Companies hire remotely in part because the talent pool is much larger. Instead of finding the most talented applicant within commuting distance of your office, you can search for the most talented applicant anywhere in the world. This means that, with the right hiring policies, you can create a world-class remote team of exceptionally talented individuals.
But it also means that you'll need to work together with your colleagues across different time zones. This is a challenge unique to remote teams that, when not addressed, can affect team productivity, communication, and morale. In this blog post, we will explore seven strategies for ensuring seamless collaboration across time zones.
Schedule Meetings Thoughtfully
This should be a given. When you schedule a meeting, consider the time zones of every participant. What may be Friday morning for you could be Saturday morning for your Australian colleague. They may not tell you and feel obliged to show up during their weekend.
Use something like World Clock Meeting Planner or ChatGPT to find a time that works for everyone's time zone. If there's no suitable time for everyone, agree to rotate meeting times so everyone shares the burden of meetings at inconvenient times. It's a small price to pay for the many benefits of remote work.
Leverage Asynchronous Communication
Just like there should be no expectation for anyone to join a meeting in the middle of the night, there should be no expectation for anyone to reply immediately to regular messages. Remote work and asynchronous communication are like peanut butter and jelly. They work really well together. Some would argue they should always go together, and it would be a strong argument.
Let people stick to their work schedules by making it clear you don't expect a reply straight away. Don't message
how are you? and wait for a response. It doesn't work in a remote team. Instead, structure your messages so you give as much required information as possible upfront. This will allow your colleagues, when they reply, to immediately respond with a proper answer.
Set Clear Expectations for Response Times
Of course, the above doesn't mean your colleagues can wait weeks before they get back to you. Information needs to flow within a company, so you have to set clear expectations for response times. As a best practice, 24 hours should be enough time to get back to someone regardless of where they're based.
This doesn't mean you have 24h to do whatever your colleague asked for. It means you have 24h to acknowledge you've received their message and are working on it. This, of course, only counts during working hours. When you receive a message on your weekend, it's entirely fine to reply when you're back on working hours.
Record and Share Meeting Notes
Not everyone will be able to attend all meetings all the time. Sometimes, a meeting will fall during someone's 3 AM. For such scenarios, record your meetings and/or share meeting notes. This way, everyone stays in the loop and has access to everything you've discussed even if they couldn't be present at a particular meeting.
The best way to take notes during a meeting is to assign someone who does so. That person then has the responsibility to format the notes so they're understandable for someone who hasn't attended the meeting, and then to share those notes with whoever couldn't make it.
Be Mindful of Cultural Differences
Different time zones, different cultures. Some cultures work on Sunday instead of Friday. Some cultures celebrate New Year in months other than January. Some cultures work from late morning until late evening. Others from early morning to late afternoon. As a global company, you have to be respectful and mindful of these differences.
The easiest way to make this work is to simply tell people. Some software makes this easy: Slack allows admins to create a field for working hours that will show in your profile, so people have an approximate idea of when you'll be online. Alternatively, when there's a misunderstanding, just tell people how you generally work.
Plan for Overlapping Work Hours
Asynchronous communication is fantastic, but you will want at least some overlap in work hours for your remote team. A few hours a day is great, because some tasks are best done together. Examples include brainstorming sessions, all-hands meetings, problem-solving meetings, and handovers. Doing these together will also encourage a sense of teamwork and camaraderie.
Treat Your Team Like One
It's important that everyone treats each other as if they're part of the same team. There should be no Team US, Team Japan, Team Brazil in the same organization because of different time zones. Everyone's part of one team, regardless of where they're based. This is crucial.
As such, when issues arise because of differing time zones, a little bit of flexibility and understanding go a long way. When everyone's willing to adapt their schedule just a bit, almost all problems with time zone differences will go away. It really isn't a big problem once you've made the appropriate changes. Before you know it, it'll be second nature to work together with a team that's distributed all around the world.