There are many features of the world that I simply cannot wrap my head around, and one of these has always been time zones.

In a few weeks, the entire Buffer team will meet up to work and have fun together for a week in Sydney, Australia, and I can’t believe that I’ll get on a plane Thursday night and not arrive there until Saturday morning. Crazy!

In addition to confounding my brain, time zones also provide some fun and interesting challenges when it comes to how we all work together at Buffer as a fully remote, distributed team.

For instance, here’s a glimpse at what our team looks like this week. We’re spread out across 11 different time zones!
Buffer time zones

Naturally, this fact changes the way we work just a bit. And as our team grows and changes, we sometimes have to change and renegotiate the way we work through time zones.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve noticed that seem to be the most effective for us in working across multiple time zones. Maybe they’ll help your remote team, too!

Awareness of others’ time zones

Possibly the simplest tip of all is also the one that can be the hardest to keep top of mind. Typically, we try to be mindful of what time it is for others when we use synchronous communication like video or Hipchat. This keeps us from asking a teammate to dive into a brand-new project if they’re just about to jump off for their evening, for example.

The tool shown above is one that our awesome developer Dan made just for Buffer, and it helps us all a ton to know what’s going on with any teammate at a glance. (If you’re a developer yourself and want something similar, he’s made the code available on Github).

Another handy one, especially if you’re planning a meeting across time zones, is Every Time Zone, which allows you to toggle around to see what the time of your choosing is across every time zone.
every time zone

World Time Buddy works similarly. In this one, you can type in specific places and time zones to get exact times for those who may not be in the major cities.

world-time-buddy

Using these tools to keep time zones top of mind makes sure that all team members have an equal opportunity to work smarter, not harder, and that they can engage or disengage when they want.

Prioritizing asynchronous communication

We use a variety of tools at Buffer, many of which we’ve blogged about before. For synchronous, everyone-at-the-same-time communication, we use Hipchat for written chats and Sqwiggle for video chats.

We also have a lot of tools for asynchronous, everyone-at-their-own-pace communication, including email, Trello and Hackpad. In these tools, we can log what we’ve done, what we’re doing or questions and comments we have and know that other team members can read and comment later on their own schedule.

One of our current challenges as a team is to become slightly less reliant on our synchronous tools and prioritize asynchronous communication a bit more.

Here’s Buffer co-founder Leo talking a bit about why asynchronous communication is helpful for us:

As we’ve been working on this one, Sunil recently sent the team a great reminder and mentioned another benefit of asynchronous communication that’s worth mentioning—greater focus on tasks throughout the day.

“Perhaps more asynchronous communication may help work a bit better in terms of routines, too. I know personally, I sometimes like to get stuck in at various points in my day for focused work without too many distractions. But after that I like to switch out to focus on emails/hackpads etc. Scheduled synchronous communication like planned video calls/sync ups (over ad hoc ones) allow me to better mentally prepare.”

Meeting in smaller groups

Although we prioritize asynchronous communication, it’s still awesome when we can talk face-to-face with teammates.

We have a few standing methods of making sure these types of communication happen often, including the daily pair call and weekly mastermind chats. These chats are normally only 2-3 people maximum, so more often than not it’s possible to find a time that works for everyone across multiple time zones.

round robin pairs

And although it’s not totally unheard of to see a pickup meeting come together in Hipchat, we’re trying harder to make sure to schedule a specific time in advance when we need to communicate synchronously so we can all plan for it.

Sometimes it simply isn’t possible for all the members of a team or task force to get together at once. Those of us at Buffer who regularly work in customer support through Twitter and email have come up with a neat way of handling that challenge, creating something like a daily rolling meeting. Here’s a look at how that comes together across the globe.

Sharing travel plans and schedule changes

When you’re not in the same place with your teammates, you don’t have set work hours, and you have no one to report to, one thing that becomes really important seems to be frequent, clear communication.

Luckily, clarity is one of Buffer’s 10 core values, which means this is one element we’re constantly practicing and working on improving.

We’re constantly sharing what’s going on with our lives and schedules, whether we’re popping out to grab some tacos at lunch or spending the next 4 months in Costa Rica.

Not only does this help the rest of the team to be aware of any changes they might need to know, it also has the added benefit of helping us all feel more connected to one another as we share plans and details of our lives. Not to mention, we wind up collecting some stellar travel tips from our digital nomad teammates!

We’ve been exploring bring more of our whole selves to work in line with the values discussed in the influential-to-Buffer book Reinventing Organizations, and this form of communication feels very in line with the wholeness concept.

Getting together regularly in one place

It’s truly amazing to be part of a remote, distributed team. We make our own hours and our own decisions. We each get so much done in whatever places makes us happiest to work.

And there’s also something magical about getting together all in one place once in a while. Serendipitous conversations lead to new discoveries and ideas. We can learn from one another in one room. And we also have a ton of fun!

