Bridge is a global company. Some of our teammates work from the European Union, others are based in Eastern Europe, while our CEO is located in California. It goes without saying, in Bridge it’s impossible to work a regular 9-to-5 workday. While the clock shows 9 AM for some of our teammates, for others, it’s long past 5 PM.
In our first year of managing the company, we had to put extra effort into finding ways to bridge the time zone world barrier. The entire team is still learning – however, we believe to have found a working system and learned a ton along the way.
In this post, we will share the challenges and benefits of cross-time-zone collaboration we have discovered. Other than that, we’ll share helpful strategies, tips, and tools for running global teams.
When One Day Ends, Another Begins: 4 Challenges of Time Zone Differences
The biggest challenge of working as an international team is deviating from everything that is considered normal for locally homogeneous businesses. Concepts like constant availability or whole-team meetings are impossible to maintain when colleagues you are supposed to hop on a call with are scattered around the world.
To make collaboration and time zone change manageable, we had to recognize the challenges that come along the way and get ready to face them.
1. Team meetings can keep teammates up at night (or early in the morning)
Team meetings are the fuel that keeps remote corporate culture going. Regardless of how skilled and driven your employees are, they need time together to connect, voice concerns, and get a big-picture view of their activities.
Having said that, organizing meetings immediately turns into a nightmare when it’s 7 AM for one teammate, 12: PM, and 23 PM for the CEO.
Solution: sharing the burden across the team. If most of the company is based in one country, as is the case for Bridge, choosing that time zone as the primary one is reasonable. To make sure all teammates know what time it is in your key region, use team management software like World Clock Widget for Android, iOS, or Windows 10.
However, if the company doesn’t have a dominant location, consider taking turns to make sure there isn’t a teammate who is constantly staying up late or waking up early to make it to the call. For example, assuming your peers work in the following regions you can create the following schedule:
- Monday: US, EST.
- Tuesday: EU, CET
- Wednesday: Korea, Japan, Indonesia: UTC +9
- Thursday: Latin America: UTC-4
- Friday: Eastern Europe: UTC+2
2. Staying synchronized with the team takes extra effort
Constant availability is what office or local teams often take for granted. However, when you go global, catching a colleague online is great luck. It might be tempting to just work on your own – however, that’s the opposite of what a productive team should do.
Solution: there are different ways for international team leaders to stay in touch. Buffer employees, for example, notify colleagues when they start their workday so that it’s clear who is available.
At Bridge, we use Slack chats to streamline conversations, as well as G Suite to document practices. This way, we can make sure that teammates are never out of the loop on important changes and decisions.
3. It’s hard for managers to keep tabs on tasks and productivity
Hiring a “manager of one” – an independent teammate who has her eyes set on the to-do-list and needs little assistance from colleagues is a recommended global team management practice from Basecamp.
At Bridge, we prioritize hiring self-starters as well – however, in hindsight, we discovered a bottleneck that comes along the way. When teammates are independent, it’s hard to know what they are up to – that’s why managers have to walk the extra miles.
Solution: We use task managers to track ongoing assignments in marketing, software development, and finances. These tools help team leaders streamline processes and keep tabs on project progress.
4. You have to do a lot of math
The calculations around scheduling meetings seem relatively easy since we all know how time zones work.
“Okay, this employee is in the US, I am in Europe. For me, the clock shows X hours, then it’s Y for him” – a piece of cake, really.
Things get considerably complicated once more variables enter the expression.
Two employees are in the EU but I need to check whether the time in Portugal is the same as in Belgium (spoiler alert, they are not). Then there’s a teammate tuning in from New York and an investor from Pasadena – same country, different time zones. Let’s add a teammate from India, South Korea, and Argentina – wow, that reminds me of a problem at my college entrance exam!
Solution: to avoid running complex calculations in your head, we turn to technology. To start with, Slack lets you know a teammate’s time zone conversion chart once you click “View profile”. Other than that, websites like Time and Date offer a meeting planner that automatically generates an appropriate slot for a conference call.
Someone Always Keeps The Wheels Turning: 4 Benefits of Working in Different Time Zones
Although building an infrastructure to fuel remote work when the team is scattered across time zones is challenging, there’s beauty to the process as well. From getting New Year’s Day greeting both earlier and later than most people do to knowing there’s someone working when you are not – these are the benefits we found in international collaboration:
1. Hire talent by skill, not location
Choosing to look for talent outside Silicon Valley or the US was a smart decision for us for many reasons. To start with, there’s a massive tech talent shortage in the US – back in 2019, CNBC reported that multiple American companies started hiring in Canada since they struggled to fill job openings at home.
Broadening the reach of talent scouting helped Bridge dodged the talent shortage bullet. We managed to fill in tech and marketing openings relatively quickly and onboard skilled and experienced professionals.
Other than that, running an international team brings more diversity to the decision-making table. If business owners have the hopes of building a product that resonates with international audiences, being able to get feedback on the project from teammates with different cultural backgrounds is too big of an opportunity to toss aside.
