Timezoned: Remote work across time zones

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

With most tech companies moving to having more and more employees work full time remote, the option to work remote should no longer come as a surprise. But working across timezones definitely puts a big dent in that option. Time is a mess to work with be it in code or with remote work. The longer the time difference the more hard it gets to decide and manage how to make sure your work is not affected. Though I don’t think there is anything YET that will make remote work as convenient as being co-located (time included), I do think there are a few things we could do to make it as smooth as possible:

Let your team know that you plan to work remote, the hours you plan on working and the days you may be potentially out. It is also important to make sure you also communicate your tentative plans. This way the team could prep for a best and worst case scenario if there are things that may need your absolute presence.

Let your team mates know what hours they can expect you to be available. Available definitely does not mean having your laptop open or just joining a meeting. It means being able to respond to questions/concerns and actively working during the hours you have said you will be working. Accountability and self-management are paramount to successful remote working.

Recently I got a couple of rare opportunities to work remote with a 10.5 hours time difference. The first time round, I worked the same hours as my teammates which meant I worked 8:30PM-5:30AM local time. This ended up turning nights into days and days into nights, far from the vacation or break I was hoping I would get. But the second time I had to work with this time difference, I decided to work during the day (local time) and have about 3 overlapping hours where me and my teammates could work at the same time. So I would work 8:00AM-1:00PM and 7:30PM-10:30PM local time. The latter would overlap with the morning hours of the rest of my team. We would use this time to talk through updates and work that needs to get done.

This over arches all the things I have mentioned and will be mentioning. Changing your work hours? Let your team know and get their buy in. Need to be out during a late night meeting? Let your team know. Unexpected vacation? Tell your team. On the other hand, it is more important to keep communication channels open and constantly make sure your remote work hours actually work for you AND your team. Actively seek feedback on if your team members have concerns around anything to do with you being remote and seek their suggestions to remedy the issues :) I also like to send an email at least a couple of months (or whenever my travel dates are final) prior to traveling, letting my team know of my plans to work remote and make sure there are no concerns. In the past I have tried to do this before making travel reservations. Of course, this may not always be an option.

No matter how hard you try, there could be meetings you absolutely have to be in and they are going to be scheduled at 2:00AM your local time. If you are like me and you just spent your entire day shopping/meeting with friends and family/sightseeing and NOT catching up on sleep like you probably should have, you are going to be caught sleeping on your laptop with your 2:00PM meeting on. I have found late night snacks to munch on and a nice big bottle of water very very helpful for all those late night meetings!

“Out of sight is out of mind”. Good for us we can stay in sight and mind remotely. I always like to go through meeting invites scheduled for the time I plan on being remote and make sure there is a remote option (a video link/conference line etc) so that I am not the only one remote and scrambling last minute to hear in on a meeting I need to be in.

Tools like Slack calls, Skype, Hangouts, Google calendar (and other calendar options) do not just help manage work on regular days, they take care of mundane and error prone things pertaining to time differences. Sure, you could do this manually but if you are like me, you will miss a couple of meetings and eventually let online calendar tools take over. If there are meetings you cannot attend and would like to let the organizers know, make sure to RSVP “no” with a note. Add your vacation days to your calendar and other people’s calendar or to tools like Pingboard depending on what your company uses. This allows for transparency around your planned work hours.

The option to work remote is truly a blessing but it is one of those blessings that could turn into a nightmare if you do not plan it well. If you have decided to work across timezones, the assumption is you are traveling for some reason or the other. With that said you do not want to be on “vacation” and working all the time. You want to make sure you also enjoy your vacation/spend time on the reason behind the travel. Splitting up your work hours and making sure you get plenty of sleep can go a long way in feeling like you worked, vacationed AND did them both justice :) Also if its a vacation, make sure to take a few days off.

Product Architect | Ice cream lover | Newbie gardener