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9 Ways To Efficiently Schedule Meetings In Different Time Zones

9 Ways To Efficiently Schedule Meetings In Different Time Zones

Determine Purpose and Priorities

Whenever it’s required to schedule a meeting throughout distinct time zones, the first thing to enable is to define the meeting’s purposes and priorities. They are crucial for identifying not only the absolute necessity of the meeting but the degree of priority as well. For example, if the meeting should be scheduled for decision-making with the involvement of key stakeholders in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, I may want to position it as a priority. So, the ideal time is when the U.S is just in the evening, Asia is in the morning, and Europe is in the middle of the day. Several steps will help in guaranteeing an adequate scheduling process.

Identify the Available Working Time

The review of the available working time based on various time zones can simplify the process. To make this happen, such tools will be beneficial as “World Time Buddy”, and “Google Calendar’s World Clock” . I will be able to see that the time that is appropriate for New York and Europe is 8 AM in New York and 1 PM in London while for Tokyo, it is 9 PM. That way, the time will be comfortable despite the fact that it will be very early in the morning in the U.S. and very late in the evening in Asia.

Utilize Powerful Scheduling Tools

There are many sophisticated scheduling tools in use that are integrated with the calendar. Using such tools makes scheduling easier, and they minimize the time opportunities for the meeting. For instance, Doodle will allow participants to signal when they are available for a meeting . Those slots that are perfect for everyone will be automatically highlighted. The use of the tool highlights the benefits of group scheduling without evoking endless emails. I had to deal with a situation like this when we needed to schedule a meeting with our global finance team calling for quite an intricate decision-making process. The creation of a precise agenda enabled us to shorten the meeting length by 30%.

Establish a Clear Agenda

One of the most important things in the event of the limited time is guaranteeing that the agenda is sent at least 24 hours before the meeting. Otherwise, the meeting will be unproductive and frustrating. The agenda that should be formed is quite detailed, where it is clearly stated what the preparation should be related to.alysis(IConfiguration of new software). I had to make it in the interaction with the global configuration team and created quite a precise one, managing to benefit from shortening the length.

Use Scheduling Tools

Given the realities of the global working environment, arranging meetings across different time zones may be quite difficult. However, the use of enhanced scheduling tools can help streamline the process. In the present discussion, I provide both a general rationale and a detailed set of examples for the effective use of these tools.

Choose the Right Scheduling Software

The choice of the correct tool is essential. Tools such as Doodle, When2meet, and Time Zone Ninja have basic and premium features specifically designed to find meeting times across time zones. For example, if a marketing team is spread across San Francisco, Berlin, and Tokyo, a team leader can use Doodle to propose multiple time slots . The tool will then gather their responses and propose the best time slot instead, meaning that no one will have to meet very late at night or in the very early morning.

Integrate with Calendar Apps

Calendar app integrations help ensure that all participants have a constantly updated view of their schedules. Most of the modern applications have built-in synchronization with Google Calendar, Outlook, and other widely used digital calendars. As a result, the scheduling tools will automatically block out time when an individual is not available, streamlining planning and reducing the likelihood of conflicts. For instance, a project manager in New York will see when her staff in London is available for the meeting in real time and can make the decision accordingly.

Automate Reminders

Meeting reminders can be automated in these tools, helping to ensure that all the participants are prepared and on time even across different time zones. For example, the team leader can program the tool to send the email to the participants 24 hours and one hour before the meeting. In one case, this method resulted in a 40% increase in on-time meeting starts for the team members from the U.S., India, and Australia.

Use Time Zone Visualization Features

Many of the tools feature a visual time zone so that users can see the overlapping of the working hours in different regions. This helps quickly and effortlessly determine the possible time for the meeting without making complicated time zone calculations. For instance, a financial analyst can use this tool to schedule the end-of-quarter meeting between the New York, London, and Hong Kong offices without fear of confusing or inconveniencing the participants.

Consider Overlapping Work Hours

To do effective scheduling across time zones, it is paramount to identify overlapping work hours and use these hours for meetings. This would ensure that all the meetings happen during no participant’s personal night. The way to schedule the meetings while focusing on overlapping hours would be as follows:

Identify Common Work Hours

For all the participating locations, chart out when people generally work. For example, let’s say the team is in New York (GMT-5), London (GMT+0) and Sydney (GMT+11) . Overlapping work hours may seem too limited. There are many free tools where you can input the locations, and it will show you the overlapping hours. In reality, 4 PM in London seems like a terrible time. A good approach may be to move a starting time in New York to 8 AM . It would be 1 PM in London and 12 midnight in Sydney.

Use Polling Tools to Confirm Availability

After you found overlapping hours, use polling tools to allow people to confirm availability during these times. This way, they can vote on their preferred meeting times. A project management team in the US, India, and Germany used Doodle to find an optimum for all parties. They made sure a common combining time allowed, the majority, if not the entire team, to participate.

