Remote work is no longer a niche work style. Since the mass adoption of remote work due to the Covid-19 pandemic, to today’s “new normal” of hybrid teams with both on and off-site workers, remote working has evolved into a successful and productive work model, sustained by increasing employee preferences for flexible work options. This has led organizations, both large and small, to include remote work as an option in their long-term work process management. This shift has brought about some interesting dynamic changes for teams that work remotely across different time zones. It has become very common to see a coworker starting their work day and another ending their work day at the same time, all while sending good wishes on Slack!
So what are these new dynamics affecting the distributed and global remote working workforce? In this article, we explore remote work across different time zones – the pros and cons of this work style along with tips on how to effectively manage people and processes across time zones.
Remote work classification on the basis of time zones
Companies adopting remote work need to consider the role that geography plays in day-to-day operations. Since a company’s digital infrastructure, tools, and processes would most likely be centered around business requirements, adopting a style of remote work that supports and continues business efforts is key.
Remote work within close time zones
Although remote work allows employees the flexibility to work away from a central office space, in most cases company policy necessitates that employees be available to go to a company work space, if and when there is a need. In such a case, an employee has the flexibility of choosing when and how frequently they would go to the work space. In this case, even though employees work remotely, they might be required to be working from the same geographical location or within particular time zones in order to maintain business continuity.
There are many reasons for companies to adopt this style of remote work.
For instance, the company may not have the necessary processes or infrastructure in place that enables them to work effectively as a distributed remote team. Additionally, a company’s communication and collaboration practices could be synchronous in nature requiring all team members to be available at overlapping times.
This trend of working remotely within similar time zones can be seen in companies like Stripe, that, in 2019, announced increased remote hiring for engineering and managerial positions but with the condition that they hire employees within close time zones. Stripe clarified that they did not have the necessary structures in place to provide their customers with reliably good experiences if their staff worked across distant time zones.
One other reason why companies hire with restrictions of time zones is the nature of the work itself, where the task or work is time sensitive and any delays could result in negative outcomes.
Another reason to hire within similar time zones is that project tasks or processes might require employees to use specialized infrastructure in the office space. For example, certain tasks stipulate the use of specialized equipment or tools that might not be available in a remote work setting. Another popular scenario is when employees have to meet or host clients in office or conference spaces. Such scenarios necessitate that employees, though working remotely, might have to be situated within a geographical boundary.
Remote work across distant time zones / Distributed remote work
Company or team operations that are not restricted by time zone constraints have the ability to hire talent across distant time zones. This can bring about a culture of “remote first” where hiring remote employees is preferred and its benefits can be fully utilized by building distributed remote teams.
Companies like Zapier and Gitlab have been pioneering this style of remote work and have been doing so for over a decade now. These companies hire globally, without geographic restrictions, communicate asynchronously, and routinely publish guides and playbooks on processes they use to successfully work remotely and asynchronously across distant time zones.
Companies that succeed at building completely distributed, remote-first teams usually have a robust set of practices to ensure effective communication and collaboration. For example, Gitlab collaboratively maintains an employee handbook with over 10,000+ pages with an entire chapter dedicated to communication. From guides on effectively using asynchronous communication practices within the teams to interacting with external entities – it is a comprehensive wiki that establishes the status quo and expects all employees to adhere to it.
Advantages of working remotely across distant time zones
Remote first companies enjoy a unique set of advantages, which perhaps is the driving force behind the recent trend of large companies, even traditional ones with huge investments in real estate, adopting some form of remote work. Here are a few:
Access to a global talent pool and increased diversity
Companies can gain access to a truly global talent pool as they are able to hire the best person for the job without being constrained by geographic boundaries. This also creates diverse teams that contribute unique viewpoints and backgrounds which, according to a McKinsey report, can lead to performance returns above the industry mean.
Reduced costs for both employees and companies
Remote employees not just save on commuting costs but also on the opportunity costs of the time they spend commuting and the stress they incur during their travels to and from work.
For companies, remote work means they can better utilize the funds they would have spent on real estate, transport subsidies, and continuity of operations. Additionally, companies are increasingly adopting salary policies where salaries are adjusted to each employee based on the cost of living statistics of the location from which the employee works from. This has led to lower costs to companies, while still ensuring adherence to fair compensation policies.
