5 tips for successful teamwork across time zones

Distributed teamwork has seen a considerable rise in the past few years. With recent studies from 2019 reporting that 66% of the U.S. population works remotely full-time, remote work is becoming a preferred choice—whether people are working as individuals or in hybrid teams. 

Chances are, if you count yourself among that body of remote workers in the U.S., you will eventually work with others across different time zones here and abroad. Being able to do so with a high level of success will involve a lot of thought and planning. Here are five solid ways to make that happen.

1. Collaborate on your schedules.
The belief by many is that working remotely, whether from home or from a co-working space, gives someone a lot more flexibility especially if they are hours ahead or behind of other coworkers. However, it is imperative to make sure that your schedule can align with that of your fellow employees in other time zones to give everyone an optimal level of communication. Set up specific times each week for any meetings that work for everyone. When an official time zone is designated for everyone, set up reminders in chat applications and create mobile alerts for your smartphones to keep to those times when you’re on the go. 

2. Learn more about their cultural norms.
Take the opportunity to learn about where your coworkers are based and how they practice their individual cultures. For example, I worked with someone who had to take time off from work in order to fulfill mandatory service in their country’s armed forces reserve. With another client based in Malaysia, I learned to work with an editor who was observing Ramadan and the times of prayer associated with that religious period. Taking the time to learn more about your coworkers in different time zones builds empathy and furthers the shared goal of working to improve the company together. 

3. Set your boundaries in advance.
As a remote worker, it’s easy to take the flexibility of your schedule for granted and make yourself available for the needs of your coworkers and supervisors. This can be heightened if they’re in different time zones. But no one needs to be on call all the time, as this will lead to lags in efficiency, conflict with members of your team, or even burnout. When planning your schedules, make sure you set up what times you can and can’t be contacted for work matters.

4. Decide which tools to use.
Once the schedules are set up, find out what your coworkers’ preferred tools are. Some might be satisfied with communication solely through email with phone conversations for more intricate matters. If your colleagues are spread across different countries, find out if they’d prefer to use chat applications like Slack or dedicated video conferencing applications. Some might even have their own internal content management systems with forums to communicate back and forth that you’ll gain access to at the outset. 

5. Don’t neglect the details.
Even if you’re working remotely, you don’t want to skimp on providing all the detailed information that correlates to what you’re working on. This is especially true with research-heavy projects. Make sure to provide all of the necessary notes to your coworkers and follow up to see if there’s anything else needed. Google Drive is one way to accomplish this, which allows for detailed notes and corrections to be left on worksheets and other documents. Make sure to keep a hygienic sharing process. Whether you’re using Google Drive or another service for sharing documents, you should utilize naming conventions and organizational structure.