Top 10 Time Zone issues with Remote Teams

by Wendy Soon on April 11, 2017

With organizations and companies increasingly taking their work to the global level and expanding throughout the world, working with remote teams and across different time zones has become almost regular. Working in night shifts to coordinate with your Australian counterparts, or having a middle of the day video conference with the liaison in Mumbai who looks as if he woke in the middle of the night, must not be an unusual feat for many people. However, although being a part of a globally ‘present’ organization and working with colleagues across the world is an accomplishment like no other for your career, some very real problems come with this opportunity.

The very real time zone issues that come with working on a remote team, if not handled properly, can make you wish that you could be anywhere in the world but in your time zone. Following are some of the top ten time zone issues faced by teams when working remotely.

  1. Miscommunication

Communication breakdown is one of the most common issues faced when working with remote teams across time zones. It can be something as complex as clarification of information regarding troubleshooting of a certain product, or as simple as managerial duty distribution. If not resolved promptly and escalated, it can lead to a host of problems in a seemingly unbreakable chain.

 

  1. Increased Dependency

Generally, when working with remote and virtual teams, the objective is to reduce production cost while decreasing production time. This requires tasks to be performed using sequential or reciprocal dependency across teams. However, these dependencies need to be handled very carefully, or someone or the other may end up twiddling their thumbs because the member they are dependent upon for task completion has delayed the process. This not only increases production times and missed deadlines; it also adds to communication and production costs.

 

  1. Coordination breakdown

Coordination is defined as the management of dependencies among task activities to achieve the required goal. The issue of breakdown of coordination is a consequence of the previous issue. Increased dependencies and consequently higher pressure on certain nodes in the chain of work, inevitably results in coordination breakdowns between teams. It should be noted here that neither too little dependency nor too much dependency between teams and members is a particularly good situation for the teams.

  1. Increased Coordination costs

The point of working with remote teams is decreasing the cost of production by dispersing work across different time zones that makes it possible for production to go on for 24 hours a day throughout the world. However, if not handled well, this strategy is likely to backfire. The breakdown of coordination inevitably leads to the organization scrambling to repair that issue by paying more attention to it, and thus leading to increase in coordination costs.

  1. Delay

Delay is an issue that is accounted for in a lot of global organizations as a part of work chain distribution. The issue of coordination breakdowns leading to clarifications across teams and rework on the project at hand leads to the delay in meeting deadlines or work handovers between teams. This can lead to a chain of delays or pressure at nodes that can be exhaustive to the team members involved.

 

  1. Language barrier

Working with teams dispersed across different time zones has a very common problem that is a precursor to miscommunication. Research shows that many of the employees of any global organization feel that language barriers across teams are a major component for coordination and communication breakdown between them.

  1. Calendar coordination

Along with geographical dispersion and time zone differences, another problem of differences in time windows and cultural calendars also arises in teams working remotely. The issue of weekends not overlapping between teams and work hours as well as local holidays and priorities being different is another cause for coordination delays.

  1. Time separation

Not only do different time zones cause a problem in communication and work overlap windows but there is also a concept of time separation that takes root here. Coordination can breakdown over as little as differences in lunch times and work hours across teams. Overlapping and non-overlapping work hours should be managed as carefully as calendars and schedules across teams.

  1. Work culture differences

Team culture differences are another problem that can lead to communication and coordination breakdowns across teams. Team culture can means anything from starting work at an early hour of the day, to managing team meetings and video conferences, to taking longer lunch breaks or even working over the weekends. When uncoordinated, team culture differences can mean higher pressure at particular nodes in the work chain, uncooperative team members and delayed productivity.

 

  1. Increased conflict

Conflict is a part of work culture whether dispersed across time zones or co-localized. However, research shows that increased number of teams working across higher number of time zones correlates to increased conflict among team members. It fosters not only vast differences in work culture, but also irregular planning of schedules and team meetings, lower team morale, and poor coordination between teams. Conflict if not resolved promptly and properly can lead to unprofessional shows of non-cooperation as well as delays in productivity and consequently increase in not only coordination costs but also production costs in the organization. This problem is as common in the small scale organizations as the large ones.

 

Conclusion

Working on remote and virtual teams, although a dream career choice for many, can be pretty hard to handle. Especially if you are involved with working on a project by project basis and depend on other team members to for sequential completion of tasks, it can be a real pain. Add to that, cultural differences across geographically dispersed locations and language barriers, and the reduction in production costs could be matched by the increase in coordination costs. However, there are a number of ways these problems can be handled properly and tactfully. After all, recognizing and accepting the problems is half the battle won!

