Working across time zones: how to do it well

Working asynchronously means you’re not operating “in sync” with other people at your company – perhaps because you work remotely, at irregular hours, or collaborate with team members in different time zones.

And this will only become more common, as workplaces increasingly shift to a hybrid workplace model.

Remote working is on the rise, with great potential benefits

According to Statista, 43% of Australian businesses had employees working remotely in September 2020, compared with 28% pre-pandemic.

This upwards trend is expected to continue and has great potential for both individuals and businesses. For example, it can significantly expand an employer’s talent pool by removing geographic barriers to recruitment.

It also makes the positions on offer more appealing, with the stress of modern workplaces, increased commuting times and shifting life and career priorities meaning most people would appreciate the option to work from home.

In fact, one study found 80% of employees would be more likely to stay longer with an existing employer if they could work remotely, and are willing to take a pay cut in exchange for greater work flexibility.

So, what are the challenges of working asynchronously?

Working across time zones can lead to barriers in communication – what if you need information from a colleague who won’t be online for several hours?

You can also miss out on a lot of supplementary information – both work-related and interpersonal – when you can’t simply tap someone on the shoulder for a quick chat or catch up in the office kitchen.

This is why mastering asynchronous communication is crucial for camaraderie, creativity and productivity. Without it, you can end up feeling left out without all the information you need to perform at your best.

Here are seven tips to help you optimise your efficiency and communication in remote teams.

Working smarter in an asynchronous environment

1. Don’t let your internet let you down

Poor quality video and audio will impede communication, so ensure you have a strong internet connection to suit your needs. Be sure to test the quality of your connection before jumping on important calls.

2. Switch effortlessly between tasks

Let go of the linear approach and learn to switch back and forth between projects, so that productivity doesn’t stall while you’re waiting on more information or feedback.

For those of us who like to complete one task at a time this shift in mindset can prove challenging, but by getting the ball rolling with multiple projects, you’ll be able to maintain a consistent and satisfying workflow in between asynchronous communications.

3. Know when synchronous communication is appropriate (and when it’s not)

Text-based conversation lacks emotional context and tone, so opt for synchronous communication – such as video or phone calls – for difficult or sensitive discussions, as well as when a quick resolution is needed.

But remember: synchronous communication should be used sparingly. It can disrupt deep focus and colleague’s precious down time, and should always be attempted with time zones in mind.

4. Be mindful of what time it is for others

Always consider your co-workers respective time zones when reaching out or scheduling meetings. There are a number of online tools that can assist with this, such as:

5. Make the most of collaborative apps

There are myriad apps that facilitate collaboration and productivity while supporting asynchronous communication through in-app messaging and feedback features. Examples include Google Docs, Todoist, Trello or Dropbox Paper.

Other options are HelpScout and ZenDesk for customer service support, and Sketch, Canva and Marvel for collaborating on design.

6. Always set clear timing expectations

Transparency is particularly important for managing expectations across remote teams, so be diligent about including the day, date, time and time zone when requesting or promising deliverables.

It’s also important to communicate when you’ll be offline, including holiday time, with enough notice for your co-workers to prepare for your absence.

7. Overcommunicate

Asynchronous communication tends to be slower, so make sure you provide all the details upfront to avoid wasting time on unnecessary back-and-forth.

Here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Watch out for acronyms – as Elon Musk explains, they can actually overcomplicate things
  • Avoid making assumptions about what others know
  • Images and screenshots can help get your message across

Keeping everyone in the loop will also help prevent communication breakdowns and hold-ups when people are away, while promoting a culture of transparency, trust, understanding and productivity.

You’re all set!

Once you’ve got the swing of it, there’s a lot to love about asynchronous working, including the freedom to manage your own schedule and make time for the other things in your life that are important to you.

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