How to correlate team work across different time zones

Remote and hybrid work formats have become commonplace for many companies in Russia and abroad. Global Workplace Analytics predicts that by 2028, 73% of all departments in global companies will have remote employees. Teams are often located in different cities, countries and time zones. Managers need to be able to coordinate and organize effectively to ensure teamwork and avoid burnout.

Yulia Bataltseva, head of the marketing department at EasyStaff, tells us how to deal with the complexities of working in a distributed team with different time zones.

Methods of working with a distributed team

Identify the schedule

Take time differences into account, planning meetings and project deadlines.
Use time converters to make sure all team members are able to participate in the process without compromising timing. This will help avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.

For example, the following services can help:

  • Time.is: provides the current time and allows to convert between different cities and time zones;

  • World Time Buddy: allows to compare time in different cities, convenient for scheduling meetings and calls;

  • The Time Zone Converter: a simple and intuitive converter suitable for distributing time between different time zones;

  • Every Time Zone: displays the time in different time zones on a visual graph;

  • timeanddate.com: provides tools including a time converter, calendars and information about time changes in different cities;

  • Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) Converter: allows to easily convert time around the world relative to GMT.

It is important to set hours when the entire team is available for communication and to determine the preferred means of communication. For example, time for daily video conferencing in Zoom can be identified while smaller routine conversations can be coordinated via email and messengers.

The EasyStaff team established the time gap between people is 3−6 hours: employees live in 5 different countries. In my time zone, most of the team is active from lunch until night, so all our meetings start around lunchtime, not in the morning. At the same time, we don’t have daily video conferences, we have mandatory ones on Monday. Sometimes we can get together on Wednesday or Friday if we need to synchronize plans or have a brainstorming session. So the team manages their working hours better and doesn’t waste resources on excessive synchronization.

However, online tools and practices for effective work with a distributed team are not enough, because each team member has their own schedules and working styles. So the vibe in the team and personal connections matter just as much.

Here are some of our team’s tips for effective remote work.

  1. A unified Google calendar that shows the working hours of each employee. It is important for colleagues not to disturb each other during non-working hours. If a team member can’t spend a day without being pinged, there is no chance for them to truly unwind and disconnect. Thankfully, Google calendar translates the time of employees into local hours, so you don’t need to do math to see what hour it is for others on your team.
  2. Detailed breakdown of communication channels. For example, we use Telegram for work communication and Whatsapp for personal communication. General corporate correspondence is done by mail, and top managers of the company participate in it as well.
  3. Proper scheduling of asynchronous communication. This is especially important for our freelancers — they often work at night, and we see their messages only in the morning. In general, we follow simple rules. First: plan the message carefully so that the recipient has all the input for a quick response. Two: check messages before sending. Three: set deadlines for the response or the requested task.
  4. No micromanagement. In remote work, this method is especially frustrating. It’s better to properly set the task for an employee right from the start and discuss it rather than check their every step.
  5. Documentation. Although, according to statistics, it is remote teams who are most careful about keeping record of work done and results achieved, it should also be highlighted. A well-written log allows an employee working at other times to figure things out more quickly and less falter due to the lack of instant online answers.

Communication coordination

The difficulty of distributed teams is that people do not know each other well, do not feel the temperament, do not understand the peculiarities of each other’s work and, as a result, can not choose an appropriate communication strategy. The challenge that comes with distributed teams is that people tend to lack a genuine personal connection which ultimately leads to a shallow understanding of what others feel and how they work.

In this case, the manager is faced with the task of taking on the role of a coordinator, helping colleagues to build communication and find compromises so that nothing slows down the work process. Otherwise, problems may arise: conflicts, missed deadlines, and so on.

Consider the following situation. A designer was delaying deadlines because she depended on the project manager. Both were from different time zones (the designer worked in the evening and the manager was available in the middle of the night), were constantly busy on other projects and worked part-time. Due to improper communication, deadlines were constantly missed.

To prevent such situations, we discuss all possible options with the team and find a time when the working hours of all employees overlap as conveniently as possible. As a result, the task completion time is optimized, team relations are established, and the workflow is coordinated.

Shared online resources and wikis

To systematize the work with content in the team, it is important to create common online resources and knowledge bases. By storing all documentation and guides in one place, team members can quickly access what they need instead of waiting for colleagues to respond (especially if they are in a different time zone). Systematized and accessible information simplifies collaboration and reduces the need for constant coordination of employees: everyone can work at the most familiar rhythm and, most importantly, autonomously.

Key digital resources that might be interesting for you:

  • Trello, a cloud-based project management service.
Tasks are presented as cards on whiteboards. Each card contains subtasks, attachments and comments. The boards are divided into columns showing the different stages of the process;

  • Asana is a mobile and web application. Each project contains tasks, subtasks and deadlines. In Asana, you can work in boards or lists for a more flexible display of work steps. There is also a calendar to track deadlines and the ability to set responsibilities between tasks;

  • Jira is a specialized process tracking software.
This resource is designed for project management in the IT industry. It uses stories, tasks and epics to organize work: plan and track progress, as well as analytics and reports to evaluate performance;

  • Notion is a notes service with additional features.
Provides a flexible tool based on artificial intelligence, used as a database to organize projects. Tasks can be presented as pages with different blocks: lists, tables, calendars and others. There is the possibility of real-time teamwork, sharing comments and files.

Each of these tools offers such unique features as flexibility, visualization, task tracking, integration with other tools and applications. They can be used to make projects available to all participants at any stage of realization with all changes.

Time management training

For employees working in different time zones, time management skills are especially important. A manager has two options: to hire specialists with sufficient experience working in such circumstances, or to train the team on effective time management strategies on their own. It is important to ensure that tasks are completed on time, and that each team member feels comfortable in the workplace and does not burn out due to unstable schedules.

My TOP books on developing time management skills:
  1. "How to Get Things in Order. The art of productivity without stress" by David Allen
  2. "Time Management" by Brian Tracy.

Correlated pair work

In case of urgent issues on a project, it’s not unreasonable to implement correlated work. With this approach, tasks related to team building sprints are not assigned to specific performers, but are assigned to pairs of employees. In this case, specialists can work at different times, ensuring the continuity of tasks for a particular sprint or product section. Thus, any problems are solved promptly, ensuring the project’s uninterrupted process.

For example, I often pair a marketer+copywriter or a marketer+designer based on the following considerations: they live in close time zones or ready to "adjust" to each other’s working hours without harming their productivity. Guys establish communication, so in case of urgent tasks I can put the project on them with confidence, and the adaptation stage is already passed.

Performance evaluation

The skill to evaluate the performance of remote employees and provide them with feedback is important to a manager. If the evaluation happens regularly and carefully, the level of trust from the employees will increase significantly.

There are some employees whose performance can be digitized in all processes, such as targetologists. Any of their actions lead to a measurable result reflected in data.

For instance, we rely on a digitized annual plan, broken down by month, for the entire marketing group. We set and record clear measurable goals, which we organize into weeks. On Monday we discuss what has been done, our plans, constraints, resources needed. We keep all tasks and reports online in one document, and at the end of the month we clearly understand how close we are to the common goal.

Overall, teamwork in various time zones is a challenge for a manager, but with the right approach and tools, this mission becomes real and more than achievable. When all of the above aspects are matched, team members cooperate effectively with each other (directly or through the manager) despite geographical separation and time differences. Moreover, for most people, such type of employment is easier, more interesting and promising than a regular 5/2 schedule and face-to-face meetings in the office.

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