2. There is always someone ready to solve problems
Another benefit of running an international team is the possibility to stay responsive throughout the day. Rather than taking night shifts or rotations, team managers can offer 24/7 availability to clients without making the team give up their Circadian cycles.
For example, the time zone difference (US) factor was a powerful growth opportunity for TechCrunch. Having an international team allowed reporters to publish pieces 24/7 and be the first ones to cover breaking news.
3. High job satisfaction
Common sense suggests that having to work with peers from all over the world would make people miserable. However, statistically, job satisfaction rates are higher for international teams. Here are the reasons why people love joining global teams regardless of time zone challenges:
- Diversity and open-mindedness is one of the main elements of corporate culture
- Opportunities for growth and personal development
- Great environment for language learning.
- Possibility to get to know other cultures.
4. Encourages performance, not presence
Traditional teams typically track productivity by measuring working time. However, remote companies are encouraged to look for new ways to assess efficiency as well as team management exercises for work. In particular, rather than focusing on the amount of time spent online, our team pays attention to the number of completed assignments.
On the one hand, this environment encourages the team to get assignments over with and log off as early as possible. On the other hand, a task-driven productivity assessment is easier to keep track of and harder to forge than a timesheet.
5 Tips for Running Teams in Different Time Zones
Bridge has been running for over a year. During that time, we tried different management strategies – while some failed, others paid off. To spare fellow entrepreneurs the pain of testing collaboration approaches, we decided to share 7 tried-and-true tips that help us mitigate the challenges of working in different time zones.
1. Pay attention to meeting details
It’s easy to get confused as to when you were supposed to meet with the team for a conference call. That’s why precision is crucial for global teams.
Make sure everyone on the team specifies time zones (UTC) when scheduling meetings (e.g. “7 PM EST” instead of “7 PM”).
2. Create a system for tracking working hours
If the team is located in different time zones, respecting everyone’s privacy should be a priority. Due to location differences, it’s easy to accidentally give a colleague a call long after his workday ended (been there, done that).
To avoid such uncomfortable and confusing situations, team leaders should work on team management systems for tracking each teammate’s working hours. Using Google Calendar is an easy and efficient way to track availability.
3. Stay on lookout for better technology
When time zone barriers get in the way of productive work, technology helps find a way around constraints. Bridge teammates, for one, use a robust toolkit to schedule and run meetings, keep track of tasks, find time zone overlap and communicate.
Here are our favorite tools:
- Communication: Slack
- Video conferences: Google Meet
- Meeting scheduling: Google Calendar
- Marketing management: GatherContent
- Task management: Asana
- Design collaboration: Figma.
Some of these platforms (like Slack) have been a part of our stack from Day 1, others are the team management tools we started using recently. Constantly reviewing whether the solutions we use are effective streamlines processes and facilitates international collaboration.
4. Account for presence disparity
In case you haven’t heard of (although you have definitely experienced) presence disparity,
it’s the idea that people who don’t have the same level of presence don’t have the same weight in the conversation.
This phenomenon explains why half-office half-remote teams are generally a bad idea. However, if you are put in a situation where putting the team on the same conversation plane is impossible, be extra mindful about those peers who are tuning in via phone or video conferencing.
Extra tip: to make sure you can always come back to an overlooked suggestion, make a habit of recording meetings and keeping a short round-up in Google Docs. Some companies go as far as to appoint a note-taker whose job is to succinctly summarize the meeting so that those who did not tune stay in the loop.
5. Make the most out of asynchronous communication
Rather than trying to fight the clock and get everyone on the team in the same conference room, we accepted that work happens at different times for all of us. That’s why, from the start, Bridge had a focus on asynchronous communication.
Team communication and corporate culture is considered asynchronous if it doesn’t require real-time presence. Emails, comments in editor tools or task managers, as well as texts in messenger apps are all examples of asynchronous communication.
There are plenty of benefits for teams in staying in touch asynchronously:
- Reduces stress levels
- Improves focus and cuts distractions
- Encourages detailed documentation
- Improve the efficiency of using working time
Here are a few team building ideas to leverage the power of asynchronous communication:
- Try to communicate as clearly as possible using tools like Grammarly.
- Organize discussions in Slack threads.
- Create guidelines and playbooks and store them in the corporate G Suite.
- Assign clear deadlines to each ongoing assignment to avoid bottlenecks.
- Aim at workplace transparency by preferring group discussions over private ones.
There’s no denying it – making sense of time zone differences is not easy. However, the benefits that come along with hiring an international team are worth the struggle. The room for cost-cutting, the diversity of views, and access to top-notch experts from all over the world are benefits that, in our opinion, all business owners should have.
At Bridge Teams, we encourage company managers to make the most out of the global workforce. We assist with global team staffing, keep track of office expenses and deal with paperwork.
Find out how our services and streamlined team management system helps business owners meet their needs. If you want to start global headquarters for your tech team – let’s get in touch and build a high-performing office together!