Teams are expanding not only in size and demand, but also across geographic area. Depending on how far apart team members are located, there could be several time zones to consider when scheduling, planning, and meeting together. Successfully working across time zones requires leaning into async practices and collaboration tools, as well as building and nurturing relationships across distances.
Developing a remote work culture that is effective and connected can be particularly tricky when you rarely see your teammates in person—or even virtually. Here are five areas to focus on when building working relationships across multiple time zones:
Be Precise About Time
A key to communicating with colleagues is knowing precisely what time it is—for everyone involved. Even for those who have worked remotely for years, knowing the time difference between CEST, PDT, and other time zones may still be challenging. When you are ending your day, a colleague may be just starting theirs, so being precise about times and time zones supports clear and empathetic communication. When referencing a specific time to meet or your availability include the time zone, e.g. “I’ll be checking Slack messages from 9 am-10 am and 2 pm-3pm EST.” Here are a few tools to help with time conversion and appointment scheduling to always be on the right time:
- Time and Date – offers a world clock meeting planner and easy time zone converter
- World Time Buddy – dashboard to quickly see times in multiple time zones
- Calendly – a “Time Zone Intelligent” app that offers free online meeting scheduling
- Google Calendar – shared personal and team calendars with the option to turn “Display secondary time zone”
Utilizing a document of the team’s typical hours of availability and an actively updated and openly accessible calendar eliminates the need for several back and forth messages asking “what time works best for you?” Within these documents, team members can specify hours for deep work, family obligations, and learning opportunities; keep firm boundaries around their work hours; and designate meeting-free days. This shared document can live in a project management tool or document storage location for the whole team to reference as needed.
Documenting hours, setting clear time boundaries, and using tools for time conversion lowers the time demand of your colleagues.
Humanize the Digital Work
Remote work culture includes a third party between you and the growing relationships with your team: technology. Unfortunately, technology can’t relay the sympathetic responses and the subtle feedback you get when meeting in person. To compensate for the communication gap technology creates, teams need to be intentional about humanizing the digital workplace. Here are a few practices to keep your digital work more human:
- Create safety for learning. There are always limits to our knowledge around work. But acknowledgment that the whole team is learning creates a safe climate for someone to admit when they do not know something. Imposter syndrome is normal when challenged to increase our skills and knowledge, but hiding areas for growth makes it much more difficult to develop professionally.
- Show empathy and understanding. There may be times when a colleague struggles to show up for the team. Listen without judgment and ask how they may need support. No matter the time zone, changes and challenges happen. Share empathy, even for things as simple as time miscalculation for your one-on-one.
- Update with transparency. During daily check-ins or weekly meetings, transparent updates create team safety and understanding. Saying that you are having a stressful day or that you are distracted about something happening in your life can provide an easy signal to your team that it is okay to be human. When you share information like “having difficulty focusing today, signing off at 2 pm EST to do deep work,” such transparency helps create outcomes that are healthy for both you and your team.
Build Remote Work Culture Around Trust
Working across time zones is a constant reminder that you will rarely see your colleagues in person, but that simply means work culture becomes remote as well. As is in any other long-distance relationship, trust is a cornerstone. To shift to a remote-first work culture, teams need to build virtual trust by:
- Giving space for autonomy
- Focusing on outcomes, not hours
- Actively listening
- Following through with integrity
- Supporting each other’s boundaries
- Outlining choices when possible
- Creating remote work policies
These are only a few ways to develop a more trusting workplace, but incorporating them into your work culture will help unify your team and strengthen confidence between team members.
Along with trust, the compass for guiding remote work culture will be the mutual goals of the teams and company. Company goals should be referenced in a shared mission statement, an accessible company or team handbook, and a yearly roadmap. These agreed-upon goals remind team members they are contributing with others for an outcome and group purpose that benefits everyone together, even when separated. Developing a shared vision allows for a stronger foundation and creates a more positive work atmosphere, both of which are essential for success.
Recognize the Work as Part of the Relationship
The most crucial part of building relationships when working across time zones is the work itself. People are happier to participate in non-work activities and remote work culture if the work is going well. Align your team working across time zones with these practices:
- Establish remote team communication norms. Teams working across multiple time zones need a Communication Charter. This is an internal team document and agreement on how the team uses synchronous and asynchronous communication practices and tools. A Communication Charter supports the expectations of your team and guides a remote working culture of transparency and trust.
- Agree on documentation practices. Clear documentation processes and information are vital to working across time zones and communicating asynchronously. Consistent documentation allows your team to become more self-reliant and provides an efficient flow of information to an outcome.
- Provide regular feedback. While consistent and constructive evaluations and feedback can feel scary, they don’t need to be. When done effectively, remote feedback provides metrics for progress, allows new challenges to be introduced, and can highlight areas that need support.
- Promote recognition. Be sure to acknowledge that work is going well, rather than just thinking about it. Any time you notice a team member working hard, achieving a goal, providing support to the team, or otherwise impressing you, tell them. Recognition across time zones is one of the best ways to build connections with your remote team—and you don’t need a specific job title to do it. It can be in the form of a shout-out, a virtual rewards program like HeyTaco, or an employee of the month video. Recognition is not always easy because we may rarely, if ever, see our team while they work—which makes the recognition even more meaningful.
Socialize with Intention
Beyond the work itself, teams can benefit from feeling personally connected to one another. Yet again, when you aren’t located in the same time zone it can be tricky to find the time to develop deeper bonds and demanding frequent synchronous time for everyone to socialize may be asking a lot out of the team’s schedule. There are a couple strategies worth exploring:
- Dedicate sync time. Distributed team members have fewer spontaneous opportunities to pop in or catch up over a coffee. However, it is worthwhile to set aside time to get to know one another. Consider integrating tools like Donut, which allow you to set parameters on how often—weekly, monthly, every 6 weeks—you’re randomly paired to socialize with teammates. When it’s predictable and manageable, it feels less burdensome and gives teammates something to look forward to.
- Utilize precious existing sync time. As teams working across time zones know, shifting to async-first practices and limiting sync time is essential. However when meetings do occur, use those opportunities to deepen connections. Ensure the first five minutes of your meeting agenda include ways to connect personally, like with a green-yellow-red mental check in or a mini ice breaker, such as “share your favorite song lyric.” These simple acts can reinforce connections between teammates.
- Socialize asynchronously. Building connectivity is one of the more challenging goals to achieve asynchronously, however with the above foundations async socialization can strengthen relationships. Simple practices can have a big impact on getting to know the other members of your team. Create channels for casual conversation and shared interests such as vacation stories, book club, home improvement projects, or weekend recaps.
Team building might be easily overlooked or pushed to the side when working across time zones. However, the consequences of doing so are harder to ignore. Building relationships is vital for any thriving business, even for teams in multiple time zones.
With teams expanding to numerous locations, there is a greater need to understand how to build relationships specific to a distributed team structure. Workplaceless is committed to helping multi-time zone teams through learning and facilitation.