remote team members

4 tips for working with a virtual team in different time zones

JULY 6, 2014

The world is getting smaller and chances are you will work with someone in a different time zone at some point or another.

Virtual teams have their advantages, different cultures bring different perspective to a project and there’s nothing more thrilling than sharing a project idea at the end of your day and waking up the next day to progress. But working with a virtual team does have it’s challenges. Below are some tips I’ve learned over the years to not only work with but nourish your virtual team.

1. Alternate early and late days

Like any healthy relationship, a team is not cohesive if it is off balance. If one side shares more of the workload or makes more of the sacrifice you will get disgruntled team members who may ultimately leave. Ensure a healthy team spirit by making everyone feel as important a part of the team as everyone else.

I start my day at 7:30 am every other day to ensure my team and I have an hour more to work together and to ensure they have time to leave earlier. Some colleagues prefer to alternate weeks instead of every other days. Either way starting your day 1-2 hours ahead of normal working hours so the virtual team isn’t always staying later ensures balance, appreciation, and cohesive team spirit.

2. Remind yourself of the physical cues

Set up birthday and anniversary reminders. You won’t be able to walk by someone’s desk, see birthday flowers and run out during lunch to get something so it’s important to set up reminders and celebrate these important moments. I ask team members to provide little tidbits about themselves for a welcome email when they first start. Ask for birthdays and favorite desserts then set up reminders (and include their work anniversary). Little gestures like an ecard or quick email on special days go a long way to making a virtual team bond.

Acknowledge the time of day. In a traditional office, I always knew not to schedule meetings too early (especially before coffee), too close to lunch (I am not more interesting than pizza), or late in the day when everyone’s exhausted. When a person looked tired or came in early I always acknowledged the effort and sacrifice, acknowledging someone’s sacrifice ensures they feel appreciated, but in a virtual environment its almost impossible to do this. With different people in different time zones, it’s easy to forget who’s hungry, tired, or perfectly fine.

Tools like the time zone converter not only convert time zones for easier meeting planning but gives you a visual cue of how your team may be feeling. I use this tool as a cheat sheet when setting up meetings to quickly remind myself and acknowledge the feelings, efforts, and moods during calls. This helps team members feel appreciated and helps you plan the agenda accordingly.

3. Punch in/punch out meetings

When working as part of a virtual team sometimes you really are working in shifts. To ensure projects continue to progress, set up 15 minute sessions at the beginning of some members’ day and at the end of someone elses. Focus the meeting on quick updates of what people did during their day or what they are planning tomorrow. For the team members just starting their day, the discussion would be around what they accomplished yesterday and what they will be working on today. This quick "touch bases" will ensure any risks come up and can be addressed quickly.

4. Answer your emails first thing in the morning

This one can be a struggle, I personally like starting my day with project work and emails can be a never-ending black hole but I have found that checking and replying to emails first thing in the morning is vitally important to a virtual team. I have over 9 hours difference with some team members, so if I wait to answer an email until the next day; they will have already waited 2 days for an answer. To be cognizant of time difference, I make sure I answer emails from the offshore team first so as not to forget before I leave for the day.

Working and nourishing a virtual team does have its challenges but the gains are invaluable. Not only do you get a larger pool of talent to choose from but you can also work more flexibly. Keep in mind these tips and see some more below and you’ll be working seamlessly with your team in no time.


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