The modern workplace has transformed and millions of employees now work within flexible and hybrid models. This increased flexibility about when and where we work is highly desirable to many and yet it has reignited the conversation about protecting work life boundaries. But how do employees in globally dispersed teams, or with clients in different time zones, create a healthy work life balance and digital boundaries in what can feel like a 24/7 working world?
The digital habits of global teams and the way employees collaborate with co-workers and clients through technology needs to be carefully considered to support motivation, collaboration and communication. Irregular working hours and high workloads can increase stress amongst colleagues who struggle with putting healthy boundaries in place between their working and personal time.
Many of the positive digital habits that we recommend for remote teams at Shine Offline become even more vital when time zones differ. Here are some considerations to ensure your team are working as effectively as possible if they are dispersed throughout the globe.
Leaders of global teams should model good digital habits
How leaders communicate and manage their technology will trickle down to their people. Being candid about their own workload, how they manage things well, and the areas of digital management that they need to work on to keep workplace stress in check, will empower their people to do the same. Empathetic leaders who recognise the additional challenges of working across time zones should encourage autonomy and self-discipline. Creating a culture where people feel trusted to manage their workload and schedule in a way that is going to get the job done is important.
In order to protect work life balance, and avoid a culture where people feel they need to be on all of the time, managers need to explicitly communicate expectations, rather than assume people know when they should be available and responsive outside their region’s normal working hours. Developing a team digital charter that takes into account time zones will help. Whilst fulfilling the demands of the job, charters should build in respecting individuals autonomy to manage their online and offline time, and create work life boundaries. An agreement not to contact people outside their own working hours, unless urgent or in extenuating circumstances, will create a more considerate culture.
Encouraging a working style centred around personal responsibility
According to Shine Offline’s research, 84% of people we work with are experiencing digital overload at work. Establishing a trusting culture where colleagues are encouraged to work in an asynchronous way, where possible, will help all teams but is of particular value to those working across time zones. If other team members are unavailable due to incompatible time zones, individuals get on with the task in hand independently, ensuring they document progress along the way. So if a colleague working on a project in London reaches a point where they feel they can’t proceed, rather than emailing their counterpart in Australia, they get to where they can, hand over and then move to something else. Working in this way means the next steps in the project can be taken by their colleague once the working day starts for them.
Being mindful of the difference between important and urgent is paramount
If the decision maker on the project is not online, and the situation is urgent, then contact may be required. However with foreplaning and agreement about cross time zones communication this should happen rarely. An email should never be used for urgent communications and especially not when that email will arrive at unsociable hours for the recipient. For urgency it is always best to pick up the phone.
Autonomy and self-discipline go hand in hand
Team members should be empowered to own their own workload and schedule and make it work for themselves. Encouraging employees to be open about their work patterns and digital communication preferences will help to build trust across the team and manage people’s expectations of response. For example if a colleague’s satellite office doesn’t start work until midday in their time zone then allowing them to start work at this time if it suits them, and communicating this to their colleagues, ensures working 12 hours days does not become the norm.
Effective global email management
Shine Offline’s recommendations around healthy email use in teams apply tenfold when it comes to virtual teams. Avoid cc’ing people unnecessarily and be mindful of email ‘chatter’ clogging up in boxes – quick-fire informal talk on projects is better suited to instant messenger. Make use of the subject line in emails to let people know the urgency of the communication and when it needs to be actioned. Rather than sending multiple emails to a colleague in a different time zone, workers should be encouraged to batch emails, that is putting numerous points into one email communication so that a colleague on the other side of the world isn’t logging on to 10 separate emails from 1 person.
Good meeting management
Effective meetings are so important when people very rarely get the chance to spend real time together. Doing so will help the team to build their relationships and boost morale. Often the minority in satellite offices are the ones frequently required to attend at unsociable hours in their own time zone. One way around this is for meetings to be held in different time zones on a rota to ensure its not always the same team members having to get up very early or log on very late to attend. Does everyone always have to be in every meeting? Sending updates with a colleague who brings back any actions from the meeting – and then returning the favour to them at a future meet.
Sending an agenda for every meeting along with the invite will ensure that people know if they should attend or if they can politely request any relevant information or actions can be passed on.
Building a strong team bond
Since the pandemic remote working has impacted colleague relationships. Teams who are all based in the same city, but spending some of their time working remotely, can come together and collaborate on office-based days. Sadly this isn’t the case for dispersed teams and so it’s important to think of ways of building strong team bonds. Having regular face time updates will ensure team members in satellite offices feel included, build strong, trusting relationships and stay motivated. Ensuring social gatherings are also co-ordinated through video conferencing software will help to build those relationships too. Encouraging colleagues to not be overly reliant on instant messenger to communicate with co-workers but being mindful of the value of a phone conversation is also helpful. Creating a team culture where people feel they can be honest about how they are doing will help to build strong bonds. Team leaders kicking off these conversations by sharing how they are doing themselves will really help.
Technology has been the most extraordinary tool enabling us to meet and collaborate across the globe. Great working relationships and trust can be built when teams are encouraged to nurture healthy digital habits, to work well individually and together, and crucially build consideration and respect for their colleagues in other regions. Developing open communications about how we manage these time zones will build good working relationships and avoid excessive hours, stress and burnout.