How many times have you received a voicemail or email that goes something like this: “Hi there Stephen, this is Tracy, from one of your most important clients. I’m pretty sure were supposed to be meeting right now, and I just tried to give you a call. Please let me know if you’re still available or if we need to reschedule.” (Full disclosure, this happened to me recently and was the inspiration for this post.) When you receive the message, you look at your calendar and realize that you had scheduled the meeting at the wrong time because you miscalculated the time difference between your location and theirs. There is nothing quite like the punch-in-the-gut sensation of experiencing time zone issues. We’ve all been there. Not only are they a professional embarrassment, but because we live and work around the planet, there are often limited windows of opportunity to have detailed conversations at reasonable hours for all parties. (As I write this, ISG is working on an evaluation project that requires communication among team members based in Latin America, Ireland, Uganda and Indonesia. We discovered there are only two, one-hour time slots that offer a practical opportunity to have a full team meeting.) When these windows are missed, they cause delays and frustrations for everyone involved. To be at the top of your game as a development or humanitarian aid professional, it pays to have techniques and tools that you can use to be super time zone savvy. Here are four techniques I use to minimize, and hopefully someday eliminate, the occurrence of time zone issues:
- Insist on reasonable meeting times for everyone: The time zone issues often happen when meetings are scheduled at odd working hours (e.g. the middle of the night). Because of the global nature of our work, flexibility in scheduling is oftentimes a necessity. However, whenever possible, it’s a good idea to insist on meeting times that are held at reasonable hours for everyone involved. Not only will this minimize time zone issues, but also it will ensure that everyone can show up to the meeting with the energy and focus necessary to contribute in a valuable way.
- Never leave a meeting without scheduling the next meeting: another simple technique for ensuring that time zone issues are minimized is to ensure that you schedule your next meeting before ending your current meeting. Put it on your agenda and make everyone open up their calendars to commit to a time before closing a call or a meeting. Not only does this prioritize your work, but it also saves you from potentially dozens of emails going back and forth trying to “find a time” for the next meeting.
- Use calendar invitations: one of the best ways to avoid time zone issues is to schedule meetings using invitations sent directly from your calendar. This simple process allows you to schedule the meeting at the agreed-upon time for yourself, and then when you include others, the meeting is automatically scheduled for them at their appropriate times. If you are not already using a calendar application such as Microsoft Outlook or Google calendar, I recommend you begin doing so immediately.
- Make use of online databases: before you can put the meeting on your calendar, you need to make sure you have the meeting time correct for all time zones. Fortunately, there are a number of services available online that can provide this calculation in a matter of seconds. I rely heavily upon the Meeting Planner and Time Zone Converter tools at http://worldtimeserver.com.
While it certainly isn’t the end of the world when you experience time zone issues, they do cause inconvenience, frustration and delays. If you have particular techniques or tools that you use to avoid experiencing time zone issues, I would love to hear about them in the comments below!