How To Work Across Multiple Time Zones

In PR as in every office-based line of work, the pandemic has forced a remote-work experiment on a scale never seen before. As a result, how and where we work has been transformed. A new location can bring a new time zone with it. As an East Coast employee now working on the West Coast for the past eight months, I don’t face the kind of challenges as teams who span several time zones across many global regions. Yet my situation has made me more aware of the pros and cons of working in different time zones. Here are some key takeaways on being productive and connected to colleagues no matter your location.

Be transparent

Before making the move to another time zone, it’s important to keep open communications with your team. Let your employer know what you’re thinking of doing and feel them out. Come at it from a productivity standpoint and make a mutual decision about your hours. For example, I made a deal with my team that I will continue to keep East Coast hours while I’m here in SoCal.  Keeping the same hours works well for me; however, in a different scenario, it might be useful for our East Coast team to have someone covering key accounts after working hours in their time zone. The point is to figure out what works for you and stick to it. For me, an early start to the day is offset by the advantage of being able to sign off by mid-afternoon.

Be mindful of time zones

When setting deadlines or arranging meetings and phone calls, be mindful of time zones and always specify it in your emails or messages. There have been times when I thought I was late to call, only to realize that I had spoken in PST times to colleagues instead of EST.  Google calendar has a setting that lets you choose your home time zone so appointments will always be scheduled in that zone unless you choose otherwise.

For international meetings, remember that the world clock app is your friend. It’s essential for scheduling meetings but also comes in handy when setting deadlines and planning projects. We have a client, DoubleVerify, who has comms teams across the globe. When they have a global announcement, it is good to have a quick conference call to make sure we are all aligned on the launch time across all regions including North America, Europe and APAC. This is also second-nature to our cybersec team because they work with Singapore, and our AI group originates in India, but it does take some mental reframing at the outset. 

Align with your coworkers

It’s important to note cultural differences across international time zones. Work habits in Europe may be different from those in the U.S. or Southeast Asia. Holidays around the world are different and some regions even take lunch at different times, take longer breaks, or don’t work traditional hours. Keeping this in mind will prevent misalignment and confusion on deadlines in the future. 

Stick to your boundaries 

The boundary between our work and our personal lives has become blurred since we haven’t had the commute to divide the day. Working at the kitchen table or even from the couch is normal, and juggling the distractions of home life while trying to hit work deadlines has become a daily challenge. Set a routine, establish a workspace and set work hours for yourself. Keep up a dialogue with coworkers to update them with what you’re currently working on and what you will be doing throughout the week – this way nothing will slip through the cracks. You want to avoid the “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” mentality among team members!

Embrace technology

Technology has allowed teams to work from anywhere, anytime. Use this to your benefit and don’t take it for granted. Tools like instant messaging apps, video chats, task management software, and progress trackers enable anyone on your team to strategize and update teams on their progress at different times of day. Globally, teams can stay aligned on ongoing projects in real time. If an employee in Sydney is working while EMEA and U.S. employees are offline, those teams can see what their Australian colleagues accomplished when they sign in the next day and note what’s next.

Productivity levels are higher 

A new time zone may be a tough adjustment at first, but once you have a system and the proper communication in place, employees are finding themselves to be more productive and happier with their work/life balance. Research shows that we can get more work done remotely in some cases than when in an office. A Stanford study of 16,000 workers over nine months found that working from home increased productivity by 13%. “This increase in performance was due to more calls per minute attributed to a quieter, more convenient working environment and working more minutes per shift because of fewer breaks and sick days.”

We’ve learned a lot as a result of being in different time zones and working from home: meetings aren’t always necessary; working a standard eight-hour shift may not be the best schedule for everyone; and sitting at a desk doesn’t always mean you’re being productive. 

With fewer office distractions, the enhanced focus we get from wanting to get more free time back, or no longer having a commute, is borne out in the data. Workers are happier and more productive WFH, no matter the time zone.