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8 Tips for collaborating across time zones

As remote work has increased in popularity,  companies have the ability to become more global, making collaboration across time zones a necessity for many businesses. However, working with team members who are thousands of miles away can be challenging. Here are some tips for collaborating with remote teams to ensure success:

Impact of working across time zones:

With undeniable benefits like increased flexibility and cost-saving, companies are taking advantage of a global workforce. However, collaborating with teams across different time zones comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Less communication within the team

At the top of the list is the effect it has on your team’s communication. You see, one of the most important parts of a remote team is communication.

It keeps the wheels moving, your team working together, problems are brought up, and inherently solved faster, it is the cornerstone of any functioning team.

But when time zones splits peoples working hours apart, the communication can end up being more difficult to maintain. Video calls are less frequent, continuous communication is fractured, causing projects to stall.

Working with teams across several different time zones can impact productivity and efficiency. It can be challenging to manage deadlines, monitor progress, and resolve any issues when the team is spread out across different regions. It is crucial to adopt a project management approach that considers the team's different time zones and mitigates these challenges.

Harder to build company culture

We’ve written previously about how to foster company culture in a remote team, but some of this relies on them working together, at the same time. Being able to talk to each other, which, depending on time zones, could be very infrequent.

So setting up the stage to keep your company culture going is important for making a better working environment and keeping your team happy and motivated.

Unaware who is working, and when

When everyone works in the same time zone, even if you have flexible hours, you are very likely to be working at the same time the rest of the team is based on a normal routine, you will generally expect people to work during the day and sleep at night.

This however, isn’t so easy when your team is distributed around the globe, especially if you span multiple time zones and can hinder collaboration.

Sure, you can take a guess as to when people will be up and working, but if you need to be up late for a video call with them, you don’t want to be hanging around, waiting for them to come online.

So, how do you deal with the situation, how do you overcome these barriers to communication and collaboration within your team?

Top tips to collaborate across time zones

1. Asynchronous communication

You and your team will need to get on board with asynchronous communication. This would mean that if a problem were to arise for a remote person, they could be solved by either leaving messages (via an instant messenger or email). Or, alternatively syncing up their time with who they need to talk to for a couple of hours one day.

Remote teams will need to require clear and concise communication to ensure everyone is on the same page. Establish clear communication guidelines, including response times, acceptable types of communication, and what channels to use for certain types of messages.

2. Have a ‘watercooler’

Leading on from this, a digital water cooler is still important (we use Google Chat for ours). It helps everyone feel like they’re part of a team, no one is left out, or excluded from the conversation because of when they work.

Regardless of time zones, all the teams are still able to access and see what’s in there, it also stops people from being out of sight, out of mind, as they’d be reminded of them, from their posts.

3. Organise catch ups and team bonding

A popular practice for distributed teams is to randomly pair up different team members each week for a quick chat, to see how things are going. This can be done when you have your weekly time zone overlap and get everyone together.

This is also a great way to encourage employee bonding. Remote teamwork can make it difficult to build personal connections and camaraderie. Encourage team bonding through virtual team building activities or other social events. Building personal connections can help people feel more invested in the team, which can lead to better teamwork overall.

Furthermore, through doing this you can encourage trust amongst employees, trust is key when working remotely and also embrace each other's backgrounds. 

Working with teams across time zones involves collaborating with people from different cultural backgrounds. Communication styles, work expectations, traditions, and values can significantly differ from one region to another. It's essential to respect these differences, understand the cultural nuances, and communicate effectively to ensure that everyone is on the same page.  

4. Project management system

Have a place where all your tasks are centrally stored, this lets people know what they need to work on, and if there’s a task they will need to collaborate on, with another teammate, they can arrange for this much easier. You will need a tool where your team will log what they’ve done, helping everyone see what’s been worked on and their part in comparison to it.

This will provide everyone an area to check in when working, where they can see the status of projects and what the next steps are. This will let everyone stay on the same page and know what the next steps are for projects.

5. Get everyone together once a week

Getting everyone together for a weekly catch up, helps keep everyone sharing what they’ve been working on, and what their plans are for the coming week. Sharing this helps keep everyone in the loop as to what’s going on projectwise.

If you have a large team, it might be easier for each of your departments to schedule their own catch ups. You can use a tool like Every Time Zone, or Time and Date’s world clock meeting planner, to find what times are most convenient for everyone.

Collaborating with remote teams should include you setting clear goals and milestones to ensure everyone is working towards the same objectives. Establish a timeline and goals for each project, so everyone knows what they need to achieve and by when. You could also have weekly meetings to run over where each team member is with their tasks, this will also help you to establish any issues that may arise so that you can ensure projects don’t become blocked or veer off track.

6. Build a self-sufficient team

When you have a fully distributed team, they need to be able to manage and get on with work themselves, this means not always needing someone to tell them what they should be working on.

They need to have the initiative to know what needs to be worked on, to ensure they collaborate and contact others when they need help.

7. Be aware of each other's time zones

Having a way to see what time zone everyone in the team is on can really help give more clarification as to when they will be working/next online.

For us, our tool PukkaTeam shows you the local time of each team member. It also shows if they’re currently online, working and if they’re not, how long since they were last online (and from there, you can normally work out when they’re working next).

There are also tools where you can see others' time zones (Every Time Zone and Time and Date mentioned earlier), to give you an idea of whether other teammates are up or asleep.

8. Use a Team calendar

Now that you’ve got an idea of when your team's working hours are in comparison to yours, you need a calendar to know when your team might be unavailable. We use Google calendar for putting down any scheduled meetings, annual leave and so on, so everyone in the team can know.

Team calendars are a great method for collaborating across time zones, it should include information on projects and events (meetings), as well as time off, deadlines and more. Your team can use this to manage their projects and understand when different team members are free, for remote teams this will help with collaboration. 

Final thoughts

Collaborating across time zones can be challenging, but with the right approach and methods it is possible to effectively collaborate with remote team members. You can use our 8 tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your remote collaborations. From using a virtual watercooler to having regular catch ups, these tips will help you build a self-sufficient team that can work together no matter where they are located.