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New emergent technologies have challenged traditional ways of doing business and drastically changed how organizations work and sell their products and services. In a globalized world faced with technological challenges, top level managements are being introduced to new unforeseen opportunities while reaching their objectives. Technology induced changes have forced many businesses to embrace change management and support organizational restructuring to bring in technology based work processes in their day-to-day activities and processes. Traditional hierarchies are now being replaced by tech savvy portfolios and flexible working patterns. Marketing teams are becoming predominantly digital in nature and relying more and more upon collaborative work processes in which people and teams in remote locations form a part of the work force and contribute to the overall success of an organization. In this present day scenario, the virtual team leader plays a crucial role in meeting new business related challenges and paving a bright future for the organization.

 

Tips to become a competent virtual team leader

The following pointers can help you become an effective virtual team leader.

 

  1. Collaborate and get the team together

Collaboration is the key to streamlining work processes. When team members get to know each other and understand each other’s thought processes, miscommunication gives way to effective sharing of thoughts which is a prelude to healthy discussions and formation of great strategies. Face-to-face communications amongst team members is an excellent way to build trust. However, this can be difficult when teams are geographically distributed and have to work across different time zones. Video streaming tools and live conferencing software can go a long way in supporting healthy collaboration between team members. The virtual team leader should try to promote collaboration processes to build effective teams.

 

  1. Focus on tasks and processes besides goals and objectives

Team managers and leaders have to align their virtual teams and make them embrace processes and methods which can help to achieve primary goals and objectives envisioned by the management. With new teams, coordination of project related activities and encouraging people to interact more frequently with each other can prove to be a daunting task, especially when teams are distributed and operate on different time zones. It is more important to focus on bite-sized tasks and pay close attention to the process that actually facilitates the execution of tasks, rather than emphasizing upon goals and objectives all the time. It is worthwhile to understand that processes can execute properly only when tasks are properly detailed and defined. Virtual team leaders should give more emphasis on detailing tasks and streamlining work processes.

 

  1. Deal with cultural differences and ideas

Organizations the world over outsource work processes to reduce operational overheads and increase investment returns. Outsourcing proves to be beneficial but it brings its own set of issues. Societies and people have their own beliefs regarding religion and sense of moral ethics. At times, this can be a hindrance when team members have to decide on their own and undertake informed decisions. Something that might be perfectly acceptable and normal in one culture might be unacceptable in another. Friday is a holy day and a weekly offday  in most Gulf countries. Businesses prefer to remain closed on that day, while in the west Fridays are generally meant for weekly reports and next week planning meetings. Virtual team leaders should make efforts to understand the mindset of people belonging to different cultures and respect their beliefs.

 

  1. Use the best technology and tools

It doesn’t make sense to enter a battle field with bows and arrows when the enemy is using guns and grenades. The technology used to govern the work process often decides the success and outcomes of a project. With new technologies emerging day-by-day, there is a lot of scope in terms of features and facilities offered by various project management tools. It is imperative that correct tools be used to monitor work and make teams accountable for the work it does. Virtual team leaders should research properly and find the correct online tools which can boost productivity levels.

 

  1. Set pace and rhythm

It is highly common to see startups begin systematically by focusing upon the right things at the right time and eventually fail over time. Correct tools and processes are very important for successful project execution, but it is equally important to ascertain that the velocity at which the team is churning out work is maintained steadily day-after-day and month-after-month. Efforts should be regular and consistent in nature to make the project work. Virtual team leaders should help the team maintain a steady pace and rhythm at work.

 

  1. Agree upon a “common” language

A common problem faced by most team leaders while working with cross functional and remotely distributed teams is to effectively convey an idea and ensure that the team has understood it well. Confusions arise when technical terms are misinterpreted and wrong actions are carried out by team members. It may seem difficult at first but it can actually be easy to communicate in a language that is understood by all. Discuss terminology and work processes with remote teams and ask them to describe what they have understood – You’re sure to pinpoint a potential pitfall when you hear their explanations.

 

  1. Take some time out to just chill and have a great time

Project work can be boring and make people lose interest in their work over time. People need recreation to relax their minds from time to time. Arranging a virtual get-together and sharing a few mugs of beer can increase the comradeship and foster good relations.

 

  1. Assign and demand work

You will not get anything unless you ask for it. If virtual team leaders do not assign sufficient work to team members they will definitely compromise on the team’s capacity to do work. A little bit of work pressure is healthy for the team to perform at optimum levels.

 

  1. Distribute leadership

There is nothing more irritating than a senior who keeps on yelling out orders to subordinates all the time. It makes people insensitive towards work. Virtual team leaders should try to play a servant-leader role and share leadership with the team members from time to time and when the situation so demands.

 

  1. Give credit to the team

Many times team leaders and managers blame the team when something goes wrong. However they forget to praise the team when it has performed well. Lack of appreciation can lead to unsatisfied employees and reduced productivity. Virtual team leaders should give credit to the team when it has achieved goals and motivate them to be even more productive.

 

Summary

Considering the complex market scenario, the work of a virtual team leader is more important than ever, and he or she is required to utilize all skills necessary to make their teams productive.  Team leaders should try to educate themselves and pick up useful pointers to streamline work processes and improve ROIs for their organizations.

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