Time zone scheduling etiquette for remote workers
In last week’s tip, I talked about several of the ways that “springing forward” and “falling back” for daylight saving time can be a problem for companies working across time zones. This week's tip is related to daylight saving, but it's something that we should do all year long: avoid it.
Stop Referring To Daylight Saving Status In Time Zones!
EST stands for “Eastern Standard Time.” EDT stands for “Eastern Daylight Time.” The “S” means “standard.” The “D” means “daylight.” The same is true for CST and CDT (Central), MST and MDT (Mountain), and PST and PDT (Pacific).
Here's the problem: most people either a) don't know that daylight saving time happens around the summer months, or b) don't know that the middle letter switches to reflect the daylight saving status of the time zone. I can't tell you how many emails I've gotten where someone is trying to schedule a meeting with me and the suggest something like 11:00am EST on July 12th. That's not a thing! In the Eastern time zone, we switch to daylight time (EDT) for most of the Spring, Summer, and Autumn. It's a perfectly reasonable, and a perfectly common mistake. But it's still not a thing.
Let’s Just Drop A Letter!
Let's just refer to continental US time zones as ET, CT, MT, and PT. People will all know whether they're in Eastern, Central, Mountain, or Pacific time. Even people in Arizona should find it reasonable if you schedule a call with them in PT during the summer and MT during the winter.
Better Yet, Drop Them All!
What about Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, or Canada's eastern provinces, Europe, or the rest of the world? Give up! Stop referring to time zones altogether. Stop trying to guess. Every time zone has a few reference cities or points of interest. Just pick one.
Anyone in the UK will be perfectly fine if you schedule something for “London time.” Likewise, “Alaska time,” “Newfoundland time,” “Jamaica time,” “Paris time,” etc. – they're all perfectly reasonable ways of scheduling meetings. Even if you get it wrong, someone on Prince Edward Island will understand what you mean if you attempt to schedule a meeting at “2pm Toronto time.”
Three New Letters: UTC
In a perfect world, we'd all refer to a common global clock for scheduling. That's what Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is designed for – a simple global time reference which doesn't change between summer and winter. However, empathy can quickly go out the window as we schedule a meeting at 11:00 UTC, only to realize that this is 4am for our Los Angeles team.
So we still need to figure out who is attending our meetings, where they are, and what time it will be for them. While we're at it, why don't we just attach a few reference times to our scheduling email? It seems a little more polite than saying 18:00 UTC and letting people deal with the consequences.
That being said, for larger companies and forward-thinking teams, using UTC is more fool-proof and it feels a little more like the futuristic Star Trek universe of star-dates and three dimensional location coordinates. After all, how will we know when to sleep when we're on a spaceship hurling across the galaxy?
This tip ends pretty much the same way as the last one: calendar invitations solve most multi-time-zone scheduling problems. But there's usually a fair amount of back-and-forth before the invitation goes out. This tip will make that communication clearer and more efficient.
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