The widespread adoption of remote work has enabled a larger number of companies to hire employees from anywhere – in the same city, across the state, the other side of the U.S. or even around the world. By hiring employees across time zones, many companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to:
- Extend business hours
- Make personnel immediately available to more customers, thereby improving customer service
- Broaden the job candidate pool to obtain top-tier talent
- Increase diversity in their workplace
So, how exactly can business leaders overcome distance and separate schedules to successfully manage employees across time zones?
The general rules of good leadership still apply
Over the past few years, leaders have learned to successfully manage remote employees. The virtual environment has shifted workplace culture, and management has also had to shift its focus to:
- Check in more regularly
- Work harder on connecting with individuals and maintaining team cohesion
- Be intentional in enhancing empathy and emotional intelligence (EQ)
- Detect subtle facial cues, tone and body language over videoconference
- Maintain awareness of employees’ mental health, workload and work-life balance
These are all positive developments and are applicable skills for managing employees over greater distances, too.
Once you’ve managed remote employees within the same ZIP code, managing employees in other time zones generally isn’t that different. Remote is remote, whether the team member is down the street or five states away.
The core rules of solid leadership in remote work environments – or any work environment – still apply:
- Meet employees where they are
- Clarify goals and expectations
- Give employees autonomy to get the job done in a way that works for them
There are just a few key additional factors you should consider. After all, managing employees across time zones isn’t without its unique challenges:
- You won’t see distant employees as often and certainly not without intention.
- There may be delays in communication and response times, which means you can’t always expect real-time conversations and results.
- Expectations and due dates can sometimes get tricky – especially if the time gap is bigger. For example, if you’re in London and need a report by Monday morning, an employee in California might not deliver that to you until the end of your day.
- It can be more difficult to identify mutually agreeable meeting times.
- Employees can feel a stronger sense of workplace isolation.
Once you acknowledge these challenges exist, you can turn your focus to managing employees across time zones despite the potential constraints.
Figure out why you’re meeting, and when
When you’re on a completely different working schedule than some or all of your team members, it’s more crucial than ever to connect, get face-to-face time and learn about work progress on a regular basis. Of course, that can be tricky when time zones get in the way.
Here are some tips you can experiment with to see what works best for your business:
- When you schedule meetings and send meeting invitations, clarify the time zone in which the meeting takes place.
- Be courteous about not scheduling one-off meetings for really early or really late in the day for certain time zones. For example, if you’re on the East Coast, try not to schedule a meeting that will happen at 5:30 a.m. on the West Coast.
- If there is a certain block of time in which all employees are working and availability overlaps, consider designating those as core meeting hours. For example, if you have employees across the country, perhaps the middle of the day is best for meetings.
- If you have recurring team or department meetings, change up the time every so often to avoid inconveniencing the same employees for too long. You can rotate meeting times so that some employees have to meet earlier (7 to 8 a.m.) or later (5 to 7 p.m.) for their time zone and can all share in the burden of having a less desirable meeting time temporarily.
- For recurring one-on-one meetings, ask the employee what time works best for them. To accommodate several different employees in various time zones, you may need to adjust your own schedule to work earlier on some days and later on other days. If you do this, just make sure everyone on the team is aware.
- Use a shared team calendar that shows employees’ availability so that managers and colleagues can easily book meetings during open times. With some software, employees can even set parameters on their availability to avoid receiving meeting requests that won’t work. This saves everyone time.
- Reassess what constitutes a successful meeting in a working environment with dispersed employees in different time zones. For example, evaluate the duration and size of typical meetings.
- Can you condense meetings that were formerly one hour into, say, 25 minutes?
- Who truly needs to be included?
- Sometimes, larger meetings and formal company announcements have to occur at a certain time and place. In these instances, record important meetings and ensure that employees in other time zones are given access.
- Be mindful about requesting on-site meetings. If you elect to have one, you’ll have to cover employees’ travel and accommodations. Weigh the return on investment for your company.
Additionally, think about what on-site meetings mean for employees in other locations. For you, it may mean a commitment of an hour or two. For them, it could be a time commitment of one or a handful of days, depending on travel time, and could introduce unnecessary stress in their personal lives.
