A quick look at any remote job board and you’ll notice one thing all listings have in common: they want their new hires to be available during similar work hours to the rest of the team.
Having to work from different time zones and not getting to overlap with the team is one of the core fears managers have when considering switching to a fully-distributed team.
And it’s not just employers. 10% of remote workers consider having to juggle multiple time zones as their #1 struggle while working remotely.
But not all companies share this hesitance.
The first reason why many businesses that are not fully remote started considering employing people from entirely different time zones was to cater to all of their customers’ needs. If you sell internationally, you probably already have customers on two or more continents. So your support team from the US would have to work night shifts to answer inquiries from the other side of the world.
To keep your team happy, you’ll want to offer better work schedules to your employees so the best solution is to look for someone who is not only based in your customer’s country or time zones, but can also better understand their mentality and needs.
And that’s how it all starts.
Bring on 2-3 remote workers from halfway around the globe and you’ll start realizing all the benefits you can get. From getting access to top professionals who have just the experience you need to ensuring no one’s tied to a set schedule. The latter helps employers boost morale and engagement by allowing employees to deliver their best performance during the time when they’re most productive.
Let’s see how you too can effectively manage remote team collaboration across multiple time zones.
Keeping Your Team Accountable And Productive
The reason why so many managers are reluctant to have every single member in a different place is because they’re simply afraid the team won’t stay accountable. Frankly put, it’s easy for employees to get caught up with all surrounding distractions and forget answering their messages on time. Especially if you’re making the change from an office environment to the freedom that working remotely imposes.
The most obvious thing to do is choose the right employees from the start. Have them sit through a test week and pay attention to their past side projects. Freelancing experience or a hustle like launching a product independently says a ton about a person’s dependability. Keep in mind this is not a guarantee but a good bonus point to keep an eye on.
So what about your existing employees?
Time tracking is the most straightforward method to try. No, not the kind that will record everything that’s happening on your employee’s screen. Instead, aim to always seek insights you can use to make better time estimates and prevent loopholes in the work process. A time tracking tool like Toggl helps you distribute tasks and see exactly how much time a person spends on their own duties as well as where they’re stuck and wasting time.
Creating A Solid Communication Plan
At the base of ensuring a smooth team collaboration across multiple time zones lies your communication plan. Yes, you need to have everything written down to so your team can turn to a common document for any question they might have when everyone else is away.
Three key aspects to establish before getting started with your remote journey:
Having a set schedule to follow is what keeps any remote employee productive. But the schedule has to be adapted to everyone’s needs.
The best approach is allowing people to create their own schedule. Nevertheless, make sure to incorporate 3-4 hours of overlap time with the rest of the team members. This allows for urgent matters to be discussed in a timely manner while also giving you just enough time for company-wide meetings.
- The tools you’ll use
Long gone are the days when email was the only standard tool you could think of. There are now team chat and collaboration tools like Slack and common video conferencing options such as Zoom that you need to choose and provide a list of best practices on.
Similar solutions can make a regular in-office occurrence easier and faster even when your team is scattered throughout the word. A tool like Standuply, for instance, is used as a replacement for your regular stand-up meetings which would otherwise require everyone to be online at the same time.
On top of that, you’ll also have to consider the apps that can make remote life easier and distraction-free. Any option to help employees fix technical problems on their own without much hassle? How can you prevent unwanted interruptions during meetings?
As an example, Krisp allows your team members to mute any background noises on all devices and conferencing apps both for them and other participants. World Time Buddy is also a common choice to show you exactly what time it is on your colleague’s side of the world and set meetings at manageable hours.
How often will you hold team meetings? Where can you fit in one-on-one meetings? Are employees required to write a brief review of their day to ensure managers can keep up with the progress? Who will monitor the team’s activity? What’s the best way to share feedback? Planning any annual get-togethers to help your team bond?
It’s loads of questions like these that need to be posed and explained in detail to make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them, who they should report to, and how urgent issues can be resolved. Even when no one else is online.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication
Along with the rise of remote work, asynchronous communication has also been garnering a lot of attention. While your first tendency would be to assume that a live chat option is the best method to keep a team productive, when everyone is working their own schedule, that’s just impossible.
You’ll need to think of a solution to incorporate real-time collaboration with feedback videos and instructions that your team can turn to at any time. People have to get all the right information so they can start working without waiting for their manager or co-worker to be online.
A right fix for this issue is combining your live chat with email. Yes, emails are still commonly used for sending materials you want your employees to have access to for longer times. Pair this with filming your feedback instead of writing it in real-time and you’ve got yourself a perfect mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication to please everyone.
Setting Clear Expectations
Every single company has different expectations and work policies. Not everyone uses Scrum meetings just like some teams prefer weekly stand-up meetings over daily ones.
Particularly when onboarding a new team member or making a huge change to your work policy, make sure you clearly explain what you expect from a person and display these notes publicly, preferably in a company-wide how-to guide.
You certainly have your own list of priorities. Whether you want your team to be available throughout the whole day, participate in all department meetings, or just always share their feedback no matter how crazy it is.
Do remember to also give your team a bit of freedom. After all, you’re looking to create a great remote work culture and not an army-like environment. Let them choose the best time for their one-on-one meetings, tell them it’s ok to set themselves to “Away” when they want to focus on work, and provide the right resources to make communication easier and faster even when working from multiple time zones.
When you’re not in the same place, trusting each other is a top attribute all remote teams strive for on a daily basis.
Trust begins with transparency. First from the company and then from every single individual.
You’ll need to initially set clear roles as to who will monitor communication and team progress as well as where each employee stands. Most team members will likely only participate in meetings and feedback-sessions, but team leaders also need to look into initiating meetings and running performance reviews.
While you’ve allowed everyone to choose their own schedules, these should be known to the other team members so they don’t have to guess whether they’ll see a colleague online on any given day. Establish a common method for managers to track progress and follow up on a task’s status or any hurdles the team might come across.
Applying these tips
If you’ve ever had any worries regarding how efficient collaboration can get across different time zones, I’m hoping the tips above can help you craft a strategy to last.
Remember to consider every single aspect discussed above so your workers won’t bump into an unexpected issue and have to handle it alone. Your best bet is to write down all of your policies down in a document everyone can access and find an answer without having to disrupt someone else’s workflow.