Radically remote: 3
Insights on navigating the challenges that come with change and thriving under a remote-first culture
3 tips for working across time zones
As Big Ben chimes 5 pm just upriver from my London office, our team in Vancouver are settling into the stride of their working day. It’s an eight-hour time difference, which we feel even more strongly in the winter months. Just as darkness descends over the Thames, the sun is rising in the east. And by the time our Canadian co-workers are grabbing their lunch, those based in London or Madrid are scheduling a virtual meeting around dinner or drinks.
Our remote-first culture at Buyapowa is fantastic for many reasons – it’s given us an influx of bright, hungry employees, buoys us up with diverse perspectives and benefits us commercially. I’m also a big believer that working remotely can be hugely productive – just ask researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. When they analysed the work of more than 1,300 groups, they showed it wasn’t where we work that matters most – it’s how we work and who is doing it.
But inevitably, running a successful global remote team has its complexities too. Collaborating across multiple time zones is notoriously tricky and with 60 staff based from Bogota to Berlin, we are very much still learning how to navigate the pitfalls. Time zone troubles are very real, and when a set-up like ours isn’t well-managed, I’m only too aware that it can lead to teams feeling disconnected, disenfranchised and unproductive.
Here are a few of the practical tips that are helping us thrive as a geographically dispersed team. I’d love to hear what’s working for you too…
Communication is king
Communication becomes even more critical when you can’t spontaneously grab a colleague for a coffee and chat. There are so many brilliant platforms out there, like Google Hangout and Teams, but for us at Buyapowa, Zoom and Slack have proven to be great stress-savers. Slack particularly helps us execute projects seamlessly across three continents, whether communication is synchronous or not. Our team members can custom set their status too, reminding others where they’re located around the globe.
Collaborating across multiple time zones can get confusing, but it saves hours of wasted time when we over-communicate deadlines and meeting times. I’d recommend clearly stating deadlines in all the relevant time zones and always creating calendar invites for meetings too. That way you’ll dodge any mix-ups and ensure you’re all turning up (virtually) at the correct time.
Sharing meeting outcomes is also vitally important. While our teams work flexibly, collaborating on early or late calls, with the best will in the world it won’t be possible to make every catch-up. But by videoing those calls and circulating notes, we ensure everyone is kept in the loop. The trick? It definitely helps if we keep them clear and concise!
Investing a lot of TLC into the geographical jigsaw puzzle keeps our people connected too. For that reason, we’ll hire new applicants from a time zone that has good crossover with the team that offers them support. Of course, we’ll pair employees with international clients in their own time zone too. Not only does it keep channels of communication constantly open, but it harnesses the value of local knowledge and ensures cultural sensitivity. With customs, public holidays and work practices varying vastly from continent to continent, that can have a huge impact on relations.
Cherry-pick your team
Remote working has huge benefits, but it isn’t for everyone. And as our geographic reach expands, we are being increasingly careful to cherry-pick dynamic team members who will thrive when collaborating across time zones. That means hiring people who will embrace flexibility, whether that means getting up at the crack of dawn to take a call from Australia, or juggling their evening with jumping online to meet our Vancouver team. For our Canadian colleagues, it also means being comfortable with drinking their morning coffee on our Zoom catch up, while I sip a sundowner instead.
Fundamentally, flexible working requires give and take, and a healthy respect for boundaries on both sides. Our employees might take a couple of hours off to do the school run, knowing they had an early start, or even work a split shift. And we’re very mindful that while our team thrives on the flexibility that being radically remote brings, everyone has a right to disconnect at some point too. A little bit of appreciation also goes a long way – if a late-working team needs to expense sushi takeout, so be it.
As we get firmly into the stride of 2022, we are expanding into Australia and New Zealand, which means we’ll need staff on the
ground there. But how will we coordinate our new team with those based on EST? They’ll be sleeping peacefully through the early hours, just as our Californian employees reach the middle of their working day. Time zones are certainly a tough nut to crack, but then wouldn’t life be boring without a challenge? Who knows what next year will bring!
Gideon’s been leading digital brands for over 20 years. He’s proud to have built and businesses for the likes of Universal, HMV and LetsBuyIt.com, but right now he’s busy helping other brands acquire new customers in an altogether smarter way. He’s the Founder and CEO of Buyapowa (https://www.buyapowa.com/), and they’re the world leaders in reward marketing, and their platform powers customer acquisition for over 200 leading enterprise brands across 27 countries and in 21 languages.