Team cohesiveness and preservation of workplace culture
When people aren’t directly and spontaneously interacting as much, and instead operating in their own silo and time zones, it’s a natural concern that team cohesion will fracture and workplace culture will diminish.
From the on-a-different-time-zone-employee’s perspective, they may also worry that they’re going to be overlooked for opportunities, cut out of the information loop or feel lonely.
Managing employees across time zones forces business leaders to do the hard work of really figuring out what makes a team cohesive.
Spoiler: It was never about the foosball table or the beer on tap back in the days of everyone working on-site – those are easy “outs.” The answers are actually much more simple and basic, and these practices still apply to more flexible and remote working environments:
- Have a clear, common purpose and make sure everyone knows what that is. You want people to feel as though they’re part of something amazing, important and fulfilling.
- Hire people who feel passionate about their work, and give them the right tools and resources to succeed.
- Encourage mutual accountability. All team members should want everyone else to do well because they all care about the outcome of their work.
- Emphasize caring for each other’s personal well-being.
- Aid employee development so they can advance their professional knowledge and skills.
Other creative ideas for building engagement and community:
- Participate in virtual team building.
- Showcase employee volunteer activities or personal achievements on company social media channels.
- Regularly recognize and reward employees internally for good work or special achievements, individually and in front of their colleagues.
- Offer peer mentorship and coaching between colleagues who occupy similar roles but reside in different locations.
Create cohesive scheduling and availability
At the outset of your working relationship with an employee in a different time zone, clarify their working hours. Because their schedule won’t be the same as yours, you need to understand exactly when they are available.
And because you won’t be able to manage them in real time, you should also clearly establish and explain all goals, expectations and priorities.
In everything, from setting deadlines to scheduling meetings, specify the time zone to avoid confusion, errors and setbacks.
Adopt a wide array of channels to enable robust communication, such as:
- Instant message (IM)
Pick the options that work best for you and your team.
Be flexible and understand that, as a manager, you may sometimes need to hold meetings outside your own core working hours to accommodate team members in other time zones.
Unless there’s an urgent issue, be mindful about contacting team members when they’re off work, even if it’s just by email. You don’t want to upset work-life balance by constantly making someone feel pressured to work at 11 p.m. their time – even though it’s the middle of the workday for you and it feels normal.
Conversely, problems will undoubtedly arise when your employees are on the clock but you’re not. Let employees know how to best reach you outside your working hours in case of an emergency.
Make collaboration a priority
Teams can still work effectively and in an efficient, coordinated manner across time zones and distances with the aid of technology, smart business practices and some creativity.
- Implement a virtual project management platform that works for your company’s needs. This can aid in the coordination of work, enhance efficiency and enable you to easily track individuals’ progress on tasks.
- Leverage collaboration technologies that show workers’ availability and enable spontaneous chats easily.
- Rethink the scope of meetings, which has the added benefit of reducing the volume and duration of meetings. Ask yourself: What can only be done when the team is together? How can we use our limited time together wisely and most efficiently? Usually, it’s tasks such as problem solving and ideation in which employees benefit from the team being together and collaborating.
Otherwise, the team can read background materials, brainstorm and complete preparation work ahead of time independently.
- Try a “digital huddle board,” the virtual version of the office whiteboard. Make it available any time for employees to access, obtain the latest information and update.
- Consider digital “lab time,” the virtual version of the office breakroom. This is a space in which team members can join – voluntarily and at a time that works for them – to chat about various topics and share and debate ideas. Employees can still work while participating to avoid disruptions to business.
Summing it all up
Managing employees across time zones isn’t all that different than managing remote employees nearby – it just requires some additional considerations. Key highlights:
- Clarify working hours and expectations as early as possible.
- Always specify time zones for deadlines and meetings.
- Carefully evaluate communication and collaboration platforms for maximum effectiveness.
- Consider adjustments of your own schedule to accommodate one-on-one meetings with employees.
- Set aside designated team meeting days and times when employees have overlapping availability, and rotate the timing of recurring group meetings for fairness.
- Shorten meetings and reassess the necessity of an employee’s attendance.
Otherwise, remember to continuously practice the general rules of good leadership that the remote work era has brought to the forefront.
Want to learn more about being a strong and effective leader in any work environment? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.