Challenges of remote work across different time zones
Working in remote teams that are fully distributed could mean having team mates from the other side of the world. This can nurture diverse, unique, and global relationships and experiences. Clearly, remote teams bring about a host of advantages, however, nurturing globally distributed teams come with its own unique challenges. We present the most commonly observed challenges along with our tips on how best to combat these challenges:
Prioritizing perceived contribution over actual contribution
When teams are spread across different time zones, the contributions of employees from some time zones might go unnoticed. In fully remote teams, the employees who have the luxury to work in the same time zone as their higher-ups have the advantage of being noticed more easily.
Companies that adopt hybrid work where they maintain offices and also allow employees to work remotely run the risk of overlooking the efforts of their remote teams by recognizing the efforts of the on-site teams more and favoring them unfairly.
This act of recognizing perceived contributions over actual contributions has the potential to be a divisive issue among teams, which could lead to cracks in the team cohesion, less productivity and engagement and eventually impact the company’s ability to retain talent.
Hatica tip: Leaders should practice data-driven identification and acknowledgment of which efforts and tasks led to good outcomes. Using such approaches to visualize and derive insights into your team’s contributions, successes, and bottlenecks. Engineering work analytics platforms like Hatica can help companies identify and understand engagement and collaboration analytics which will help leaders ensure satellite offices and remote workers don’t get left behind.
Inadvertently creating an “always-on” culture
As teams work remotely across distant time zones, some members of the team may end up working well past their work hours for the sake of getting their work noticed or for the benefit of others. This pattern is most prevalent in companies with teams in different hemispheres where teams in the east take the brunt of staying up to collaborate with their western central teams and headquarters. Activities like these are major precursors to burnout which can be a costly affair for the companies.
Hatica tip: Using one-on-one meetings as a platform to connect with your employees can help you identify signs of burnout. Additionally, consider implementing lean and efficient processes that actively discourage employees from the always on culture. Transparent company culture that values actual work based on data, and the mental health and well being of employees are some right steps in this direction.
Difficulty building team cohesion
Cohesion in a team is the invisible force behind highly performing teams that impacts performance, engagement and well-being of team members. It is multidimensional, dynamic in nature and is based on a shared purpose of a goal or a sense of belonging.
In conventional work environments, cohesion is built as a result of working together in the trenches and sharing experiences with each other. Remote teams that work in similar or overlapping time zones have the luxury of having ad hoc zoom calls, engage at close time periods and collaborate more synchronously.
However, remote teams that are spread across distant time zones can’t depend on these traditional activities to promote collaboration, engagement or even building social relationships. All these can potentially lead people and teams to work in silos, decrease employee engagement and productivity, and risk cohesion of the team.
Hatica tip: Building purpose led teams with transparency and accountability at its core is a good way to build cohesion from the top down. Carefully designed processes like one-on-one meetings where conversations are less formal and people take a genuine interest in each other – help build rapport between members of the team.
Another way to build and improve cohesion is to Group diverse members of the team to work together which creates a culture that embraces exchange of diverse ideas, backgrounds and immensely aids in improving the cohesion of the team. These and other practices that can be implemented to improve team cohesion can be found in our guide to building team cohesion.
Strained Communication and collaboration
Communication and collaboration are fundamental elements of team work since they enable the team to function as a cohesive unit to get work done. Some of the issues that come with working in teams that are spread across the globe include scheduling across time zones, not being able to jump on calls to sort out important issues that pop up unannounced, having to wait on tasks that might be preventing others from moving ahead with their tasks, and increased risks of miscommunication as a result of not providing enough information via messages.
Hatica tip: Define processes that help employees communicate and collaborate better. Encourage them to leave thoroughly thought-out messages that are actionable rather than a few short messages that require synchronous communication. Designate tools and processes that can be used and followed to keep track of tasks, status updates and overall information sharing within the company. These are some of the principles of asynchronous work which should be considered while structuring the company’s processes.
These and other best practices can be part of an employee handbook that can be a go to guide to not just keep everyone on the same page but also a troubleshooting guide in cases where there is lack of clarity.
There’s no doubt that companies are increasingly adopting some form of remote work as it empowers employees with freedom of place and time and in that regard, it can truly be called the future of work. As companies move forward implementing their versions of remote work, leaders should be conscious about both the advantages and challenges of working remotely and should plan accordingly.
💡 Hatica’s engineering work insights platform provides leaders and managers with a comprehensive view of their distributed teams, and can assist them in combating cracks in team cohesion using engagement insights, detect burnout and bottlenecks in processes using insights from work tools like Github, Jira, Zoom and more.