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In our increasingly remote, decentralized and global business environment, many organizations will be unable to realize their full potential until they expand their talent and sales pools beyond their own time zone.
Since the pandemic, working across time zones has become both easier and more of a competitive necessity. Not only did it lead to a more remote and decentralized workforce, but it also exacerbated issues of talent scarcity. At the same time, many knowledge workers have established a high degree of comfort and productivity in a remote environment.
Now that technology has made collaboration across space relatively seamless, the greatest barrier most face in reaping the benefits of a global workforce is time. Some global teams solve this challenge by bending to a single, dominant time zone (“everyone has to maintain American East Coast hours”), but prioritizing one group of employees over others can have a range of negative repercussions. Eventually, those in the inconvenienced portion of the workforce will notice the strain on their personal lives, mental health and ability to maintain work-life balance. Ultimately, many choose between moving to another time zone or moving on to another company.
The other option is to let staff maintain comfortable working hours no matter where they are based, but that presents its own challenges. Specifically, it can magnify the effects of simple miscommunications or communication gaps. When something is missing or misunderstood in a traditional organization, team members can quickly get clarification or fill in information gaps. Global teams, meanwhile, might lose a day of work waiting for clarification from a sleeping colleague on the other side of the world. Such delays are expensive and make it harder to meet deadlines, make decisions or close deals.
The solution most organizations default to in such instances is a live meeting at odd hours. While after-hours meetings might be necessary for an emergency, organizations that become accustomed to this solution are at risk of making workers feel like they’re “always on,” which can take a significant toll over time.
All of these negative repercussions have real costs. According to a recent study, 31% of American workers would give up part of their salary to achieve a better work-life balance. Furthermore, the median amount workers would require in additional compensation to sacrifice some of their work-life balance is $10,000.
Another study found that employees who feel a strong sense of belonging to an organization take 75% fewer sick days, while those who feel excluded have a 50% higher turnover rate. Miscommunications cost the average small business (of under 100 employees) $420,000 annually in lost efficiency, trust gaps, turnover and productivity.
So how can teams work effectively when their workdays only overlap for one or two hours a day, without relying on after-hours communications? After more than a decade of running Bubbles as a fully remote company, here are a few of the best practices we’ve learned.
1. Make the most of overlapping hours
When team members only share a couple of hours of their workday, it’s essential to use that precious time effectively. Specifically, meeting times in those windows should be reduced as much as possible and only include team members that have something meaningful to contribute — something that can’t be shared in a note later on.
Attendees should also be equipped with enough information before the meeting to ensure the first few minutes are well-spent, getting everyone up to speed. Furthermore, items on the agenda should be limited to urgent, critical or difficult to address asynchronously.
2. Learn effective asynchronous communication
When overlapping hours are limited, much of the information that crosses time zones will instead be shared asynchronously, using communication mediums that don’t require real-time participation. That means team members must lean on their ability to write or record messages to pass to members in different time zones that leave little room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
Effective asynchronous communication also requires more dynamic tools than Slack and email, which often require strong written communication skills. Our platform, Bubbles, allows users to contribute to asynchronous conversations using text, audio or video, thus ensuring that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in the discussion, using whatever media is most natural to them.
3. Build information repositories
If information is still missing following a brief real-time conversation during those limited overlapping hours or an asynchronous conversation, it’s always good to have one more backup option. That last failsafe before resorting to a panicky after-hours meeting or risking a day of lost productivity typically comes in the form of an informational repository.
A simple shared document updated with relevant information on a given project, or an employee handbook packed with answers to common questions, offers staff one more way to fill communication gaps asynchronously. After all, you can’t share everything in an asynchronous video note or email, and you wouldn’t want to overwhelm the recipient with information, either. That’s why it’s always wise to have one additional place where staff can find answers when critical information is missing. Ending each day with a quick update for your colleagues in different time zones is an effective way to reduce reliance on real-time meetings and a strong practice for tracking progress and identifying opportunities to improve efficiency.
Ignoring the opportunities a more decentralized workforce offers will make it harder for organizations to compete in the post-pandemic economy, but tapping into a global workforce first requires solving potential communication gaps. By making the most out of overlapping hours, learning to communicate synchronously and providing additional informational resources, international teams can still collaborate effectively, even with limited overlapping working hours.