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Work Culture

Beyond boundaries: Turning time zone differences into productive harmony

In 2013, the world realized that Spain was in the wrong time zone. People in Spain slept 53 minutes less than other European countries because they were not in the correct time zone.

One of the results? Employees struggled to stay productive and often worked late, only to always feel the backlog piling up.

A majority of global job postings today allow international remote work. 

A study found that 32% of hybrid workers are willing to take a pay cut to work remotely full-time, showing a strong preference for remote work arrangements. 

Combine this with the fact that nearly 60% of remote workers operate in teams spanning two to five time zones. You can see how global collaboration could affect morale and motivation for employees. 

Challenges of working in different time zones

Navigating the complexity of time zone differences is a fundamental challenge for global teams, and it can often feel too complex to solve. 

Imagine you’re in New York and have a team member in Australia, with a 14-hour difference. To have a meeting, you might do it very early or late, which isn’t ideal for anyone. Or if you’re trying to work on something together, being unable to do it simultaneously can slow things down and may cause confusion.

Team bonding can also feel unnatural when working in different time zones, affecting camaraderie and trust within teams.

According to the state of productivity and collaboration survey done by Capterra in Canada, employees working with global teams reported that time zone differences contributed to multiple collaboration and cultural challenges. 

The myth of time zone friction

At Aubergine Solutions, we’re a team of over 100 people serving clients across 10+ countries. Time has always been a big factor for us. 

However, we believe that global teams working across different time zones are not a roadblock but an opportunity to leverage.  

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, in their book “Remote: Office Not Required,” say that worrying about time zones when working remotely is more of a myth, and it’s based on the assumption that physical proximity means improved productivity. 

Fried and Hansson believe that people perceive different time zones as problematic because they don’t fully understand or adapt to working together efficiently.

That idea really hits home for me. At Aubergine, we have had great success in delivering results when working with clients in multiple time zones. 

“Aubergine worked extremely fast, and they used our timezone difference advantageously by working while we were sleeping and leaving us a lot of things to review the next day. Our partnership felt instant. 

We had 42 meetings in 71 business days — they were extremely accessible. Despite our timezone difference, we never had meetings beyond our regular business hours.”

Jasmin Pednault, Product Manager, Sponsorium, Montreal, Quebec

It’s not like we have some secret trick up our sleeves. Our secret sauce is our commitment to constantly improving how we work together as a team.

How to manage time zone differences to enhance productivity

Tap into the synergy of ‘round-the-clock collaboration’

At Aubergine, we’ve cracked the code to supercharge our workday, and it’s all about working smarter, not harder. 

When one part of the team calls it a day, the next team is just beginning, refreshed, and ready to tackle challenges with fresh eyes. It’s almost like a relay race, where teams pass on the baton once their part is done for the day. 

This relay race of productivity turned time zones from hurdles into powerful catalysts for 24×7 productivity.

The outcome of this way of working is truly transformative. Projects advance at exponential velocity, creativity flourishes without bounds, and the team achieves breakthroughs across time zones. 

The central piece to this success is respecting and harnessing the team’s natural rhythms. This not only maximizes efficiency but also nurtures an environment where innovation thrives without limitations. 

Aim for extended coverage, not extended hours

As the CTO & Co-founder at Aubergine, I’ve learned a lot about leading a team that works from different places around the world. It turns out that having a team spread out over several time zones isn’t the big problem some people think it is. Our in-house teams have come to appreciate the unique advantages it offers.

We’ve set things up so that work passes smoothly from one time zone to the next, allowing team members to have dedicated, focused time to work without interruptions. 

This makes us all more productive and helps everyone balance work with their personal life better. Nobody has to work in the middle of the night or at strange times, which is really important for keeping the team happy and healthy.

Practice proactive and clear communication

Clear and proactive communication is absolutely critical for us, especially since our team is spread all over the globe. It’s not enough to just pass tasks along. We need to make sure everyone knows the full picture so there’s no confusion.

So, how do we enhance communication? It starts with setting clear expectations on how and when we connect. Whether it’s emails for the big updates, instant messaging for quick questions, or video calls for times we need to hash things out face-to-face, we need to be on the same page about which tools we use and when.  

Handing off tasks efficiently is equally important. Handovers have to be precise, and clear. No one should have to waste time figuring out what they’re supposed to do. Leave detailed notes, outline what’s done, and what needs to happen next. It’s about making it as easy as possible for the next person in line.

Checking in at the start and end of your day is key. A quick message or a shared note can do the trick. It’s about keeping teams in loop on progress and plans. This way, we avoid surprises, and everyone knows where things stand.

And if you’re stuck, or something doesn’t add up, speak up. We’re a team, spread across time zones or not, and we’re here to support each other. The faster we flag issues, the smoother our operations run.

We also take time to truly appreciate moments of seamless team collaboration. This truly is the backbone of our feedback processes because we think positive reinforcement goes a long way in cultivating positivity and team chemistry despite the hundreds of miles that might separate our team members.

