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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!