Your Company Needs A Time Zone

Any distributed company that thinks it won’t need real-time communication is fooling itself. Asynchronous, heads-down communication, like email and message boards, is good for getting tactical work done. But when it comes to strategic work, creative work, brainstorming, and building trust, it’s hard to compete with real-time communication, like phone calls, video conferences, and even group text chats, such as Slack.

However, when it comes to scheduling across far-flung time zones, the truth is that meeting times are going to be more convenient for one time zone than another. The 11am phone call in Los Angeles, happens at 7pm in London. And if you’ve got employees in Australia, we’re talking 4am for them. So, who gets precedence?

Was the company started in California? Do the founders and the majority of the employees live there? If that’s true, can we just call this a California company and help the distant employees adjust and recalibrate?

I’m all for flex time. Let’s allow people to work when it’s convenient. But “flex” can quickly turn into “always” when calls are scheduled willy-nilly without an agreement on when the work day begins and ends.

Simply put: companies need a single canonical time zone.

It’s a point of reference. Even though we’re distributed, let’s just bite the bullet and pick a time zone. When does the workday happen at our company? The Australians may need to wake up early, and the Europeans might need to work late if they want to be a part of real-time communications, but at least they will understand expectations. And more importantly, they won’t just be left out.

Many companies of large enough size divide working teams by time zone regions, each with its own canonical time zone. They might have a US team, a European team, and an Asian team. But even then, company leadership and management will probably want to communicate in real time with one another.

Just do it. I’ve seen too many company leaders trying to be equitable about time zones, only to find far-flung employees feeling alienated or overwhelmed. They don’t know when their workday begins and ends, and they can’t schedule time to talk with their co-workers. If you need your European employees to stay up late, tell them so. Perhaps they get to use their mornings to take a yoga class and spend time with their families. And perhaps you can agree not to schedule calls at 5pm (GMT) on Fridays. You will find that everyone is much happier in the end.

Remotip #5: Set your company's canonical time zone.

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