3 Mistakes to Avoid When Working Across Multiple Time Zones

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If you manage a virtual team, time zone differences can be a major source of confusion and miscommunication. When I first started working frequently across multiple time zones, I made several mistakes that caused a great deal of frustration.

Nowadays, I’m overly cautious when dealing with the time zone issue, but there are still occasions when clients and colleagues may not be accustomed to working this way, which makes managing the issue a never-ending process of double- and triple-checking that definitely keeps me on my toes.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned about dealing in multiple time zones that may help you stay in sync with your team.

Mistake #1: Not Noting the Time Zone

If you’re not used to dealing in multiple time zones, then it may not even occur to you to note the time zone when scheduling and confirming appointments. It took me a while to get in the habit, although nowadays, I find myself wanting to note the time zone, even when communicating with my mom, who lives in the same time zone I do!

Quick Fix: Always note the time zone. Get into the habit now so that it doesn’t slip by you for an important meeting someday. I’ve experienced many occasions where the other party has never worked with someone outside his or her own time zone, and just because I noted it, it was brought to their attention, helping us to stay on the same page.

Mistake #2: Alternating Between Time Zones in Communications

In the beginning, I had (what I didn’t know at the time was) a bad habit of continually alternating between time zones in communications. In other words, I wouldn’t remain consistent about which time zone I used.

For example, when I communicated with a particular person about a meeting time, I might express the time using my own time zone in one email, but then switch to the other person’s time zone in the next. This usually happened when there was confusion around the time zone issue to start, and communications often went like this.

Me: I have us down for tomorrow at 11 AM CST.
Them: I’m on Pacific Time, so are you three hours ahead of me?
Me: No, I’m two hours ahead of you, so it’s 9 AM PST.

By alternating time zones in my communications, I ended up confusing myself in the end. Using this example, instead of having 11 AM in my head, I now had 9 AM.

Quick Fix: Always communicate using the same time zone — every day, every email, no matter the time zones involved. For me, I decided to always use my own time zone, and if there’s ever confusion around the difference, I note the other person’s time zone in parentheses, so communications go like this now, always:

Me: I have us down for tomorrow at 11 AM CST.
Them: I’m on Pacific Time, so are you three hours ahead of me?
Me: No, I’m two ahead of you, so it’s 11 AM CST (9 AM your time).

Mistake #3: Not Watching Out for Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving Time changes are probably the most difficult part of working across multiple time zones, and because there aren’t set days each year when the time change occurs, and it changes on different days in different time tomes, it’s a moving target that’s easy to forget. To add to the confusion, not everyone uses Daylight Saving Time, even within the same time zone or country (for example, I live in the Central time zone, as do the folks in Indianapolis, Indiana, but they don’t honor DST; we do).

Quick Fix: Daylight Saving Time is tricky, so I use a few methods for tracking it. First, know when the time changes. Set a reminder for yourself within your calendar so that you’re notified the day it begins and ends (spring forward, fall back). Second, before setting an appointment, stop for a second to remember if DST could be in effect, which may mean extra care is needed when dealing with certain appointments. Finally, when you start communications with someone in a new time zone, find out if they honor DST (check with them or use an online converter to see what time it is where they are, during and after DST).

The last tip I’ll offer is to always triple-check your time and time zones to be sure you’re on the same page with other parties. It takes a few extra minutes upfront, but saves you in missed appointments and rescheduling hassles. It could even mean looking more professional in the eyes of your clients and colleagues.

Here are a few tools I use for managing appointments across multiple time zones.

What tricks have you learned for managing teams across different time zones?

Photo by Flickr user nicksarebi, licensed under CC 2.0

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