Set Rotating Meeting Schedules

Even if one-on-one meetings are infrequent and rare, when there is no perfect overlapping time for group meetings, set up a rotating schedule so the inconvenience is shared by everyone . This approach ensures that no location’s time is primarily considered but requires consideration of each location’s time. For example, a weekly project update call can alternate between the Eastern Hemisphere and the Western Hemisphere. They held it at 8 PM CEST one week and 7 PM ET another.

Prioritize a Schedule Tailored for a Specific Attendee

When not all team members need to attend the meeting, focus on timing the most important people. The goal of this method is to make decision-making more efficient and speed up the process. For example, if only London and New York team leaders need to join the meeting in order to make a decision, set up a time where they are both available, 11 AM ET. Other team members can always catch up on what happened by reading the notes. The larger tech company already had a monthly offsite where employees voted to adjust the meeting schedule sudo- was it successful? . In an IT company, they used feedback to alter the schedule monthly, and the team was reportedly much happier and less burnt out .

Consider Cultural and Religious Festivals

International teams should understand and plans around culture and religious festivals. Acknowledging these dates not only enhances the diversity and socialisation between team members, but it is also crucial to avoiding conflicts. Below are the practical approaches and their examples in the way of acknowledging the importance of cultural dates and holidays:

  • Maintain an international holiday calendar: It is important to keep an international holiday calendar up-to-date. For example, tools like Google Calendar allows displaying public holidays from different countries, which can be beneficial to foresee conflicts . Scheduling important project milestones, not considering Diwali, and other such holidays in India can reduce the number of participants and prolong the timeline . A Japanese retail company faced similar issues, while involved in a big project in India.

  • Regular communications about upcoming holidays: It is effective to establish a system in which team members remind each other about the upcoming holidays and observances. International consulting firm uses this approach and starts each email and Slack message with a reminder of the upcoming holiday in two weeks . As a result, such an approach has helped to tremendously reduce the last-minute cancellations and reschedule.

  • Plan meetings well in advance: It is important to take into consideration the way a meeting or a project deadline will be affected by the cultural holidays. For instance, a global software company planned to start the deployment on the last week of Ramadan . However, the feedback from the Middle East team was that the availability and performance are significantly reduced during the last week of Ramadan. Therefore, the company has successfully rescheduled the deployment and avoided delays.

  • Flexibility: It is crucial to provide cultural or religious flexible schemes during significant periods. For example, allowing heads or all team members to work the hours they can or the days off to attend their cultural festivals can build significant morale and retainment. For example, a New York media company provides floating holidays on which employees can take the U.S. holidays off or meaningful days off for them based on their cultural experiences.

Finally, it is also important to allow team members to speak about the significance of their culture and its respective festivals and features during the meetings or in the internal newsletters. This not only increases the cultural knowledge, but it also works towards creating a culture of respect and inclusion. For example, the tech startup I am a part of holds a monthly cultural day, in which a particular team member presents their culture or a major holiday. This added to the cohesion of the team and raised awareness of cultural differences.

Send Agenda in Advance

The practice of sending an agenda in advance is the cornerstone of any meeting management, especially across time zones. It ensures that all participants are ready, can actually contribute to the discussion, and helps everyone keep to the point and avoid irrelevant discussions. I suggest the following strategies and examples:

Detailed Preparation

The initial strategy suggested above is preparing a detailed agenda. I would add that specific points and the expected outcome for each item should be listed. In addition, every issue should include the amount of time to allow, ensuring that the meeting can be kept short and to the point. For example, a global finance team may prepare an agenda that will likely include 10 minutes for the financial update, 15 minutes to discuss the compliance issues, 5 minutes to answer questions, and the final words .

Distribution Timetable

The next step is to ensure that the agenda is sent to the participants in advance. It is advisable to ensure that this is done 24 to 48 hours before the meeting. It will allow all participants enough time to prepare the issues they need to raise and possibly coordinate with their colleagues in the same time zone. For example, each time a software development company organized a meeting, the running items included a link to the previous meeting notes, where the issues were discussed, or to the meeting, which is to be documented, making sure that every participant would actually be ready to present the development progress or any bug fixes.

Review

Finally, five minutes should be added at the beginning of every meeting for a quick look at what still has to be done and for the participants to give up on any other running issue. In one of my past experiences, this approach was especially effective. Each time a marketing team, bringing together field sales, ecommerce, product management, and other departments across seven countries and three continents, held a weekly sync, the first five minutes were dedicated exactly to these adjustments, ensuring that all essential issues were actually discussed.

Feedback Collection

Finally, the feedback should also be collected at the end of the meeting. It can easily be done with the help of a simple form sent by email. Experience shows that these procedures actually helped us in one large international consulting firm over a period of several months. Participants’ time wasted at meetings was cut.

Allow Flexibility

In a vast majority of cases, working in a global work environment means that at least one’s group work might be focused on several time zones at once. This is where flexibility in meeting times might matter most. On the one side, the kind of flexibility described here aims at preserving respect for people’s schedules, while, on the other, it seeks to enhance team-building and effective mutual communication. Below are the examples of implementing flexibility in meeting planning, as well as the possible strategies.

