Scheduling Meetings Across Time Zones: Your Essential Guide

The greater the distribution of teams, the greater the challenge. Software company InVision manages 700 team members on multiple continents. GitLab has more than 1,200 remote teammates in 65 countries covering virtually every time zone on earth! One can imagine how challenging it is to collaborate with coworkers when everyone is in a different time zone. 

There are ways in which you can manage a distributed team more effectively. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

A graphic showing remote workers around the world.

Working in Multiple Time Zones: What Works, What Doesn’t

Before diving into the tips of managing multiple time zones in a globally distributed team, it’s essential to first understand some of the pros and cons as they may impact your approach.

Being open to setting up globally distributed teams offers numerous advantages:

Access to More Talent: A huge benefit of working with a distributed team is having access to a globally deep talent pool. 

Greater Innovation: A distributed, multinational team can potentially enable more innovation. Employees from different countries bring different experiences, perspectives and skill sets to your project, often creating newer and better ways of doing things.

Work Never Stops: A distributed team means your company operates around the clock. It can be especially useful for customer-facing businesses with a global customer base.

Disadvantages of being globally distributed:

Slowdown in Communication: Whereas some teams consider asynchronous an advantage, others consider it a disadvantage. Being globally distributed can sometimes hamper communication. Responses between team members may be delayed and not suited for hyper-collaborative work. This, in turn, may result in reduced productivity.

No Scope to Socialize: Team culture sometimes suffers because remote team members don’t get enough opportunities to socialize in person or in similar time zones. When globally distributed, it can be much harder to enjoy live team-building activities and keep everyone motivated.

Sometimes More Distractions: The remote workplace is prone to constant notifications, often leading to burnout. It’s vital to watch out for the signs of your teammates getting overwhelmed. See our guide, best Slack apps for remote teams to help minimize distractions.

How to Manage a Team in Different Time Zones

Discuss Work Hours

When scheduling meetings across time zones, it’s essential to account for everyone’s work hours, so team members don’t have to take meetings in the middle of their nights.

Ideally, you should keep track of your team member’s time zones. You can do this on a spreadsheet or by using an app such as Spacetime.am or Every Time Zone. It can help you find a reasonable time and be respectful of each other’s hours. Many teams set up internal wiki pages where they share their work hours or use the work hours features of Google Calendar and/or even create a series of calendar blocks.

Alternatively, there are also tools like Pulse to share your time zone and work hours into your Slack status to let teammates know when each other are available for work communication or collaboration.

Test Split Shifts and Adaptable Schedules

Flexibility in scheduling can help mitigate some of the challenges of scheduling meetings across time zones. Split shifts, increasingly known as the integrated lifestyle, are where you work, take some time off, and return to finish your shift. It can be very useful when there’s a need to collaborate synchronously on time-sensitive projects. These variable work hours can be communicated and set up to allow for some flexibility.

You can even experiment with working entirely in another country’s time zone some of the time so that you can catch up with team members in real-time. 

Schedule Emails and Messages

Instead of sending emails and Slack messages and expecting an immediate response from teammates in entirely different time zones, it’s best to schedule them and encourage a more asynchronous culture. When the recipients are active, they’ll respond to you. It works best for non-urgent communications.

Scheduling Meetings Across Time Zones: How to Do it

Rotate the Times for Recurring Meetings

You can make things more equitable on your dispersed team by rotating the times of scheduled meetings. That way, people in a specific location don’t always have to have the most inconvenient time for a meeting.

Record the Meetings and Share

It’s a great process when not everyone can make it to a meeting. Recording your meeting allows those team members who couldn’t be there in real-time to catch up so that everyone is on the same page the following day. Recognize that reviewing a full meeting recording is a lot of work, so this is in no way a replacement for meeting notes that should also be captured and shared.

Collect Questions Asynchronously Before the Meeting

Send out the agenda for your meeting at least one day before the meeting. Encourage teammates to give you questions they may have about the issues to be raised in the meeting. Then you can address those questions even if the entire team isn’t there to ask them. These are all good practices for meetings in general. The key to making this work is over-documentation as your team works asynchronously. 

Use Slack for Follow-up Conversations

Use Slack to follow up on conversations after an important meeting. The process allows your team to catch up on what was discussed in the meeting they couldn’t attend. 

A screenshot showing a video meeting on Slack.

Use a Tool That Simplifies Scheduling Communication

More and more workers are implementing non-linear workdays that allow day-to-day flexibility for work and life balance.  This trend has many benefits, but also comes with an increased challenge of coordinating sync-ups with teammates due to inconsistent work hours.  

There are tools out there that help with scheduling team communication. One of them is Pulse, which syncs with your calendar and work hours to help teammates quickly understand your availability and workload to guide timely sync-ups based on flexible days. The app also lets you preserve your focus time.