.
In the morning: from my home office
In the afternoon: from a cafe or my shared office desk
Below is a list of some places I have been to and how I adjusted my working hours:
-1h/+1h (GMT UTC)
One hour difference to Switzerland is really easy to handle. No adjustments where needed except for the siesta hours in Spain, for example Fuerteventura:
In the morning: meetings and conversations from 8am to 12pm
During the day: lunch and siesta at the beach
In the evening: distraction-free work from 5pm to 9pm and having dinner afterwards
Last year I decided to escape the cold Swiss winter to travel through South America while enjoying the sun and surf as much as I could. For example I’ve been to Chile and Argentina where I had only four hours of time-difference to Switzerland. Although the two countries are right next to each other they are very different. With its warm and tropical weather Buenos Aires, Argentina follows the “Siesta-Lifestyle” where you eat dinner around 11pm, while in Santiago de Chile the restaurants are already closed by that time. Looking back on my daily working routine in Buenos Aires, the short four hours differences felt much longer, because it was hard to follow my normal routine. During the day it was very hot and it was impossible to work efficiently. That’s why I woke up late in the morning and stayed awake until late at night.
In the morning: working from 10am to 2pm
During the day: going out for a late breakfast or lunch
In the evening: distraction-free work from 5am to 9pm
So if you are planning to work from Buenos Aires during summer, keep in mind that you will probably struggle with the heat.
No matter if I worked from New York or Peru, UTC-5 is my favourite timezone. In New York I could work within my normal “9 to 7" routine and had my team until 3pm for real-time communication. After that I had some distraction free working hours. Peru was different though, the sun rises before 6am in the morning, so naturally I got up really early. If it wasn’t for an early surf session, I was available for video calls or other kind of communication.
-9h (PST UTC-8)
San Francisco is a nice place to be! I have been there for a couple months to do my masters thesis at ZURB, a Silicon Valley based design and product firm and I come back once a year for conferences or co-working sessions with friends.
But uff, the minus nine hours differences to Switzerland are hard! To catch up with my team while having some real-time communication, I sometimes stayed awake until 2am and already had client meetings planned for 7am again. That was really exhausting. Additionally waking up having a whole Swiss work day in my inbox wasn’t easy. So I was confronted with over 50 emails each morning. The good thing though was, that as soon as Switzerland had closing time, I had time to work distraction free.
In the morning: catching up with emails and attending meetings with clients
During the day: going out and see the sun
In the evening: continuing work
At night: meetings and real-time communication with the team
-11h (HST UTC-10)
Hawaii was even harder. I was always a day behind! Back then I was responsible for our service Freshjobs — a job-board dedicated to web professionals working in Switzerland. We review each listing for quality before it gets published and that was a really hard job to do, because I had to make sure the listing goes public at swiss working hours but I was 11 hours behind! So I had to stay awake till late and wake up early to check the new job listings. Nowadays I would transfer the responsibility to a colleague in a better timezone.
Early in the morning: catching up with work and the job listings
During the day: surfing
In the evening till late: working
+10h (AEDT UTC+11)
While I’m writing this post I’m in Australia and for the first time I’m ahead of my team, yay! First, I thought it would be as challenging as it was in San Francisco or Hawaii because of the same time-difference, but it is much easier if you are ahead. I manage to surf, enjoy the beach and work in the evening.
In the morning: catching up with emails and messages
During the day: sightseeing and surfing
In the evenings till late: working
If you are planning to work and travel the world while pursuing your business back home, be sure to follow the 3 rules below:
- Have at least one person back home for physical meetings, although they are seldom required, your clients will feel more comfortable to know they could meet in person.
- Build a great relationship with your clients, one that is based on open communication and mutual trust.
- Make sure your work is rock-solid and be reliable and most important be responsive.
“When I retire, I’m going to travel the world is a common dream, but why wait for retirement? If seeing the world is your passion, you shouldn’t wait until old age to pursue it.” — Jason Fried, REMOTE
Back to normal
It’s been four months since I started this trip and wrote about my work and travel plans. I have been to Peru, Argentina, Chile and Australia. Four months of constantly being behind or ahead of my team and clients for a couple hours. Four months of exploring and seeing new things while getting my work done. It’s been exciting and adventurous, but also exhausting.
Work wise — for now, I am happy to go back to normal for a while. I’m heading back home. But my next trips are already planed! Fortunately all around Europe where I don’t have to worry about the time.
Do you have experiences with working in different timezones? I am happy to hear about it!
You may also be interested in my article Where to work and live on the go, where I share some recommended places from around the world.