Clock Watching: How to Keep Your Teams Synchronized Across Different Time Zones
It's no easy task to coordinate teams across the country or around the world, but a handful of simple preparations can prevent your phone from ringing at 4 a.m.
The world has become increasingly globalized over the last several decades; with the continuous development and advancement of modern technology, our international connectedness has become stronger than ever. To keep up with the expanding global marketplace, businesses have begun to sprinkle their offices across the world. Some corporations have a few international offices, while others need only manage teams on opposite coasts of the US.
No matter which category your company falls into, conducting business across time zones can be especially tricky. By implementing the following practices, companies can maintain a solid handle on their international communication to keep things flowing.
Set up ground rules.
According to Murphy's Law, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. While things may be "business as usual" right now, it's still important to prepare for the worst. If an office overseas has a daytime problem in the middle of your night, whom should the team contact? Outline your business's chain of command and make it accessible to everyone in every office. If someone can't get a product order out on-time, but their contact person across the pond is asleep during the emergency, the employee should know who else will be awake and ready to help.
Setting up a "home base" time zone -- one that everyone knows to synch to -- can be a useful strategy for some businesses. For example, if an update is happening on the company intranet, you can easily specify in your email notice that it will occur at 4 p.m. HQT. Staff can then quickly determine what that means for their office, and keep things moving without hiccups.
Know when to video chat -- and when not to.
It's easy for people to stop paying attention during conference calls early in the morning or late at night. Video chatting allows for more personal communication, and makes focusing on meeting content more natural for the involved parties. Plus, it's helpful for employees to be able to put a name to a face, especially when their partners work halfway across the country or even around the globe.
Related: 7 Tips for Managing Offshore Teams
While video chatting is a fantastic tool, it is also important to consider when video chatting is not a good idea. If you make a mistake on your project, but need help from an office with a seven-hour time difference from your own, try to avoid visual conferences. Someone who has just been woken by a 5 a.m. work call probably doesn't want you to have a visual of his or her bedhead. This may also be true for regularly scheduled meetings and calls; those who handle these events from home may appreciate not having to finish their morning routine before the call. Set some rules about video chatting with which your team members feel comfortable.
Schedule, schedule, schedule.
According to Harvard Business Review, consistent meetings are much more important for global teams than for co-located groups. "Consistent meetings where people can connect in both formal and informal ways is critical for fostering team cohesion."
While you can tell your desk-neighbor about your baby-on-the-way or your sister's engagement, cross-country coworkers may be missing out on these critical moments. Informal connections ensure that international coworkers view each other as humans, not as robotic emails on a screen. These meetings also allow for formal check-in's regarding projects, problems and other office developments. Just because a company's offices are separated geographically doesn't mean they should be separated mentally.
With some strategic planning, groups can schedule online meetings that work for offices in a variety of time zones. Such meetings don't need to occur every day (matching up all of those schedules can be tough), but every week or two will keep everyone on the same page.
Meet in person.
One of the best ways to shrink the gap between two offices is to cross it. If you can, have some of your employees meet in person once in awhile, especially if their positions regularly rely on each other from afar. If workers from one office visited you last month, talk to your supervisor about visiting their office. This won't work for every office or team, but meeting in real life can be useful when dealing with larger, more crucial projects, and decreases the risk of miscommunication via email, phone, or message.
Just like a co-located team, a cross-country or international team needs to provide support for one another. During your routine check-in meetings, make sure everyone is managing their workload without too much stress. If there seems to be an imbalance of projects, how can you adjust it to make things simpler? This may be a good time to send some employees abroad and provide some extra helping hands.
Find the right tools.
Video chatting is just one way for your team to remain connected. Invest in a project management software program (Basecamp, Jirra), chat tools such as Slack, and whatever else you can find to manage communication and projects. After all, if communication breaks down, your team can't get things done.
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