Working Across Time Zones: Best Practices for Staying Connected While Working Apart

By James Paasche and Tiffani Lee
Remote work is no longer a novelty. Between 2019-2021, the number of US employees working from home tripled, up to almost 18% of the country’s population. And those numbers continue to grow, particularly in sectors like tech, where the digital office has replaced or emerged as a hybrid supplement to traditional in-person work.

Besides the changes to our everyday lives wrought by the large-scale move to remote work, e.g. less commuting, more pajama-wearing and pet interruptions during meetings, the changes to internal company structures are just as abundant. The future of work is now, and we are all still figuring it out.

Despite the positives of widening the talent pool and hiring from just about anywhere, there are some specific challenges that come with collaborating in this new remote world. Kickstand, for example, is headquartered in Austin, has a second office in Boston, and a vast array of employees across the US. We’ve also extended our reach beyond national borders to employ folks in Canada and the United Kingdom. 

Negotiating time zone differences, especially when attempting to create a supportive company-wide culture, has become one of the biggest remote work challenges in our increasingly distributed world. As two Pacific Standard Time residents working for a predominantly Eastern and Central time company (one of us works from Vancouver, British Columbia and one of us is in Southern Oregon), we’ve certainly experienced some growing pains and anxieties. How do you connect and build lasting relationships with colleagues who don’t share your area code?

Don’t get us wrong - working across time zones can be advantageous, but it’s also tricky. At Kickstand, we believe flexibility makes us a better team, and surmounting challenges together makes us stronger in the long run. That’s why we’ve pulled together these tips and best practices for working together when your days don’t start or end at the same time.

Use digital tools to their full potential

Many of the most popular digital communication tools, such as Gmail, Slack, and Google Calendar, have a number of helpful features to help you navigate time zone differences, which often go underused. But these tools can boost visibility for distributed team members and foster alignment no matter where you’re working from. Here are just a few of them:

  1. Slack Profiles and Status - If you haven’t built out a detailed Slack profile, now’s the time! At Kickstand, every team member includes their time zone and working hours right within their profile. If a colleague isn’t sure whether you’re online and available for a quick chat, this provides an accessible spot for that information. We also recommend using your Slack status to clearly show when you’re having lunch, taking a quick break or in a meeting. This will help your teammates understand where you are in your work day and whether you’re away from your desk or leading a call. Pro-tip: automatic Slack integrations in your calendar make this easy. 

  2. Google Calendar - Google Calendar has a feature that allows you to enter two time zone inputs into your calendar to make it easier when scheduling meetings. Your physical timezone can be the primary and your teams’ can be the secondary, leaving no confusion and a lot less math. Google Calendar also allows you to set working hours so people will get notified if they are booking outside your typical working hours.

  3. Schedule send - Sending updates and messages at the appropriate time is a best practice no matter your time zone. Thankfully, Gmail, Slack and other platforms allow you to schedule send your messages -  an enormous asset for distributed teams. Your emails hit first thing in the morning for ET/CT folks, or in the early afternoon for your colleagues and clients in Europe, while you’re still washing the sleep out of your eyes in PT. 

Set clear guidelines and boundaries with your team

When working across time zones, it’s crucial to set expectations on when team members should be online from the get-go. It minimizes any confusion and sets clear boundaries so ET and GMT teams aren’t responding after dinner and PT teams aren’t getting pinged before they wake up. At Kickstand, we maintain that if non-urgent messages are sent outside of your working hours, you aren’t expected to respond until your day starts. Be transparent with your teams when it comes to notifications, and no one will feel put upon by before- or after-hours messages.

Using timezones to your advantage

Distributed work requires significant effort to navigate and optimize, but there’s no shortage of upsides. Time zones provide longer coverage for clients and meetings while allowing teams to stay flexible. In client-facing roles, we always have an ET Kickstander on deck in the mornings to respond to any inbound requests. This gives our clients full support, no matter where they’re located, and takes the pressure off our PT folks when they first log on.

Distribution can also facilitate task management. For example, staff on the west coast will often share deliverables by the end of their day so east coasters can jump in first thing in the morning. That way, when it’s time for PT folks to log back on, they’re able to finalize and share those assets with clients in a timely fashion. Ultimately, this grants everyone more time to start and wrap up tasks and provide coverage and feedback from all angles.

While the right technology and clear guidelines are certainly essential for navigating remote work, there’s one critical tool we haven’t mentioned yet: empathy. No matter where you work, keep in mind that your colleagues in different locations might not respond right away during off hours or may not get back to you until a few hours into your day. Be mindful of schedules to prevent conflicts and off hour meetings when possible, and be conscious of where in the day your teammates find themselves.

Remote work has so many incredible benefits, but it’s essential for us to put boundaries and systems in place to make it effective and sustainable for everyone. At Kickstand, we pride ourselves on our ability to support our staff no matter where in the world they’re located, whether distributed teams are working seamlessly or have internal hiccups to overcome. We can’t wait to see how our teams continue to evolve and work together, apart.

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