Part 1 - Be Aware of the Different Time Zones Involved
One unique management challenge you have to learn to handle when working in an international business, is managing global teams over multiple time zones, particularly with respect to team meetings, which are usually held virtually. Having worked in multinational businesses for 30 years, I’ve picked up a few tips and techniques for working with and leading global teams and thought it worthwhile sharing some of the things I’ve learnt along the way.
If your team spread covers less than 8 hours of time zones, then you don’t really have a big issue with scheduling virtual project meetings. The real challenge begins with more than 8 hour spreads and the most challenging situation is when your project team truly spans the globe, because there is no hiding from the fact that someone, somewhere, will be losing out when you schedule a meeting time.
In the businesses I have worked, the full global spread has been the norm for me, so I have lived this problem every week for many, many years. The most convenient geography is for those based in Europe, because you will be right in the middle of the time zone spread and can attend meetings midday. The challenge comes for those at the extremes. I was regularly pulling together teams with people in US East Coast and Adelaide, Australia, and sometimes even US West Coast. That’s over 18 hours of time zones to schedule around. Some of the most challenging calls I have ever arranged have been when I was in Hawaii (GMT -10), trying to get my head around everyone’s time zone around the world. That can be a mind bending experience. And don’t assume that just because you are flying every other week, having to deal with constant time zone jumps, that all your team members are as well. For those team members that don’t normally travel internationally, the time zone issue does not naturally enter their heads.
Another challenge you discover when scheduling virtual international meetings is those peculiar parts of the world that have half hour time zones, like Adelaide (GMT+9:30) and India (GMT+5:30). Yes, your Outlook scheduling tool adjusts everything automatically, but you still have to understand what effect your meeting timing has on the individuals involved. If you live international travel with your job day in and day out, it is the first thing that enters your head.
I have read advice that suggests sharing the burden of international meeting timings by cycling regular meetings between morning, afternoon and evening calls. Whilst this sounds a good idea, my experience is that people actually prefer routine and a regular schedule for meetings, rather than keep chopping and changing. My Adelaide colleagues were used to having all their calls late at night because that’s the only way they could get to talk to their US colleagues, so they were already working a schedule that naturally fit late night calls. Also, some people are naturally early birds and some are naturally night owls, and learning about your team really helps to work around their preferences in this way.
If you work in a truly global business, there is no getting around that you will be taking calls at odd times. And therefore it is understood that meeting times will occasionally be inconvenient for some people, such that they cannot attend, such as in the middle of the night. I have had people stay up all night to take some calls (I’ve done it myself), but how different is this to getting up at 3am to get to the airport for an early flight? Is that acceptable? The challenges of meeting scheduling can only be resolved so far, whether someone chooses to attend at inconvenient times becomes a matter of personal choice. Flexibility is the key, there is certainly no need or expectation for people to work 24/7, and so in international business, flexibility in employees’ working days is becoming normality.
Dr Andy Wynn
Managing Director, TTIP Consulting
Adapted from the book ‘Transforming Technology into Profit – a guide to leading new ideas through the complexities of the corporate world and transforming them into successful new products’, available now on Amazon