In this guest post, Jessica Day of Dialpad offers effective strategies for working with teams in different time zones. From setting boundaries to keeping the information accessible, these recommendations will help you build a successful, collaborative international team.
As the rise of remote jobs continues, businesses of all sizes are feeling the draw of a global virtual workplace. Employing an international team gives you all the productivity of a 24-hour workday, with colleagues able to pass projects in progress to international counterparts as they clock off.
The benefits are clear, but business owners are often left scratching their heads over one particular drawback: working over multiple time zones. True collaboration calls for consistent conversation between teams. However, this can be difficult across borders, especially in cases where there’s no overlap between traditional work hours.
Read on to discover how to beat time zone troubles and lead a strong, streamlined international team.
1. Communicate Boundaries and Expectations
Boundaries work both ways when it comes to remote international teams. Your employees need to understand what you expect of them on a day-to-day basis. But it’s also critical that you make time to understand what they can manage. Remote employees can feel pressure to say yes to everything they’re invited to, regardless of how busy they are.
This can become an issue when you consider that international workers may be attending these meetings outside of or on top of their regular working hours. Normalizing this sort of behavior can lead to remote workers struggling to manage their physical and mental health.
Maintain an open dialogue with global colleagues to ensure that everyone’s boundaries are seen and respected and that nobody is working beyond their core work hours. Instead of giving one project deadline to suit the majority’s time zone, try to stagger deadlines to take international teams into account.
When discussing times and dates, remember to explicitly state which time zone you’re using. This helps avoid confusion over when deliverables should be complete. Show respect for global workers by noting both your own time zone and theirs. For example, “This needs to be submitted on Thursday by 5:30 p.m. PDT (Friday 6 a.m. IST).” Remember, time zones can differ even between regions. So make sure to clarify exactly which to use when making appointments with non-U.S. partners.
2. Experiment With Schedules
If each of your international teams keeps a 9-to-5 schedule in their own time zone, it could be impossible to communicate directly with some of them. Instead, experiment with different shifts to keep the conversation flowing between teams. Options could include one or more days per week on which employees work a half-day in the office, then remotely at night or early in the morning. This means their time is equally distributed between their own office’s time zone and another team’s time zone.
This sort of team task management is known as a split schedule. When it comes to the challenges of working in different time zones, team task management promotes collaboration between teams without expecting either of them to work solely antisocial hours. It also allows for teams who work primarily with international colleagues and clients to stay connected with their own office. Moreover, it removes the sense of isolation that remote work can lead to.
Alternatively, try giving colleagues three days per week on their home time zone’s schedule and two per week on another team’s schedule. This may work better for colleagues who want a more regular schedule to fit in with family commitments.
Either way, agree on how employees mark their daily hours on a public calendar. Thus they don’t get assignments for hours outside those they’ve agreed to work. Colleagues working irregular schedules can also benefit from reminders on their phones telling them when they’ve completed their eight hours of work for the day.
3. Utilize Technology
With 74% of professionals expecting remote work to become the new standard for business, technology providers are working hard to provide viable solutions. International teams can benefit from the variety of virtual tools available, from messaging apps to cloud storage solutions. Explore the available options and consider which tools will work best for your team.
Pay particular attention to whether any options are unavailable in certain countries — you want all of your employees to be using a cohesive suite of products, regardless of where they’re based. Give particular consideration to your progress tracker software, which will enable you to build strategies in real time and monitor the progress of colleagues across the globe. This will allow global workers to keep on the same page with each project, leaving one another notes for seamless handover.
When working with teams in different time zones, it’s also worth considering how you can automate processes to maximize employees’ productivity. Consider which time-consuming background tasks could be suitable for AI to make the most of your international team’s time. An automated program will work 24 hours, allowing workers in all time zones to benefit from its data processing power while focusing on tasks that require a human touch.
4. Be Mindful About Meetups
It’s important to create a sense of community and culture beyond borders. Thanks to conference calling and video chat, this can be fostered through social meetings. Consider weekly virtual water-cooler conversations, celebrations of team birthdays, and milestones successfully met. Whether your meeting is in work time or after hours, it’s important to be mindful about scheduling these events. This way, nobody feels like they’re missing out. With 20% of remote workers reporting feelings of loneliness, being mindful of inclusion can go a long way to keeping your colleagues invested and happy at work.
If a meeting or event calls for certain colleagues to wake up early or stay up late, try to make up for the inconvenience in some way. You could give colleagues who have to stay up late an hour off the following morning or expense coffee and donuts for those coming into the office early. These are small gestures, but they can make a big difference.
Be clear which meetings are mandatory and work-related and which are more social or cultural appointments. This allows colleagues across time zones to manage their schedules, knowing that they won’t be wasting time on a casual chat that could have been spent working productively or catching up on sleep.
Create a video chat guidelines document to ensure that you won’t waste precious time waiting for everyone to connect or wondering whether you have your microphone muted. This should include technical information about using your video platform, as well as in-house etiquette that ensures everyone has a chance to be heard.
5. Make Information Accessible
Before you schedule another virtual meeting, consider whether you can make the same information accessible in another way. Having a strong resource library of documents and directives can answer a lot of colleagues’ questions without relying on simultaneous communication.
Make sure your resources are clear and well-written and that employees have a way to ask questions about any areas they’re not certain about. Be aware that working with teams in different time zones implies having precise instructions since the lack of nuances of facial expression or vocal tone.
Before sending a resource to your international teammates, read through it from their perspective and ask yourself what questions they might have. Ensure that these are answered in the text before going ahead. Remember, too little information could result in a day of wasted work as they wait for an answer.
You can keep this information securely on the cloud or the company intranet. With website personalization, you can even make certain approved documents into a public resource that customers can access as part of a self-service help platform.
6. Stay Flexible
The most important rule for successful communication across time zones is to maintain a flexible approach to your work. With remote team members, you won’t have the benefit of everyone working on the same thing simultaneously.
As a result, you may find yourself pulled in many different directions. Be as considerate with your own schedule as you are with your teammates’. Ensure that you have your boundaries set in place, but aim to have a few hours each day that remain open.
Mark these hours out in your public calendar or agenda, so that colleagues know when it’s appropriate to get hold of you for a quick video call or to clarify a point. Try moving this hourly block around over the course of the week so that on some days, it’s in the morning and other days just before you clock off. This way, colleagues in different time zones can contact you at the time closest to their working hours.
Navigating different time zones requires a certain amount of give-and-take from all parties involved. Set out that expectation early and work hard to ensure that early mornings and late nights are distributed equally between teams. However, with tact, mindfulness, and flexibility, you can build a team that’s diverse, dedicated, and ready to take on global business together.
Jessica Day is the Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad, a modern virtual call center software with a PBX phone system that takes every kind of conversation to the next level — turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams to execute and optimize marketing efforts for both company and client campaigns.
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