Managing Time Zones in a Global Remote Team
Need help onboarding international talent?
- Managing a dispersed team and deliverables may be overwhelming as you navigate the various challenges of different work schedules and time zones.
- Avoid common mistakes such as neglecting time zone awareness and underutilizing asynchronous communication tools.
- Discover best practices and valuable tips to streamline productivity, collaboration, and efficiency while managing a remote team across different time zones.
The pandemic shifted the world of work to become increasingly remote, and it's showing no sign of slowing down. Embracing remote work and global collaboration is essential for modern businesses that want to grow. However, working with teams in different time zones comes with its own set of challenges.
Without experience, the ability to successfully work with a global team in different formats and complex ways can be intimidating. Luckily, our step-by-step guide is here to help you navigate these challenges.
Our team at Deel has a lot of direct experience with remote work and international teams, and we’ve transformed our expertise into a series of tips and steps to help managers succeed with their remote teams and improve global collaboration.
Matt Monette, UK&I Country Lead, Deel
Challenges of globally distributed teams
Do you find the complexities of leading a dispersed team overwhelming? You’re not alone, the experience of leading a remote team can be tough when not approached properly from the get-go.
The following challenges are common among new remote managers facing the uncertainty of remote work. If you recognize your experience in any of these, don’t worry, we have solutions for you.
- Communication challenges due to time zones and language barriers
- Lack of team cohesion and synergy
- Clash of different work cultures and practices
- Difficulty in coordinating and scheduling meetings
- Lack of face-to-face interaction
- Failing technology and connectivity issues
- Difficulty maintaining trust and accountability
Common mistakes when working with teams in different time zones
To overcome these challenges, many leaders resort to traditional management techniques that may be well-established when managing in-office employees but don’t always work remotely.
Common bad practices for remote management (and their potential negative effects) include:
- Neglecting time zone awareness: Ignoring time zone differences when planning meetings or allocating tasks can lead to irritation, inconvenience, and burnout.
- Neglecting time zone changes: Failing to account for time zone changes is a common oversight with frustrating consequences, leading to missed meetings and deadlines.
- Poor communication: Lack of clear communication on work hours, availability, and expectations contributes to poor guidance.
- Overlooking cultural differences: Many cultural habits, such as the length of lunch breaks and communication methods, can be very nuanced. Consider these cultural differences to foster understanding and encourage productivity.
- Underutilizing asynchronous communication: Time zone differences make synchronous communication challenging, but embracing async communication allows for global collaboration, increased autonomy, and better efficiency.
- Unequal workload distribution: As managers collaborate more directly with some team members, it may add unnecessary pressure to the individual’s workload and contribute to burnout.
- Inadequate use of the proper collaboration tools: With so many HR and management tools on the market, it’s important to choose the best tools for your team and use them correctly.
- Lack of team-building initiatives: Although the entire team may not be together, organizing team-building activities facilitates trust and camaraderie among remote team members.
- Over-reliance on video meetings: Excessive use of real-time video chats on Zoom defeats the benefits of remote collaboration by reducing efficiency and disrupting deep work.
Once these challenges and common mistakes are recognized, addressing these obstacles with innovative solutions becomes easier.
1. Respect work-life boundaries
If you want to leverage the benefits of a distributed team, you need to acknowledge each team member’s needs, preferences, and situations. A flexible management style helps you maximize employee potential.
Encourage employees to share their preferred work hours
People produce their best work at different times of the day, and working across time zones adds even more hours to the overall team’s work day. This should be seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
Encourage employees to share their preferred workday structure in the following ways:
- Ask each new employee their preferred work hours and record their preferences in a document or calendar (such as Google Calendar) to map your team’s availability.
- Regularly check in on your team and update their preferences during scheduled 1-on-1s.
- Ask team members to communicate significant preference changes in advance so that the whole team can be updated.
Avoid an "always-on" mindset
Creating a culture of permanent availability leads to burnout. A distributed team can cover long hours and always appear online. However, while this may work for the team as a whole, an “always-on” mindset should not apply to individual team members. Instead, you should encourage a healthy work-life balance, contributing to positive mental health.
Establish best practices by implementing the following:
- Encourage team members to log off at a specific time and not log in to work-related accounts after hours.
- Remind the team to self-check for “always-on” symptoms such as burnout, stress, decreased focus, and inefficiency.
- Ensure good coverage planning using tools like the Deel Engage Time Off plugin.
- Schedule messages and announcements for when a person is online rather than sending them on a whim in real-time, especially when communicating across time zones.
2. Establish communication and collaboration guidelines
If clear boundaries are the foundation for a team’s operations, then effective and scalable collaboration is the framework through which success is achieved.
Establish communication and collaboration guidelines in the following ways:
- Set clear communication policies to ensure consistent and effective interactions within the team.
