working in different time zones

The Number One Guide to Host Meetings Across Different Time Zones

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Global teams are a vital part of the future of work; a third of companies polled in SHRM’s report in tandem with Globalization Partners have teams across borders. While the report notes that global teams are more collaborative and lower maintenance than local teams, they tend to face one issue that local teams don’t: meeting across time zones.

Of the departments most likely to operate using global teams, human resources and sales top the list at 63 and 62 percent, respectively, followed by IT and operations (57 percent) and marketing (41 percent). Of those polled, 86 percent of global teams meet at least once a week, and they’re 12 percent less likely to report issues with teammates. However, international teams also note that one of the biggest struggles they face is managing meetings around time zones.

Meeting across time zones can be a headache, and if you’re working with a global team, you might feel like relying on emails or messaging platforms is more manageable than meeting via video. Many teams rely on asynchronous communication, and according to SHRM, most global teams rely on email to relay information. But an interpersonal, human relationship is a key part of any team’s rapport. And in order to work to the best of your abilities and prevent siloing, you’ve got to connect with your team in more ways than just over text.

U.S. teams use the ‘early afternoon rule’

The best way to navigate meeting across time zones is to start with one thing: the early afternoon rule. For U.S. teams in particular, this is a helpful tool for crafting meetings, as it aligns well with all four time zones across various states – Eastern (EST), Central (CST), Mountain (MST), and Pacific (PST).

The rule is simple: plan your meetings in the early afternoon, around 1 p.m. or 2 p.m EST. At the absolute earliest, on the west coast, that’s 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. PST. By then, your west coast colleagues will be awake and ready for the day, your central peers will be gearing up for or finishing their lunches, and your team on the east coast will be energized for the afternoon. By meeting in the early afternoon, no one is getting up too early or too late despite meeting with cross-country coworkers.

You’ll also be able to use the early afternoon rule for teams in South America, as many operate in similar time zones to the U.S. Some countries, like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, and Nicaragua use CST, while Cuba, Haiti, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru, among others, are all on EST. Additionally, Venezuela and parts of Brazil are on EST as well.

Meet in the middle

Booking meetings across time zones requires flexibility and communication, especially if you’re a U.S. company meeting with teams in Europe. If you’re on the east coast, most major European cities are anywhere from five to seven hours ahead, operating on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This can be a bit trickier to plan than a meeting with a two-hour time zone difference, as for the most part, east coasters will have to budget their mornings for meetings with European team members. If you’re trying to schedule a meeting with colleagues in Africa, remember that they also use GMT, as do parts of the middle east, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Yemen, and Iran.

Those on the west coast will be even more limited, as they’re eight to ten hours behind cities like London, Paris, Berlin, or Prague. Blocking off from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. means that your European colleague will be logging on from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. And unfortunately, there’s little wiggle room unless you’re looking to meet outside of traditional business hours.

Trade-off mornings and evenings

If you’re working with an international team spread across the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia, things get even messier. On the east coast, it can be complex to meet with countries that have eight to twelve-hour time differences, such as Shanghai, Beijing, New Delhi, Tokyo, or Sydney.

Unfortunately, there’s no way around it – you’ll be waking up extremely early or staying at work late to accommodate these meetings, and your teammates will probably be doing the same. Unless you’re a devout morning person and your colleague is a regular night owl already, try trading off times to make things fair (for instance, you wake up early for one meeting and stay late for another).

Make your schedule around global meetings

If you’re working with a global team that necessitates a certain amount of contact either synchronously or asynchronously throughout the week, think outside the box about how to tackle time zone management issues.

If you plan to have frequent meetings with an enormous time difference between team members, take advantage of the opportunity to work flexibly. Talk to your manager or team about working asynchronously that day during whichever hours make the most sense in the context of their meeting. You could also set up a day or two during the work week where your team all plans to be online for the same three-hour period and for the remainder of the day, do individual work that doesn’t require a great deal of real-time communication.

Tools are everything

Lastly, you don’t have to do all the leg work on your own if you’re meeting across time zones, as there are plenty of useful websites and apps that can guide you through the scheduling process. A Calendly schedule will automatically adjust to the time zone that your invitee specifies. Microsoft Teams will also adjust time zones when you send a meeting invitation to a participant. To do the calculations yourself, there are also plenty of free online resources like the World Meeting Planner or World Time Buddy.

Global teams are a hallmark of any well-functioning international business. They’re great opportunities for collaboration and education on culture, inclusivity, and communication. However, logistically, they can take a bit of leg work, and things can get complicated when you’re planning a meeting across time zones. Luckily, once those hurdles are passed, and your global team develops a mutually beneficial workflow, the end result is almost always a more fluid synergy that benefits everyone’s productivity.

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