That’s why the last important strategy that works for us as a remote team is to get together in person often. At Buffer, we meet somewhere in the world every 5 months for a company-wide work (and some play!) retreat. We’ll work together throughout the week and enjoy some bonding time with fun group activities, too. In Cape Town, we went on a safari and in New York, we took a boat cruise:

New York retreat

Most recently we’ve added a voluntary charitable activity and a community meetup to the itinerary, too. They’re pretty action-packed trips!

Here’s how Joel describes the importance of these retreats:

“Once you return home (Buffer team members are spread all across the globe), the conversations you have with team members are enhanced. You know the tone of somebody’s voice and the way they approach problems and discussions. You read their emails differently. This changes things, and is why we’ve found retreats to be not only a fun part of our culture, but an absolute necessity.”

If you’ve ever worked in a remote or distributed team that dealt with time differences, we’d love any strategies or advice that helps you work across multiple time zones! Share them with us in the comments!

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Written by Courtney Seiter

Courtney writes about social media, diversity and workplace culture at Buffer. She runs Girls to the Moon on the side and pets every dog she sees.

  • Thanks a lot for sharing, Courtney! I am a curious about the voluntariy charity activity. Really a great idea! Are there more details – or will we have to wait until your retreat is finished? :-)

    • Hey Tim! Yeah, we’ve had a lot of fun making that element part of our experience in each city. In New York, a group of us served dinner at a homeless shelter in the Bowery, and it was a wonderful experience. I’m not quite sure what we’ll be up to in Sydney! Will let you know as soon as I do!

  • nice tools, thanks for sharing :)

  • Thanks again for sharing Buffer’s work processes, Courtney! I believe remote teams will find it useful :)

  • Should we just get rid of timezones? Of course, that wouldn’t solve your problem because you need to know when people are available or not.
    But this is an interesting idea: http://www.vox.com/2014/8/5/5970767/case-against-time-zones

    • Wow, what a fascinating idea! It would certainly make the mental math easier (at least for me!)

  • Zack Parker

    At my last startup our entire team worked remotely as well. It definitely takes time to learn to adjust, but we were able to be rather productive while having different schedules. Although we were not as spread out as the Buffer team, we did share some of the similar issues with time differences. One of our co-founders had kids. He tended to work really early, really late, or when the kids took naps. We were in the same time zone, but we still had to be mindful of who was going to be working when. It takes awhile to adjust, but it’s all about managing expectations with “clarity.” Now I’m consulting remotely in Buenos Aires and I feel like I’ve already adjusted to the lifestyle of a distributed team. Although my startup failed, I’m glad that I learned about working with a team on a a different time schedule.

    • Sounds like that was an excellent learning experience, Zack! It does take a bit of time for everything to click into place when you work this way!

  • Allison Jones

    This is great! I work with people all over the country (and sometimes around the world). Will definitely be using some of these suggestions!

    • Awesome, I’m so glad to hear that this post could give you a hand!

  • Every Time Zone is invaluable to me. I’m working from Thailand and scheduling social media for clients in London and New Zealand so it saves me a lot of finger counting working out times!

  • I’ve worked on projects that have spanned New York, London, Bucharest, and Singapore in recent years, and for me the single biggest factor is creating good, clear, open communication.

    Use whatever tools you like which facilitate that, but I always try to find a way to include some face-to-face contact (even if it’s over a video call) in order to get a better sense of the people you’re collaborating with remotely and to relate to them as a person rather than a voice or series of text-based communication.

    Timezones are definitely a major issue, so I think the points around optimising your workflow for predominantly asynchronous communication but supporting that with predictable and purposeful synchronous check-ins is a good one.

    • Hey Andy! Wow, sounds like I could have gone to you as an expert source for this story; you have so much experience in intercontinental projects! Clear communication seems to be the common factor in so many workplace situations – remote and in-person. It’s one that seems quite simple but can take a lifetime to master!

  • Darn, so sorry to have missed your city, Miles! We have retreats every 5 months, so chances are good we’ll be back in Australia one day! :)

  • MocaMedia

    Thank you for this article. It’s great to read how easy and mainstream working across time zones has become. My sister and business partner and I work across time zones and have done so through our marketing agency for over 8 years. She is based in Dallas, Texas and I am in Madrid, Spain. We have team members in NYC and Los Angeles, where most of our clients are based. We pride ourselves in being able to offer our clients almost 24 hour service. To manage time zone challenges, we use a workspace called Podio, which has been very helpful. It’s great for project management. Along the lines of what Buffer team members do, we have regularly scheduled meetings with our clients. For long term clients, we definitely try to make a point of meeting with them in person at least once or twice during the course of our work with them, and might even organize a weekend retreat if we are a larger team. We love working this way, and thoroughly enjoy using all the tools that are available in the digital world to help us to be as efficient as possible to help our clients achieve their goals.

  • Hey Buffer folks, thanks for this insightful article! At Netguru, we also work with clients all around the globe, and you can read about our ways in this article: https://netguru.co/blog/working-distant-time-zones-remote enjoy!

  • Have you had a chance to check out https://sundial.teleport.org yet with the Buffer team, Courtney? We set out to find cure for many of the points you raised in this post earlier in the year, and we’ve seen with our own distributed team — so would love to hear if it has helped.