Remote working effectively across timezones

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Remote working has become common with the pandemic, with more people working across various geographic locations. This means that balancing different timezones among colleagues and teammates has become trickier to manage.

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At Mighty Bear, we’re strong proponents of the belief that great talent can come from anywhere. We’ve doubled the team size in the past two years and many of my new colleagues have been remote hires. At the same time, Mighty Bear’s leadership has also been very open to existing employees changing where they work from. The one key requirement we have has just been for everyone to have 4 work hours overlapping with the core team based in Singapore.

So depending on your location, your working hours may start and end really early, or, in my case, really late. Being 15 hours (or 16 hours without daylight savings) behind, I start my work day at 5pm, and end at 1am. If this seems crazy to you, it is probably because it's as if I am working overtime past midnight every day. But this is just "working the night shift" permanently, and definitely something that you can get used to (if you have to).

Here’s what my daily routine looks like.

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First of all, my "weekdays" are Sunday to Thursday instead of Monday to Friday, since I am more than half a day behind most of my colleagues who are in Singapore. This has impact on:

  • Weekend dinner plans — I don't plan a dinner with my friends on Sundays unless I have taken leave for it.
  • Weekend holiday trips — I need to remember to take leave on Sundays since it’s already Monday in Singapore time.

During the work week, I sleep in a little more so that I can stay alert and work effectively past midnight. Since I already know that I will be working up to at least a little past 1am or beyond that, I make full use of my mornings to rest up. I usually only get out of bed at 10am. If I have to be up earlier, I try to catch a power nap in the afternoon. So my routine becomes something like this:

10am — wake up, make a cup of coffee, and enjoy my morning. Have a very light breakfast if I have to, since it is lunch soon

12 noon — prepare lunch

Rest of the time until 5pm — do some household chores, exercise, play some games, or anything you can think of.

5pm onwards — it is work time.

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Of course, there are challenges when working with this type of routine. The most frequent issue I face is actually timezone conversion, which is easier said than done! When communicating with the others, I always try to use SGT (Singapore Time) instead of my own timezone. This is to reduce miscommunication, and is also easier for others to understand. It’s a small courtesy on my part, since our core team is based in Singapore, and we generally base our schedules off GMT+8.

Adapting to this lifestyle itself was a challenge too, especially at the start. My social interactions with my family, be it physically or through video calls, were my source of energy as they gave me a sense of familiarity and normality in the new country I had moved to work in. I had to reshuffle when these interactions could take place, and my family had to make accommodations in their schedules for me too.

And of course, there is burnout. It is important to not overwork, and in an environment where most of my friends and family are not physically around, it is easy to forget to make some social plans and enjoy life a little bit. I make it a point to play some games with my friends almost every week to relieve some stress, and also head out and explore the country when I can. I also try to schedule some downtime before I go to bed, so I don’t end up taking work to bed. This is important since I usually go to sleep right after I end.

…And Solutions!

It took me some time to adapt to my current routine, and to help the team through my transition to a different timezone. If you’re going through the same situation, here are some of the best tips I can offer based on my experience.

First off, always take responsibility for your time difference. When dealing with tools with calendars (like ClickUp or Google Calendar), have someone else to check your tasks etc. on their end to make sure you’ve scheduled tasks and meetings for the correct timezone. Not all apps are going to do this for you. Google Calendar sets up events in your own timezone, so you don't have to convert the time when setting up events there, but in Notion, there is a timezone setting. If you use Notion too, make sure to check that setting before setting up any tasks or events that involve dates and times.

Here are some other things I highly recommend you do.

  1. Make your status visible — in Mighty Bear, we use Slack as our main communication channel during working hours. We make use of status settings in Slack to indicate if we are busy, in dark mode, or taking a break etc.
  2. Respect your colleagues’ boundaries— don't go messaging them in the middle of their night and expect an answer just because it is a convenient time for you. Conversely, maintain your own boundaries well, and don't feel obligated to respond to messages when you should be sleeping and resting.
  3. Plan ahead — avoid making last minute plans and taking time off at the very last moment. This puts a toll on many others who have to cover for you.

Before I end off this short article, big props to Mighty Bear Games for allowing me to work not just remotely, but from an entirely different timezone. We also have other tips for working remotely: check out Cornelia's Home Remedies for how to better structure your time, or if you are starting your new job remotely, Mary-Anne's remote working onboarding tips might be helpful.

If you enjoyed this article or found it helpful, drop me some claps! And don’t forget to follow Mighty Bear Games on Medium.

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