Foster synchronous collaboration

We’re big on synchronous communication because it lets us work flexibly across time zones. There’s something special about those moments when we can all come together, in real-time, to brainstorm, make decisions, and just feel like a united team.

Finding those golden hours where our schedules overlap is key. It might not be a huge window, but it’s golden for getting us all aligned, making those big decisions, and feeling like we’re part of one big team, not just names in an email.

So, how do we make the most of these moments? Planning. 

Foster a culture of pre-planned cadences so very little is left to be done on the go. This ensures people are not working under pressure, and employees have enough time to prepare, consume data, set agendas and have extremely productive yet short calls.

Celebrate team diversity and unique perspectives

Working with a global remote team brings the incredible advantage of having a diverse and inclusive group. In fact, Multicultural teams tend to be more creative and better at decision-making and problem-solving.

Celebrating our team’s diversity and inclusivity means recognizing and valuing our differences and commonalities, which is a powerful way to bring us together.

The distributed team model also helps us leverage local knowledge more authentically. It’s fascinating to see how our distributed team model not only bridges geographical gaps but also brings the richness of local insights into our global operations.

For example, team members in a particular region can provide valuable insights into local consumer behavior, regulatory considerations, or market opportunities, leading to more informed decision-making and strategy development.

Lastly, the importance of cultural sensitivity can’t be overstated. There have been times when what seemed like a harmless marketing campaign concept in one culture could be perceived differently in another. Our local teams have been our first line of defense against such missteps, ensuring that our brand is perceived positively across different cultures.

Implementing this is easier than it reads. The power lies in simple changes – 

We schedule regular one-on-one an team meetings across various time zones, prioritizing not just project updates but also personal and cultural exchanges. 

Moreover, to ensure our projects benefit from our diverse team’s wide-ranging perspectives, we set collaborative goals that necessitate contributions from different regions,

Additionally, we host virtual coffee breaks and social hours, encouraging informal conversations about everything from local cuisines to popular culture, further knitting our global team into a close-knit community.

Learn how to be flexible

At Aubergine, following Jeff Bezos’ advice to be “stubborn on vision and flexible on details” has really paid off, especially with our team spread out across different time zones. 

This means we focus on being adaptable; not just changing meeting times, but also how we talk to each other and get our work done to fit everyone’s different ways of working. It helps avoid misunderstandings and makes sure everyone gets along well.

We also emphasize on understanding each other— listening and considering each individual’s ideas. This can lead to mixing different ways of working from around the world to create something that works better for everyone. 

For example, taking a structured project management method from one country and combining it with a more flexible communication style from another. This not only makes our team work better together but also helps us come up with new and effective ways of doing things. 

It’s about making sure everyone feels heard and valued, which makes our team stronger and more capable of handling diverse situations.

Mastering global teamwork

Creating a seamless and productive workflow for teams scattered across the globe is more of an art than a science. Here are some fundamentals we incorporate in our daily work lives. We like to call it the ‘flexible productivity model’.

1. Flexible work windows

Instead of fixed core hours, establish flexible work windows where employees have a range of hours to choose from for real-time collaboration. 

This approach offers more flexibility, accommodating personal schedules while ensuring team interactions.

2. Task-based collaboration

Organize work around tasks or projects rather than hours. Teams are formed based on the task at hand, with members from different time zones collaborating asynchronously or synchronously, depending on the project requirements.

3. Be patient with unscheduled messages 

Be patient with messages that aren’t planned: When you’re sending messages that weren’t scheduled, try to be thoughtful about it. 

Understand that everyone on the team has different schedules, so try to send messages that aren’t urgent at times that work best for the person getting them. Doing this shows you respect their time and helps make our team communications better and less stressful for everyone.

4. Be clear and careful with communication

Make sure everyone knows exactly what’s expected and when things are due, taking into account the different time zones so each tem member is in sync. 

Use tools that help your teams keep track of what needs to be done and by when. This way, you can avoid mix-ups and make sure everyone’s on the same page.

5. Have fun

Tackle the ups and downs of working with a worldwide team with excitement and keep an open mind. Trying out different tools and ways of doing things doesn’t just make us better at our jobs; it also makes our work life richer. 

Plus, valuing everyone’s unique ideas and backgrounds makes our team more lively, creative, and fun. Working with global team members also presents a great opportunity to learn more about the world, its diverse people, and different cultures. 

Closing thoughts 

The journey from seeing time zone differences as obstacles to understanding them as assets shows a broader narrative focusing on adaptability and innovation. 

The untapped potential of global team productivity and collaboration is waiting to be explored by those willing to rethink traditional work paradigms.  

As we continue to innovate and adapt, let us move forward with the confidence that the world’s time zones, in their splendid diversity, are not just hurdles to be managed but opportunities to be harnessed, driving us toward a brighter, more connected future.

Sarthak Dudhara
Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Aubergine. Firm believer in "actions speak louder than words". There is nothing that gets me as excited as building new and exciting things that disrupt the status quo.