- Centralize conversations and resources using online tools like Google Docs, Notion, or Miro.
- Establish clear knowledge-sharing processes to minimize misunderstandings and conflicts.
3. Embrace asynchronous communication
If you’re used to real-time communication, moving to asynchronous communication can be unsettling. However, shifting assumptions and processes is essential for global teams to thrive and deliver outstanding results.
Mastering async communication offers increased flexibility, improved focus, better global collaboration, and inclusive participation as you allow remote employees to complete their work in their own time. It also makes space for autonomy, reduces pressure, and improves work-life balance for global teams.
Consider the following tips to optimize asynchronous communication:
- Plan ahead
- Give clear communication of deadlines
- Draft well-written messages to reduce back-and-forth
- Substitute synchronous in-person meetings with recorded Loom videos where possible
- Use collaborative project management tools to work as a team, such as Miro, Figma, Trello, Asana, and shared docs
- Encourage advanced work to avoid tight deadlines and the urgent need for responses
- Assess team processes and consider async-friendly improvements
- Use tools to conduct regular feedback assessments and gain insight into the employee experience
4. Ensure time zone fairness
In distributed teams, some members may be disadvantaged due to time differences. As a leader, you should implement measures to ensure no team members are subject to unnecessary pressure or unfair expectations.
Consider the following tips to implement and run an async team successfully:
- Allow team members to follow meetings asynchronously through a recording during inconvenient meeting times.
- Shift the meeting time regularly to avoid burdening the same team members all the time.
- Assess the team holistically to understand what critical tasks are time-sensitive and which can be reallocated in the calendar.
- Where possible, implement processes that are time and location independent.
- Use shared calendars to improve communication and understanding among team members.
- Use scheduling if you have fixed delivery, publication, or deployment times.
Chloe Roux, Director of Global Community, Manager, Deel
5. Prioritize overlap time
Depending on your team members' location, the overlap time may range from a couple of hours to several more. Use this overlapping time for collaborative activities and allow team members to work at their own productive pace during the rest of the day.
Some practical ways to prioritize overlap time include:
- Maximize the hours of overlap between team members
- Schedule essential team meetings and discussions during overlap periods
- Ensure processes leave enough time for async communication for the whole team
- Set clear expectations during overlap hours
6. Establish team agreements from onboarding
Even when your distributed team works well asynchronously, it’s essential to establish clear processes and ensure mutual understanding to scale. As teams constantly change and evolve, time-zone-related agreements should be communicated from the beginning of the onboarding phase.
Keep the following tips in mind when drafting team agreements for remote workers:
- Establish a unified time zone for team communication, being sensitive to early morning or late-night schedules for certain employees.
- Create a team communication cheat sheet (and make it accessible in the company handbook).
- Communicate agreements and relevant tools in your new employee onboarding process.
- Include specific details in your documented guidelines, such as expected response times, preferred communication channels, and dependence on collaboration tools.
7. Encourage participation
Although team members may thrive working asynchronously, it’s important to foster a culture of collaboration and participation. When employees are engaged, their passion and commitment reflect productivity, innovation, and positive company culture.
Managing a successful distributed team means ensuring that team members are engaged with one another and their work. This can be achieved in the following ways:
- Look for signs of disengagement and burnout.
- Encourage participation and engagement beyond work-related tasks when appropriate.
- Acknowledge positive performance in synchronous and asynchronous channels to make employees feel valued and appreciated regardless of location.
- Have regular check-ins with each team member to touch base.
- Use online tools to connect with employees and encourage participation with one another, such as Deel’s Connections Slack plugin, watercooler conversations, icebreakers, and virtual games.
Dan Westgarth, Chief Operating Officer, Deel
8. Visualize time zones
As a manager, it’s beneficial to visualize your team’s activities across time zones to clarify overlap times and identify the best moments of the day for collaboration and virtual meetings.
- Use visual tools, such as Timezone.io and Everytimezone.com, to understand team member locations and time zones.
- Take advantage of visual aids for planning, coordination, and structural oversight, benefitting from the clarity and perspective that they offer.
- Research time zone converter tools or cheat sheets to quickly convert time zones and find overlapping hours.
- Use shared calendars to display team members’ availability in their respective time zones.
Supercharge your remote teamwork with Deel
As a leader branching out into remote work, you may encounter a few new challenges when managing distributed teams. Keeping time zone differences front of mind when creating processes and systems will go a long way to ensure collaboration, communication, and productivity.
The potential of global teams lies in their ability to collaborate in a remote work environment. By being mindful of different schedules, using automation tools, and prioritizing communication as the most important thing, you can foster a productivity, progress, and teamwork culture.
At Deel, we offer a wealth of knowledge and tools that empower remote managers to manage their teams successfully. Explore Deel Engage tools and discover the power of collaboration and connectivity in the remote work environment.
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