How to Manage a Team Working Across Time Zones

Collaboration across different time zones can be challenging, but it’s not impossible.

When someone in New York ends their workday around 6 p.m., their colleague in Sydney, Australia, is likely just waking up and getting started. In the meantime, their coworker in London is probably heading to bed.

It may seem intimidating to manage a team working across time zones like these if you’re new to leading employees remotely. However, global teams have become the norm for many companies. According to research from GitLab, 32% of companies are fully remote with employees working in their native time zones.

Collaboration across different time zones can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The right remote team structure and tools can make working across time zones just as easy as working next to someone in the office.

1. Automate and schedule messages whenever possible

You don’t need to send real-time messages with employees to collaborate. Many asynchronous communication tools provide automation and scheduling capabilities to improve communication and help keep projects on track.

Threads allows you to schedule a message and automate recurring threads—such as daily stand-up or weekly check-in meetings—on an ongoing basis.

Of course, that’s just one example. Slack has scheduling capabilities too. And you can set reminders and automate various tasks using Slackbot as well. You can also schedule email blasts to coworkers using email platforms like Gmail.

With these scheduling and automation capabilities, global teams can send messages during colleagues’ working hours even if their time zone is completely different. It helps keep information top of mind and reduces distractions for your team during off-hours.

2. Be sensitive to different cultural norms

When working with people in different countries or from different cultures, there’s bound to be some cultural and language barriers. For example, slang and colloquialisms may confuse team members who aren’t from the same area as you.

Set up Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and guidelines to promote respect, understanding, and clear communication among your dispersed team. You might set inclusive language policies or provide ongoing cultural or language training.

Leaders should also keep up on world events and what’s impacting their team around the world. Adjust workloads and provide additional support to remote employees during unexpected situations—like natural disasters and political unrest—and planned events, like national holidays.

3. Create a culture of knowledge sharing and transparency

While it’s easy to walk up to a coworker and ask questions in an office setting, it’s not as simple when you’re on a different continent. Research from Panopto shows that employees spend an average of 5.3 hours waiting on a response. That number is likely even higher when working across time zones.

A knowledge base gives employees access to the information they need— regardless of when and where they’re working. You can create an internal knowledge base using a platform like Tettra or Threads. There, you can organize important company information and processes into a searchable, easy-to-use system for employees to reference at any time.

You can also adjust company communication policies to encourage transparency. Promote asking questions in public channels rather than direct messages so anyone can jump in to help when they’re online. Employees should also share files publicly among the team and record meetings to keep information accessible.

4. Encourage disconnecting during off-hours

In research from Indeed, more than 52% of respondents reported feeling burned out.

Burnout is an especially big issue for global teams. Everyone is working at different times, so messages and updates come in at all hours of the day. It’s easy for an “always-on” mentality to creep in, especially when there’s pressure from management and clients to respond quickly.

To foster a better work-life balance and prevent burnout, encourage your team to:

  • Set clear working hours

  • Set offline statuses

  • Mute notifications after logging off.

Again, a lot of async tools have built-in features to help you and your team disconnect. Threads has a “Do Not Disturb” mode, which allows users to easily silence notifications.

5. Focus on productivity over presence

It’s unfortunately easy to think that remote employees aren’t working or being productive. You can’t see them in person, and you likely don’t communicate synchronously every day.

But research shows remote employees are typically great at getting their work done. A two-year study by Great Place to Work showed “stable or even increased productivity levels after employees started working from home” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In today’s global and remote-first world, managers should adjust how they think about productivity. It’s no longer about “butts in seats” during specified times. Instead, consider tracking factors like meeting deadlines, fulfilling goals and quotas, and the quality of their work.

Outlining these expectations and metrics in the employee handbook will provide clarity for your team. If issues do pop up, you can discuss them in ongoing 1:1 or team meetings to keep everyone on track.

6. Make schedules and calendars public

To collaborate efficiently, teams need a way to track their colleagues’ schedules. With tools like Calendly and Google Calendar, teams can create a shared or collaborative calendar. The calendars should include working hours, scheduled time off, and national holidays.

These shared schedules make it easier to track time zones, set response deadlines, schedule synchronous meetings, and plan collaborative projects. They also promote deep work and balanced workloads by allowing team members to block off time for key projects and tasks.

7. Make key discussions and meetings asynchronous

Scheduling real-time, synchronous meetings for remote workers is challenging, if not impossible. As your team expands globally, working hours for one team member might be the middle of the night for another.

Rather than scheduling a real-time meeting, you can use Threads to start an asynchronous discussion instead. Threads allows you to tag the appropriate attendees and gives everyone the chance to review, ask questions, and follow up as needed.

These asynchronous meetings and discussions allow all team members to participate, regardless of time zone and location. Employees have more time to prepare for these meetings and process the information being shared. This results in more efficient discussion and innovative ideas.

In addition, employees who aren’t as familiar with the company’s preferred language may find it easier to communicate via a written format. Therefore, they may be more likely to participate in an asynchronous discussion.

A tool like Threads will document all responses from asynchronous meetings, so your organization has a clear archive of information to reference.

8. Schedule overlapping work hours

Even with async tools and policies in place, sometimes you still need quick responses and opportunities to connect asynchronously. Requiring some overlapping hours can allow for that fast, real-time collaboration.

Consider basing daily or weekly crossover hours on where your headquarters and/or the majority of your team is based. If your team is really spread out, consider adjusting the time on a weekly basis, so the “inconvenience” of working an early morning or late night is spread evenly among the team. A map visualization tool can provide a quick overview of what time zone most employees fall in.

It may take some time to determine how much crossover time is necessary for your team. For many teams, 1-2 hours a day is more than enough time to touch base via video call when used efficiently. However, you should keep overlapping hours to a minimum to allow for as much flexibility as possible.

Use this time wisely. It’s a great time for synchronous team meetings, 1:1 check-ins, and other collaborative discussions where async communication is difficult or inefficient.

9. Set clear deadlines and project timelines

Always include a specific time and the time zone when you request a response from team members. This helps ensure tasks are completed on time.

Many asynchronous communication tools make setting deadlines easy by allowing you to automatically set project timelines or response deadlines when wanting a response. You can add a response request deadline in Threads so team members know when to follow up.

When setting deadlines, provide adequate time for a team member to respond or complete the request. Consider time zone differences and how extensive the task is when setting the deadline. You might also set specific guidelines for response turnaround times depending on which internal communication channel you’re using.

10. Support casual conversations and connections

Loneliness was cited as one of the top struggles of working remotely in the 2021 State of Remote Work report from our customer, Buffer. Minimize feelings of isolation by providing opportunities for your team to connect beyond work!

You can’t get together face-to-face for happy hour when you’re miles apart, but that doesn’t mean you can’t build a strong company culture. Set up asynchronous activities like get-to-know-you Q&A discussions, recorded home tours or introductory videos, and non-work-related Slack channels or threads where employees can bond over common interests.

Threads makes working across time zones easy

We’re a distributed team here at Threads, so we’ve got your back. Our platform was designed with distributed teams in mind. Use Threads to send response requests, set response deadlines, schedule threads, set recurring ones, and much more. See how Threads helped Buffer’s worldwide team stay in sync across time zones and get started today.