Working across time zones can be one of the biggest challenges for distributed teams.
Questions over how to ensure everyone has equal input, how to have productive meetings, and how to collaborate effectively are all valid concerns for any teams working anywhere.
This article outlines some of the ways to overcome these challenges, and shows how you can create an efficient and productive team no matter where you are located.
Have everyone use video calls for meetings, even if you are in the same location
If only part of your team is remote, it can still be useful to have every individual attend meetings via video calls. This way, everyone is treated equally, and it avoids divisions between those who are in the same room together, and those who are ‘faces on the wall’ on computer screens.
If part of your meeting is taking place between people in the same room, those who cannot physically attend can find it more difficult to chime in, and can often struggle to hear everyone in the room equally if microphones are too far away or clumsily being passed around.
By having everyone attend the meeting separately on video calls, regardless of where they are located at the time, it means that everyone is on a level playing field. It makes it easier to keep track of exactly who is speaking, and avoids prioritizing communication between select groups of people.
Consider establishing a rule that unless everyone in your team can be together in the same room, every meeting should be held through video calls to ensure fairness and clarity.
Rotate meeting times
If you are regularly holding meetings across time zones, try to rotate the times of your meetings to avoid prioritizing certain locations.
For example, if some of your meetings have meant that your team members in France have had to attend at 1am local time, try to arrange your next meeting so that they can attend during their usual work hours.
By making sure that the same people aren’t always being inconvenienced, you can avoid the perception of a ‘core team’ in one location whose needs are always put first. Switching up the times of your meetings will help to ensure that everyone in your team feels equally valued.
If people in a certain location do have to stay up late for a meeting, consider allowing them to start later the following day. This will not only help those workers to be more productive, but it is a simple way to show that you are being mindful and considerate of people in different time zones.
Use tools for asynchronous collaboration
Finding the right communication and collaboration tools is essential for all distributed teams, but is especially important for those working across time zones.
Applications like Trello are commonly used to manage team projects, but there are a number of products on the market that might be better suited to your team. You could also use tools to share documents, project assignments, and task-based time tracking information.
Try out different collaboration tools to find the ones that work best for you. It may be a case of trial and error, but it is a worthwhile process if it leads to you finding a tool that is perfect for your team operations.
By making use of different tools, you can use time zone differences as an advantage by passing on work throughout the day. It means that your teammates can log on and see what has been worked on while they were away, and can jump in and solve problems once you have clocked out. This way, your team is almost operating as a relay race, which can accelerate your output and ability to solve problems.
Bring your team together for meet-ups
If you have the option, bringing your team together for something like an annual meet-up can be an enjoyable and productive experience.
Meeting in person can help your team members to bond and can aid future communication. Having team members in different time zones can mean that people gravitate towards communicating with those who are online at the same time as them. By bringing everyone together, you can open up communication between people who might not usually interact as much. When you don’t work together in the same space every day, it makes those times when you do meet face-to-face all the more productive.
These occasional trips can be a valuable component of a ‘work Anywhere’ approach, helping team members to connect and allowing people to communicate more fully with others who they may not normally get the chance to interact with in real-time.
Manage your accessibility
You can’t make yourself available to everyone in your team 24/7. In distributed teams working across time zones, it can be tempting to try to respond to notifications that come in after your normal working day has finished – particularly if you are worried that not replying would halt someone else’s progress.
But doing this too often means running into problems with overworking. It is important to set clear guidelines about your working hours to create a sustainable working schedule for yourself and others in your team.
As mentioned above, using tools to facilitate asynchronous collaboration will minimize the need for after-hours communication, but it can also help to have a few different points of contact within and across time zones.
Try to ensure that there is at least some overlap in working hours between people working on the same projects in different locations. This way, there is always likely to be someone available to help out with more time-sensitive matters when you have finished your working day.
It can also be helpful to allow your team members to set certain times as ‘off limits’ for meetings. For example, you could set a rule that no-one will be forced to attend meetings between 11pm and 7am. If meeting during these hours really is unavoidable, remember to rotate meeting times to accommodate people in different locations and avoid prioritizing one time zone over another.
Use video calls for meetings – Try out a video collaboration tool like AnywhereLink and have every member of the team attend meetings over video
Rotate meeting times – Add your team’s locations to a tool like World Time Buddy to work out the most suitable times to meet
Use asynchronous collaboration tools – Try out project management tools like Trello, time-tracking apps like YoCo, and file-sharing and storage platforms like Dropbox or Google Drive
Hold team meet-ups – Getting your team together occasionally is useful for team bonding and productivity
Know when to switch off – You can’t be available to your team 24/7, so manage your availability to create a sustainable working schedule