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. 

Getting Antsy At Home? 6 Ways To Stay Motivated

I often think back to March 2020 and how those of us in PR, like many people, thought we’d be home for a few weeks at most. Oh, how wrong we were! As we creep toward the end of 2020 (thank God), it’s important to avoid burnout, especially for PR pros. For me, working from home has been a major adjustment. It was strange not to get on a train and walk into the office by 9 AM to start the day of media calls and meetings. 

The WFH life gets mixed reviews from our staff as well. Some people say they are more productive at home and enjoy going fully virtual. Others who are social butterflies, like me, miss the social aspect of working in an office –  catching up with co-workers and in-person events. 

No one was really prepared for WFH life and it took some time for everyone to find their groove, but we did it. Now, however, it could start to get tougher for people to stay motivated. As we enter the home stretch of 2020, consider the following advice for staying motivated while continuing to work from home.  

Maintain ‘normal’ hours

Are your company hours of business 9-6? What time do you actually start working? Maintaining normal hours can be tricky when working from home. You save time by not commuting to an office, but does that mean we should be working longer? Yes and no. Set a schedule and stick to it – most of the time. Just like working late in an office, there will be times when you may have to work longer than normal. If you’re in the midst of a client project and you have one small section left, finish it right now, then reward yourself when it’s all done. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries for yourself as well. Perhaps you don’t answer non-urgent emails until you log on at 9 AM. Make a schedule that works for you!    

Location, location, location!

The great thing about being remote is that as long as you have internet access and a laptop, you can work anywhere. Since being home, I have switched my ‘home office’ five times. Living in a household of five adults felt very crowded, and space was limited. After a few weeks, I found my most productive spot was in a room filled with windows and sunshine. Find a quiet space in your home that is free of major distractions like a TV. Find the best office space you can. If you spend too long in one place, switch it up the next week. In my case, a change of scenery may spark new motivation for finishing that byline or press release draft.  Be sure to set boundaries with your family or roommates and ask them to limit surprise visits during working hours to avoid unnecessary distractions and increased productivity. 

Personalize your space

We spend the majority of our week at an office and have spent time personalizing it to make it feel like a second home. No one was really prepared to create a home office. Slowly, my home office feels more like my desk in the real office that awaits my return. Personalize your space with the essentials like a comfortable desk chair, daily planner, and favorite pens. Add accessories that have made our lives easier like blue light glasses, wireless headphones or  Airpods (mine were the best purchase I made this year), a ring light and a motivational water bottle to make sure you stay hydrated. Make your space comfortable but productive – maybe feng shui to welcome in good energy for a great work day! Have you been addicted to HGTV during lockdown and want to make your space more visually appealing? Research interior designers and their tips for a better at home work space. Their main tips? Make your space a place you want to work in everyday!     

Use the 50/10 rule

If you are used to stepping out for lunch or that afternoon coffee, don’t give those up just because you’re working from home. The theory of the 50/10 rule is one that remote workers should note. It suggests for every 50 minutes of work, like meetings, pitching or writing, you should take a 10-minute break. These short breaks in your day will help avoid burnout, cut down on distractions, and overall make you more productive. Sometimes we need distance from Slack or emails to regroup. Motivate yourself by saying if I get X, Y and Z done, then I can take a break or a quick walk around the block. It may seem simple but it’s highly effective.   

Don’t skip Zoom calls

Zoom has been a savior during lockdown, connecting us to friends, family and coworkers. At Crenshaw, we pride ourselves on having a strong company culture and just because we’re not all together in the office, it doesn’t mean we can’t socialize. Since the first week, we have had a standing Thursday call for happy hour. This hour includes very little work talk but simply conversations around the latest Netflix show, personal updates or sharing opinions on the latest tech product launch. We all have those days where we may not be in the mood or would rather sign off early but try not to do this! You’ll feel better if you keep on your routine and spend some facetime with your coworkers, even if it is virtual!    

Take care of yourself

During this weird time we called 2020, we need to remember to take care of our mental and physical health. Admit it, you had a short period in spring when you thought the world was ending and this was the worst thing to happen. There have been hard times and struggles this year but like any other problem, we will overcome this pandemic. We won’t wake up one morning and things will go back to normal. It will take time. Until then, we can reflect on our state and work on becoming better. Pick up a new hobby, read that New York Times bestseller that has been on your list for months, take a Zoom yoga class or bite the bullet and buy yourself that Peloton bike. Set a goal to become a better version of yourself. If you feel good, you will want to share it with everyone and it may even make you a stronger PR person overall.

How are you switching things up during WFH life? Let me know on Twitter @colleeno_pr!