How To Stay Productive Working With People in Different Time Zones
The alarm blared. 6:15 AM. That meant I only had a few minutes to pee, grab a quick coffee, and join my team’s weekly call. I couldn’t miss it because I needed to talk with Fernanda in Madrid (1:30 P.M.), Aysha from Dubai (3:30 P.M.), and also Jeanne in Singapore. (9:30 P.M.).
Oh, and I had to talk with Cathy too. She lived right down the street. At least I had that going for me.
Being from Nashville, Tennessee, where the nearest time zone change is only an hour’s drive away, I was used to subtle differences between myself and my New York friends. But global work was a whole different ball game. How are you supposed to get anything done when there is a 15-hour time difference between you and your coworkers?
This was a problem with my first set of bicoastal clients (San Diego and London), when I joined those sleep early morning calls, and when I later moved to Paris for work. Today, I’m working to build a business with someone from Australia. After ten years and 10,000 mistakes, I am finally getting used to it.
Work is much easier if you stick to your own time zone, but life is too short to avoid collaborating with great people – even if they are in another continent.
If you’re falling asleep while your teammates are just having lunch, try the following techniques to remain sane.
Use the “Relay Race” Mentality
People like Usain Bolt get a big reputation for being elite performers. However, relay racers are more impressive.
You know how a relay race works: You run as fast as you can, as well as you can, during your section of the race. Then, you pass over the baton.
It’s the same working with a global team.
This sounds easier than it actually is. If you don’t go into relay mode, you’ll be responding to emails in the middle of the night and falling asleep in the middle of meetings later. This is a recipe for disaster.
Instead, trust that you are going to pass the baton along to a winning teammate when your leg of work is over. You can go much further with a team than you ever could alone.
Build a Custom Schedule To Manage Your Energy
Internet gurus will tell you to “reserve the morning for your best work!” Sure. That’s fine. If you’re needed most in the morning. But what if the people writing your checks need you to be operating at full capacity at four in the afternoon?
Carlos (CJ) Quinney, President and COO of Eric Thomas and Associates, ran across this roadblock in the early days of managing the company. He had to move to Paris. This sounds like a great thing. But how was he going to lead an organization when his clock was seven hours ahead of everyone else’s?
CJ’s solution? Buy blackout curtains, sleep until noon, and then work with his team from 1 P.M. until 9 P.M.
That sounds extreme, but there is no one-size-fits-all schedule in the modern era of work. You’ll have to adjust to your current situation.
On days where I was waking up for those 6:30 A.M. calls, I also quit work around 2:30 P.M. But back when my two main clients were in London and San Diego, my workday didn’t get started until around 11 A.M. and didn’t finish until 6:30 P.M.
Do what works best for you. Reject any guilt or doubt that comes from people who think you should be sticking to some arbitrary nine-to-five schedule.
Know What You Need To Deliver by the End of Each Day
When I’m winding down for the day with a glass of wine, my Australian partner Tim is just getting his morning coffee. For either of us to have a chance at moving anything forward, we need to wake up with an inbox full of completed tasks.
The single biggest challenge of working with people across the world is that you don’t just lose a few minutes if you forget something. You lose a whole day.
Your best solution is a simple, boring task list. I used to mock task lists. Now, I can’t live without one. Each evening, I write down what I need to accomplish the following day. Then, I ask this question:
“What do my colleagues need from me to keep moving?”
Each of those items gets a star next to it. If I’m getting anything done in the day, it’s those things.
It doesn’t matter if you use paper and pen or a digital solution like Wunderlist. What works best is what works for you.
Become a Foolproof Communicator
We joke that the modern worker spends more time sending emails than working. Although this can possibly be a symptom of wasted time, it might not be if you’re working with a team with different working hours.
If you work hard to set your teammate up for success throughout the day, but then don’t clearly articulate what you need from that person in order to keep running once they way up, you may as well have not done any work at all. Ugh.
It’s a good rule of thumb to spend ten to 15 minutes longer on your communication when you work with a team in different time zones. Use Grammarly to double-check for typos or confusing sentences. Read the message aloud. If you keep making mistakes, print off each message, and go through them with a pen, looking for errors.
This all sounds like a waste of time. It isn’t. There are few things more discouraging than waking up to a message that says, “I don’t understand this,” instead of a message that the work you passed along was completed.
The better you communicate, the more productive your team is.
Send Video Messages To Your Team
If you hardly see your teammates, consider playing a game called “Inbox Peek-a-Boo.”
Inbox Peek-a-Boo is simple. Instead of taking 20 minutes to type out a carefully crafted email, unlock your smartphone camera and record a video of yourself instead. This works wonders for building social capital.
Here’s the secret science behind this childish game: Our brains are loaded with mirror neurons. Mirror neurons give us the urge to imitate what we see.
Or, in the words of the legendary Justin Bieber, “When you smile, I smile.”
A simple video message can go a long way to removing the isolation of remote work, and it can make someone feel like you are in the room next to them, if only for a moment.
There are unique challenges to working with people in different time zones. Performing the math required to figure out whether you should wish someone “good morning” or “good night” is enough to make a person crazy.
However, it’s worth the effort. With a few tweaks, there is no reason you can’t work seamlessly with people in London, Paris, California, India, or the Philippines.
With the right mindset and the proper strategy to stay productive, you open up a whole world of potential. Literally.