How to Manage Remote Workers Across Time Zones
Remote work has presented employees an opportunity to get their jobs done from home rather than commuting to the office. Beyond that, employees who were once restricted to working in an expensive city can now travel to a different country, let alone a different city, and still get their work done.
There have been advantages for businesses, too. Those that have embraced remote work can hire the best employee for the job, regardless of their location.
However, with this opportunity comes a management headache. Bosses have a new set of challenges as they coordinate the work of their teams across multiple time zones.
It's not just managers who struggle. According to a report on the state of remote work from Buffer, a social media publishing tool, a small but significant number of remote employees cite being in a different time zone as their teammates as their biggest struggle.
The first step is to determine if a remote workforce makes sense for the organization. Follow that with a few simple management practices to head off potential problems, boost employee experience and promote collaboraation.
The Pros and Cons of a Remote Workforce
Before diving into how to manage a remote workforce, it's important for a company to weigh the pros and cons before implementing a distributed work model in the first place.
Pros of a Remote Workforce
- Global Talent Pool: Companies don’t have to be limited to hiring in a particular area, or require employees to uproot themselves and relocate. Distributed work means companies have access to a much bigger talent pool, and can hire people who are the best fit regardless of location.
- Better Work-Life Balance: Done right, working remotely can provide employees with better work-life balance since they avoid a commute and aren’t required to be at their desk at all times. That enables them to break up their days with activities like walks and running errands.
- Increased Coverage: With a workforce across different time zones, it’s possible to have someone on the job 24/7. If there is a problem with the company website when developers in one location are off the clock, those in a different one can solve the problem without disrupting them.
Related Article: 5 Ways to Create a Healthy Remote Workforce
Cons of a Remote Workforce
- Lack of Collaboration: Remote work can be challenging for collaboration at times since workers aren’t in the same office. Having to schedule time to work on a problem or hope that a co-worker is potentially working late can limit productivity.
- Communication: Communication represents another challenge in a remote workforce, according to Adam Hempenstall, founder and CEO at Better Proposals, a London-based proposal design company. “The biggest challenge is in the communication because you need to wait until someone’s around to get their response," he said. "This can be very challenging if you’re working on something critical and time sensitive.”
Related Article: 3 Ways to Put More Control in the Hands of Remote Employees
Tips for Managing a Distributed Team
Assuming a remote team makes sense for an organization, here are five tips to manage a distributed team across multiple time zones.
Avoid Too Many Rules
Some companies believe that several rules and policies are needed to get everyone on the same page. It's important to realize that this approach can sometimes backfire with a remote team, said Sonu Bubna, co-founder of Shopper.com, a London-based software company that creates online storefronts.
“Although some sort of guidance and boundaries help people in staying focused, too many [rules] will, perhaps demotivate the team in the short to mid term,” she said. When a team gets demotivated, they are less likely to go the extra mile or engage productively to solve problems, Bubna added.
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One useful rule to solve the problem of different time zones is to require that there be some overlap across time zones. This makes it easier for everyone to have meetings together when needed.
“Two hours of overlap for everyone should be just enough to respond to your Slack messages and maybe go for the occasional Zoom meeting,” Hempenstall said.
Even with planned overlap, sometimes workers in one time zone won’t be able to consistently make it to meetings. If this is likely to happen, recording meetings can keep everyone operating on the same page.
“Recording a Zoom meeting or sharing a Loom video update with the team can help folks across time zones get the information they need and not miss out on critical updates or moments, without worrying about being online during non-working hours,” said Sarah Schultz, strategy and operations lead at OfficeTogether, a San Francisco-based scheduling company.
Many remote companies rely on platforms like Slack to chat and share messages. These platforms allow them to schedule messages for when employees in other locations get online and avoid cutting into their downtime.
“Be mindful of when your employees are offline and help them feel like they can truly sign off without worrying about an incoming Slack or email message,” Schultz said.
Create Internal Events
Sometimes remote leaders need to do something to foster collaboration between employees in different locations. For situations like this, Bubna schedules a monthly hackathon to work on a shared problem.
"Our team has complete freedom to develop a feature or product they think would benefit our community," she said. This allows the team to experiment and come together, fostering productive collaboration that improves morale and productivity.