Remote Teams: Mastering Time Zones
Methods and Tools to Build Efficient Schedules
It’s March 2020 and the world is going remote. Some are choosing so because it’s a better lifestyle, some just want more peace and quiet, and an increasing majority because international governments are declaring national health hazards.
One of the great benefits of remote teams is that you can hire the best professionals no matter where they live. You can also select a team based on the geographic requirements of your business. How you manage a company operating across vastly different time zones is where it gets tricky.
Working for an agency with international clients, this quickly became an issue during our early growth stage. Although we had enough team members on deck, we couldn’t control where our clients were based, and locations between the various parties didn’t always synchronize. We eventually went through various steps to optimize and adapt where necessary. How relevant our experience is to you will depend on your model, but as you build your business, you’ll want to consider these issues.
1. Assign Time Zones
When it comes to building efficient schedules, you first need to get a solid grasp on how your team will manage multiple time zones. Admittedly, this is easier said than done. Just ask one of our US-based directors who essentially lived in the APAC time zone because his clients were based there. Did it work out for him? Well, his work got done. Was it conducive to a healthy sleep schedule? Absolutely not.
Over time, we found that dividing our team into three time zones was the most effective for strategically managing international clients. They go as follows:
- United States / South America
- Europe / Africa
- Asia / South Pacific
Each zone equates to ~three, 8-hour shifts. But what if you’re a five person team based entirely in the US? In this case, you should try to stretch those hours as long as possible. The more coverage you can squeeze out of your continental coverage, the longer your accumulative work schedule is. That’s why companies operating internationally run 24/7 — something is always getting done.
2. Define Work Shifts
Should your entire team work 8-hour shifts? What about 12? What’s the right number here? The true magic behind a remote team is that working hours can really be almost anything, anywhere. These questions might help break down your company’s current situation.
- Do you provide a 24/7 service?
- Do you have international employees with varying work hours?
- Do you have freelancers who work when they feel like it?
Everyone reading those three questions will have a different response. The most important goal is to build a balance between your business needs, and what your team members can provide. In our case, we have several team members working in China where regulated working hours are closer to 10 hours per day. For employees in the US, the work day is 8 hours. Both can live in harmony, but it’s important to make sure you know exactly what those specifications are. Quickly you’ll see how having this information can help you structure your business accordingly.
Companies that offer 24/7 services also require team members working longer hours + overtime. Do you have a structure set for overtime? Make sure you prepare for that ahead of time before hiring freelancers. Their non-office work hours means they will inevitably trail off what you expect are typical 9am-5pm shifts. Preparation, preparation, preparation!
3. Build a Framework
You have employees spread across the globe and you’ve defined your time zones, now what? This is where your company’s operations framework should be examined. To start, we’ll break down what we encountered for the remote marketing work we’ve conducted for countless technology companies.
The first step was acknowledging that our team, itself based in three time zones, was originally assigned to clients spread across the entire world without unification of time zones — yikes. This led to team members having to work late, stay up for calls in different time zones, and general grumpiness over the months that this occurred. So, we put our foot down and restructured our stakeholders by assigning them to clients in their native time zones.
The diagram above shows a limit of two time zones per client. We pushed to have as many team members in one time zone dedicated to a single client, but due to the job roles required for some projects, we had to stretch it. By being stricter with how we pair team members to the clients they work with, we’re also improving how clients see us in return. Response times are quicker, tasks are completed in less than half the time, and employees don’t have to stay up late for calls with clients on the other side of the world. It’s a win-win!
Not only is the task being completed within 12 hours, it’s giving space for other items to be addressed as well. All of a sudden you went from a busy, chaotic work space, to one that can be managed adequately.
4. Set Meeting Times
Eventually, you’ll need to get all of your global stakeholders on the same call. For our very distributed team, we found that the optimal call time is morning Eastern Standard Time (EST). This allows other members across the globe to be present during the more pressing, time-sensitive calls.
But again, maybe this is different for your delivery service where all of your vendors are based in the same continent. Just make sure that, once you find a good time to host a call, you don’t change it frequently — consistency is key when it comes to remote companies.
5. Utilize Every Tool
Seriously, do it. There’s a cohort of powerful productivity applications. They cut down on time, reduce stress, and keep your company organized. Here’s what our team uses day to day to get the job done. Some may prefer similar alternatives, but at the ned of the day, just find what works best for you and stick with it. Remember, consistency is key.
Though it requires that your team uses Slack, it is the most efficient tool in your wheelhouse. You can set reminders as one-time alerts or create recurring events for tasks or meetings you find yourself repeating.
You might be wondering why I didn’t put Zoom here. Something about having to launch it, put in your name, create an account, and get hit with that UI just takes too much time when juggling loads of clients and team members. And what if the other person doesn’t have it? Instead, Whereby gives you a unique room link. Type it into your browser and you’re immediately activated and ready to go. Free rooms can hold up to 4 people with HQ video calls and paid can boast 12 or more depending on the plan.
Do you have clients or vendors that are constantly asking to schedule meetings with you? Jump into Calendly, create an account, and give anyone your unique link to book a call. It’s filled with custom options for scheduling. The added bonus? If you’re in charge of B2B outreach, it’s incredibly handy to toss your Calendly link at the bottom all outbound emails as a Call-To-Action. It shows you care and are willing to give 10 minutes of your time.
Have you ever had an event that you had to coordinate with several people across multiple time zones? This is your answer. Create free, totally custom countdown timers for any event. Hosting an AMA for a client? Create the timer here and link it anywhere you need to highlight the time of the event. It’s that easy.
Hopefully by now you see that building an efficient remote team across multiple time zones requires a bit of strategy. These notes may or may not be relevant to your business, but applying some of the principles early on could prevent future issues. Stay synchronized out there!