Overcoming Time Zone Challenges: Managing A Global Team

In the old days, people used to drive to the office, get some work done, and leave around 5 or 6 in the evening.

These days, folks simply unfold their laptops and voilà…they’re on Slack answering notes.

We’ve come a long way from the office. Literally.

In this piece, we address one of the biggest challenges when employing remote professionals: asynchronous work.

With team members living in different time zones, it’s no mean feat to coordinate people with very different work-sleep cycles.

But the benefits of having an international squad—the diversity of thoughts and ideas, and the rich variety of skill sets—greatly outweigh the cons.

So how can remote team managers overcome time zone issues and manage flexibility?

Let’s find out.

#1 Create a common work culture.

When you have a team of professionals from different countries, you most likely have people with different beliefs, expectations and practices. These differences can create unnecessary friction in the virtual workplace.

You need to level out these differences by quickly establishing a common work culture that sets out the norms and expectations of the team.

So for example, one of the things you need to establish early on is “time zone etiquette.” This clarifies questions like:

  • What instances warrant a message? 
  • Who should I contact when I have a problem?
  • How should I contact him?
  • When should I expect an answer?

You’ll know you’ve done this successfully when your guys are able to say to others, “This is how we do things here.”

Creating a common work culture ensures that people are on the same page.

This often requires creating a handbook that clearly lays down the policies and steps for everyone. This guides members into a proper set of behaviours and manages their expectations about the work.

#2 Create empowered employees.

Firing off messages back and forth, and waiting for people to get back to you causes serious delays and inefficiencies.

Minimising “hand-offs” and reducing back-and-forth between team members requires employees who are empowered to make decisions, and who don’t scurry to their supervisors for every little thing.

(Empowered employees are more motivated, more creative and have higher job satisfaction.)

Another way to minimise hand-offs and back-and-forths is by restructuring roles and tasks.

Divvy up tasks in such a way that instead of person #1 working on “task #1,” who then passes it to person #2 for “task #2,” who then passes it to person #3 for “task #3”—the same individual completes all three tasks.

This minimises bottlenecks and delays caused by waiting for the reply of someone who is sleeping on the other side of the world.

This means you need to hire individuals with a unique skill set to get tasks 1,2 and 3 done.

Fortunately, that’s what access to an international labour force gives you the power to do.

#3 Maximise your “core hours.”

Even in a widely distributed team, there will usually be several hours when most of the members are up and at work. These are called “core hours” and you need to maximise and get as much as you can from this window.

Set your team meetings during such hours and ensure the greatest number of people can attend.

This is the window for real-time collaboration, and calls and back-and-forth between team members.

This should also be the time when urgent communications are addressed, answered and anticipated.

But while you encourage your team to exploit overlapping times, you should also need to set a firm limit to it. The team should not go beyond the set hours.

The temptation is for the team to make “core hours” as long as possible. This results in people having so little time to work on their own. They end up being perpetually “on” and always at the beck-and-call of others.

This is not a sustainable strategy and will only cause burnout for your team.

#4 Make things time-insensitive.

In a remote team, delays lags and bottlenecks can be a crippling issue. You should always assume that there will be lags and inefficiencies and prepare for them.

Make your system time-insensitive as much as possible. This means there should always be allowances in your timelines.

For example, in an online content production timeline, there should always be a pool of backlog articles or posts that are waiting to be published. Cold callers should always have more names on their list than they can possibly call in the day.

Do not set up a tightly knit process wherein all elements must work perfectly just to have a normal day. In other words, always put allowances, contingencies, extras and Plan Bs so that the whole system can withstand people being late, getting sick or suddenly not reporting for duty.

If your online content, for example, is such that your articles and blogs are finished two minutes before they go online, what happens when your writer suddenly sneezes?

Brinksmanship only works in politics. Always have something extra in the bag.

#5 Learn as you go.

The “work culture” we talked about earlier should not be considered as written in stone. With the flurry of changes happening every day in the tech space, companies must be nimble enough to react or take advantage of them.

At best, the work culture can be considered semi-settled—always open for improvements and adjustments.

This means leadership should be very intentional with their policies and processes.

And they should be sensitive and observant to what works and what doesn’t work in their teams. This means trying out a number of different strategies and learning as much as possible in the iterations.

Your process should be tailored to the eccentricities of your business process and of your teams.

These 5 tips will help remote team leaders create a robust system that can overcome the challenges of working with remote professionals in different time zones.

Kinetic Innovative Staffing knows a thing or two about remote teams. We help companies find world-class remote professionals for their organisations.

With our database of over 4 million professionals, Kinetic has filled a broad range of roles and positions from virtual assistants, graphic artists, and social media managers, to lawyers, accountants and engineers.

We take the guessing game from the hiring process and help our clients save as much as 70% in labour fees.

If this is something you would like to explore for your organization, do not hesitate to contact us and we’ll provide you with all the assistance that you require.

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