If You Can’t Manage Time Zones, You Can’t Manage Your Business

One key to global competitiveness: learn how to use time zones to your advantage

Summer is long gone and the clocks recently “fell back”.

The days—they got shorter.

The evening light—there’s less of it.

In a quirk of temporal disjunctiveness, this adjustment happens on different days in the UK and USA. That makes transatlantic collaboration even more complicated for a week. And that, in turn, means that time zone management is a required skill all year round.

Heck, you may even be traveling across time zones for Thanksgiving this week—or your employees will be. Will that be a problem?

How we got here.

Time zones weren’t invented until the telegraph was — there was no need for them. Neither people nor information could travel fast enough for it to be a consideration.

Before the telegraph, all time was local. When the sun was at its highest point, that was noon, where you were. The telegraph brought with it communication at electronic speeds, which could be used to synchronize clocks around the world, creating a new, different, global idea of now.

The latency in the system decreased dramatically, in an instant, from weeks to seconds.

The New York Herald wrote at the time:

“It requires no small intellectual effort to realize that this is a fact that now is, and not one that has been.”

This massive drop in latency is what enabled global commerce to really pick up the pace. Today we think little of jumping on Skype with collaborators and clients all over the world.

Our consultancy, Genius Steals, is itinerant — we have been nomadic for almost four years, so we are constantly changing time zones, working with people in several others at the same time.

This week we are in Los Angeles and have had calls with people in Barcelona, Hong Kong, London, Miami and Rochester NY.

The perennial question: is the call on our time, or theirs?

Somehow this is always confusing, especially when trying to juggle several timezones at once. Google Calendar fails too often — Google ads know where we are, but Calendar always requires you to open it and confirm your new time zone. If you don’t, the meeting times reflect the previous time zone, erroneously.

In Cory Doctorow’s book Eastern Standard Tribe, teams synchronize their circadian rhythms to the same time zone, regardless of their actual geography, to avoid these problems and better facilitate collaboration.

Companies that have embraced the post-workplace world, like the entirely distributed Buffer, let people work from wherever they feel like. That means managing as many time zones as there are employees.

But rather than ignore local time, they turn this to their advantage, as a global small business. Timezones, they say, make you awesome:

Finally, you can look at timezones as an inconvenience, or you can embrace them and discover the magic of the time difference.
A key part of our vision is to set the bar for customer support. We obsessively track the happiness of our customers and our speed to respond to them. We have more than a million users and we reply to 80% of emails within 1 hour. We couldn’t achieve this level of service without being spread across multiple timezones.
Timezones are a huge help for our development cycle too — with engineers in the US, UK, Asia and Africa, we literally never stop coding.
Here’s a look at all our various time zones in a neat app created by Dan.
Maybe Google Calendar needs a function like this….

Greenwich Meantime starts the global clock just outside London, where bankers get up to see the market close in Tokyo and then open hours later in New York.

Twitter flows in waves as different zones wake, grab the news and pass it on, subtly shifting the idea of now once more, decreasing the latency of the system even further.

Operating to local office hours makes no sense to companies serving global customers, be it Buffer, an airline or a software as a service company.

If the software needs to work 24 hours a day, so does customer support.

Just as we got used to working at the speed of email, the future of work will have to adapt to the fact that nowadays, it’s always now.