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Working Remotely & Timezone Wrestling

Working location-independent is pretty awesome, but let’s face it, wrangling timezones is a giant pain in the ass. From years of being on the road and working with teammates and clients from around the world, I’ve (through many mistakes) mastered timezones both personally and within a remote working team.

Here are 5 things I’ve found to work for Melewi and myself:

1. Use Scheduling Tools

The more timezones you deal with, the easier it is to mess up. Throw in daylight savings and you’d undoubtedly feel the urge to also throw in the towel. Don’t! There’s a plethora of tools you can use to help you.

Some of the ones I use daily are:

  • Google Calendar – Other Calendars (Holidays): Include all the public holidays of your teammates so you have visibility on who’s not around on any days.
  • Google Calendar – Your Current Timezones: You can put 2 timezones down on the side of your calendar. I use my current timezone, as well as the furthest timezone away from me.
  • Google Calendar – World Clock: Include the timezones of all your teammates.
  • & Synchronize app (iOS): Both really helpful tools that let you see at a glance the time in different countries v.s. yours.
  • Mixmax – Scheduling: Mixmax is a godsend for scheduling calls outside of my team; specifically for the ability to easily mark out available appointment slots in the receiver’s timezone.


2. Team Rules + Knowing Your Team’s Work Times

Figuring out how to work remotely on your own is feasible to do with few issues. But once you add people into the equation, it gets messy quickly without a few rules.

What works for Melewi is having a mandatory 4-hour overlap everyday with the entire team (advice we’ve taken from 37Signal’s fantastic book ‘Remote’). We have our daily standup at 3pm without fail, and while it’s never longer than 20 minutes, it keeps everyone connected and in the loop.

Knowing when everyone else is online really helps. An overview of what everyone’s working hours are makes it easier to plan out catch-ups and calls.

Melewi’s COO, Peach, and I spend a lot of time discussing the business together. I’ve also found that for the people you’re working closest with, an additional 2 hours on top of the overlap is ideal. So Peach and I having a 6-hour overlap with each other allows us to meet outside the 4-hours so we utilise that time instead for meetings involving other people.

Melewi is a team of 9 in 8 different timezones, and this works exceptionally well for us. I suspect that teams bigger than 20 will need to adopt a different strategy.

3. Work in Shifts

If you’ve come from a traditional office environment, it’s easy to default to a continuous 8-hour day. But with remote working, you can split your day however you want! For instance, if you use the team overlap for meetings, you can use your other shift for uninterrupted design work.

With shifts, you have more flexibility with the times you work. If your company requires an overlap with the team to be 9pm to 1am, that leaves you able to choose your other shift to be at any other time.

I’ve personally found having 2 shifts works best for me: my first shift (11am – 6pm) is for sales and team meetings, and my second shift (11pm – 2am; I’m a night person) is to do everything else with full focus and zero disruptions.

4. Organise & “Cloud” Everything

When your team work different times, it’s all too easy to get started with your day only to realise you urgently need a file from the laptop of your teammate deep in slumber. To prevent this from happening, it’s critical to have a central repository for anything collaborative.

The tools we use are:

  • Dropbox: For any and all files
  • Google Doc / Sheets / Slides: For any live documents
  • Slack: For conversations
  • Trello: For project management
  • Invision: For design and feedback management

At Melewi, everyone adheres to a simple folder structure and naming convention. This is so everyone will know where to find anything they need, even if they haven’t been explicitly told where to look.

5. Rethink Meetings

In a traditional set up, people are used to the “luxury” of  having 8 hours in a day for meetings, so it’s not unusual (though it’s still ill-advised) to have ones lasting 1 to 2 hours.

Since the amount of time you have together in a remote team is limited, rethink your meetings. I recommend short but frequent catch ups – e.g. 20 mins everyday. With an increased need for communication and a smaller window of overlapped time, it’s important to use that time wisely.

For meetings dedicated to a specific area of work (e.g. sales), have weekly catch-ups at the same time on the same days. This way your time doesn’t fill up with the ad-hoc “urgent” call and you’ve set aside time for the important things. Plus, if it’s set up to recur every week, you limit the amount of timezone-wrestling you have to do.

One of the awesome things about remote working is having significantly fewer constraints. So spend time thinking about all the things you could experiment with! As with any startup or unvalidated idea: come up with a hypothesis, test 1 to 2 things at a time, things that doesn’t work go, and things that do stay.

Staying methodical while figuring out what works is the easiest way (albeit slightly slow) to find what fits without driving yourself insane. Eventually, you’ll create a working routine that works best for you and your team!

What parts of remote working are you – whether as an individual or part of a team – struggling with? Let us know on Twitter (@melewi) and it could be our next piece!

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