Working Well Across Time Zones
Updated: Aug 23
Animals are everywhere, so the animal protection movement is naturally international and growing around the world. International collaboration is wonderful for our mission and can create an enriching workplace. Sure, language and culture differences can be a challenge, but most advocates agree that these differences can be rewarding to overcome. But there is one challenge that comes with cross-cultural work that nearly everyone loves to hate: time zones.
When some of your coworkers are asleep while others are just waking up and still others are hitting their mid-afternoon slump, it is a genuine challenge to collaborate well. And the truth is that there are no easy fixes, but the following 10 tip for working across time zones can make this challenge easier:
Know the zones: Use tools like World Clock and TimeAndDate to stay aware of different team members’ time zones. Pro-tip: consider adding them to your mobile phone’s clock view.
Schedule thoughtfully: When setting up meetings, try to find a time that’s reasonable for all participants. Consider using tools like World Time Buddy or Doodle to find suitable time slots or create agreed upon meeting slots.
Rotate meeting times: If it’s impossible to find a time that works for everyone, rotate meeting times so that the inconvenience is shared and not always borne by the same individuals.
Share calendars: Shared calendars (e.g., Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook) can help everyone keep track of meetings and schedule or reschedule with one another more easily. Make sure to set them to display in the viewer’s local time. Pro-tip: encourage people to block off non-working time or mark work start and end times on their calendars.
Co-create communication norms: Align on what channels you will use for different times of communication as well as expected response times. Come up with shortcuts to save time determining if something is time sensitive (such as adding URGENT or DUE DATE in email subject lines).
Acknowledge cultural events: Post holidays and other special days/times on a shared calendar so there is shared awareness and respect of important days off.
Lean on asynchronous communication: Make the most of tools that don’t require real-time interaction, such as email, shared documents, or project management software like Trello or Asana. Put extra effort into teaching everyone to use these tools well and align on norms for how to use them. Consider scheduling a quarterly retrospective to discuss what’s working well when it comes to how you communicate and what can be improved.
Document, document, document: Since not everyone might be present at meetings or online at the same time, make sure that decisions, updates, and other critical information is well-documented and accessible. Consider filming meetings so people can watch them later (maybe even in double time!).
Decide how to decide: If a decision has to be made, align on who will be involved, how, and when so that people in some time zones aren’t perpetually left out. Document decision-making criteria and outcomes for shared awareness.
Foster relationship-building: Come up with ways for people to get to know one another as people so they can build mutual empathy. Create opportunities for social collisions that are live (e.g., virtual water cooler, silent co-working, annual in-person retreat) and asynchronous (e.g., randomly assigned workplace “penpal,” Slack channels for animal photos, internal newsletter). Often, shared care and respect are all you need to smooth out the bumps of collaboration.
It’s likely that there will always be some friction when it comes to working across time zones, but good collaboration habits will benefit everyone involved, animals included.