How to Manage People in Different Time Zones
Vice President, Community WeWork, U.K. and Ireland
I grew up in the U.S. state of Colorado as part of a tight-knit community and studied psychology at university with the aim of becoming a clinical psychologist. I always wanted to help people be the best they could be, but after I graduated my career path changed trajectory. As I looked back years later, I realized I'd gone into psychology without even realizing it. My career at WeWork gives me a big focus on people and the human side of a business's journey -- which I wouldn't necessarily have expected.
I started my WeWork career as part of the Community Team in New York and saw on the front line how important staff inclusivity was. I moved up to eventually manage the New York teams and I was lucky enough to be brought to the U.K. in 2015 to do the same.
Having people based across different countries can be extremely valuable for accessing new markets -- I've seen firsthand that this helps to spur on the future growth of the business. However, if not handled correctly, it can also bring about a variety of challenges that require you to adopt alternative management strategies.
European territories alone span five different time zones. Without effective management strategies in place that accommodate time differences, this can negatively impact employee productivity, lead to a disengaged and isolated workforce, reduce a business's outputs and in turn, impact your business's reputation if speed and efficiency are your core values.
From my experience managing the communities at WeWork, here are the eight crucial steps that I have found help to get the best out of your people across different time zones:
1. Be clear on expectations.
Because you won't be as available to overseas employees, it is important that you are clear about what you expect. Setting objectives and summarizing actions for each week will help to keep everyone in the loop, while ensuring that all employees are aware of what is expected of them in terms of delivery -- regardless of whether their working hours overlap with yours.
2. Encourage communication.
This may mean taking a more proactive approach to scheduling regular meetings with employees to review their workload and progress. It is also important to open appropriate channels to facilitate spontaneous interaction. Despite some team members not being physically accessible, I have found that impromptu catch-ups are crucial to helping build a rapport with colleagues and benefit the team dynamic. Business is about people and building connections -- that's something you can't neglect, no matter how far away you are from them.
3. Establish a virtual workplace.
While video and phone calls are important, a more informal and constantly accessible communication tool can improve a team's collaboration and output. For example, we have developed a WeWork app where members can collaborate on projects and upcoming events are listed for easy access. The app also updates automatically when you are in a different location, connecting you to the local WeWork network and allowing you to see what is going on. We have found that making it easy for conversations to be started and files to be shared online is key to effectively managing people in different time zones.
4. Commit to regular meetings.
There is a risk that people can end up feeling invisible and detached when their working hours don't overlap significantly with their colleagues. Regular meetings can be a fantastic way to connect with employees and to trigger purposeful engagement among a team. I try to connect with a team at a different WeWork location at least once a week either in person or via alternative communication tools.
When distance is an issue, be considerate to others' working patterns and vary the timings of the meetings. This way, while the meeting may be inconvenient for some occasionally, it will demonstrate that everyone is willing to try and accommodate all employees.
5. Be aware of "presence disparity."
When a variety of communication channels are used to conduct team meetings with employees in different time zones, make sure to include those not present in the room. Those without a physical presence can end up having a smaller voice by default and it is far easier for people in the room to jump into the conversation, than when you are on the end of the phone. Ensure everyone is included in the conversation to prevent individuals feeling undervalued.
6. Voice your appreciation.
At the end of the day, all employees -- regardless of which time zone they are working in -- need to know they are appreciated. When you don't see someone every day it can become easy to forget to highlight their achievements. Remote engagement may take extra time and effort but is central to effectively managing all employees -- and it can be as simple as an email of thanks or sharing success with a broader global team. I noticed a massive difference in team morale when I paid extra attention to this.
7. Build a community culture.
Today employees are really taking note of company values, community and culture, and not just financials and benefits. Through my role heading up the community teams at WeWork, I guess I have gone back to my Colorado roots by focusing on building a community feel. We bring people together through common causes such as charity campaigns and ensuring a consistency between physical work environments. This ethos fosters a sense of shared experience regardless of location, and I have found that this helps to connect employees, and the company itself, on a more personal level, creating a more dedicated workforce.
8. Never underestimate the importance of investing in your team.
Try and hold a face-to-face meeting with all your employees at least once, if not twice, a year. Especially if employees are based in Europe, it may be possible to travel to see them just for the day, and meeting with them in person will be invaluable to building a better working relationship.
Additionally, consider setting a sum aside to bring your entire team together each year, for example for a series of centralized workshops. Once a year at WeWork we hold our Summer Camp -- a weekend away for all of our employees -- where we can connect with coworkers from around the world. This helps to develop team cohesion and give everyone an opportunity to bounce ideas off one another.
It can be harder to create a strong working relationship when your business hours don't match up, but fundamentally the basic aims of management remain the same -- ensure all employees know they are a valued member of the team. It's something I've learned through growing the WeWork community both in the U.S. and now across the U.K. and Ireland -- flexible management keeps me and my team engaged and united globally.