Rotating Meeting Times

Organize the rotation of less and more awkward times thus that the burden would be equally shared, and the team’s objectives would not suffer. An example:

A registered support team of a certain U.S. software product company holds meetings three times a week in English. Alternately, one week the meeting is at 10 am in the U.S. and 3:30 pm in India, the next it is at 3 pm in the U.S. and 7 am in Australia, etc.

Use of Asynchronous Video Options

When people still cannot attend even a late-time session, make sure they have an opportunity to watch the videos and respond asynchronously.

Later that evening, one of the team members without a mutual hour to meet will watch the recorded meetings where the development team discusses the details of the coming sprint and make comments on the team email thread . Note that in this case an active participant of the process can help those who… were not present at the meetings continue from the last place they remembered .

Flexible Agenda Items

Clara do Eskimo reports that MSH Multinational Marketing Team allows moving the discussion of earlier or later items to earlier or later hours . Alina Yakusheva, a member of the Big Mirage consulting firm, says that we try to get members to identify more difficult meetings in advance and determine the timing . Implying that complex meetings are scheduled for hours that are more or less acceptable for all .

Choose Asynchronous Communication

Working with teams in other countries implies adjusting to the occasional or even daily overlap of non-standard working hours. Thus, it is crucial to incorporate various methods of asynchronous communication that help share information and complete tasks even when not everyone is online. Here are some effective strategies with examples.

  • Use collaboration platforms

Many tools support asynchronous collaboration — these can be Slack channels, Microsoft Teams, or Asana:

  • Teams create channels or threads for certain projects, where they exchange updates, files, and feedback on their project manager or else;

  • Members contribute as they see fit without the necessity to react right away to the news.

For example, a tech company establishes Slack channels for every ongoing software development project and discusses the ongoing projects .

  • Implement shared documents

This strategy, perhaps, is the most straightforward:

  • Make extensive use of shared files, collaborative editing documents, and platforms like Google Docs, Notion, or Confluence;

  • Google Sheets can be employed to track metrics or Google Docs to write reports collaboratively.

Thus, a marketing team from three countries leverages Google Sheets to regularly track metrics of each campaign and Google Docs to write a report — they know updates are seen and insights need to be added . In the latter case, moreover, the concept of rounds can be used, where one iteration of a document is shared, and the feedback can be given within a set time frame.

  • Record meetings

If synchronous discussions are necessary, they also must be recorded to watch asynchronously afterward with minutes:

  • As Kinnaird reports, a global HR firm records all formal meetings and any kind of training the employees have, and they are saved in a public folder;

  • Others can watch them at a comfortable time, taking notes and sharing insights afterwards.

  • Encourage not instant feedback

It helps to establish a culture when the input and the leave of comments are not expected as soon as something is shared. For a team project, a team leader can establish weekly feedback cycles within, let us say, a three-day round. This strategy helps to reflect on something and give considered feedback . On the other hand, a task management system can be used to track tasks and keep deadlines visible for everyone.

  • Use task management systems

The latter can also be useful in setting deadlines that can be adjusted by the time zone:

  • For instance, many firms use such tools as Trello, Asana, or Jira;

  • Cards can be created for complex projects and assigned to a specific team member, indicating the due date.

Set Clear Communication Protocols

Effective communication protocols should be established to facilitate the working of different teams based in various time zones. These protocols aid in ironing out the communication differences between teams and ensure that the messages are effectively conveyed to other teams while adhering to the time. Several steps for establishing these protocols are as follows:

  • Defining preferred channels of communication

    Different tools available for communication and their uses should be mentioned:

  • E-mails should primarily be used for formal communication. Non-urgent work-related messages can also be sent via this tool.
  • Instant messaging platforms, such as Slack, should be used for quick questions and problem solving.
  • Video telephony tools, such as Zoom, should be used for extensive discussions and interaction with the team.
  • Anytime, all-things monthly meetings and daily communication are conducted by a multinational corporation via Microsoft Teams.

 

  • Response time expectations should be clearly stated

    These expectations should be in tandem with the type of communication as follows:

  • An hour, if it is about an urgent issue.
  • Depending on the format and urgency for e-mails, the upper limit is 24 hours.
  • A week, if it is a long-time project or work that is not urgent.
  • For a global sales team, these statistics skyrocket to two hours, should it be a customer-related issue, and the query should reach the person at work. For internal inquiries, the response can be delayed until the start of the next working day.
  • Guidelines for time-sensitive issues should be created

    The following guidelines should be followed:

  • Who to contact first and deciphering their time conditions and the nature of the issue.
  • Who to contact should the first person be busy.
  • The third and the consecutive steps should the first two steps not yield any fruit for a certain time period.

Reporting a technical breakdown should be directed through a helpdesk and the escalation of the issue after a sufficient time period of no response should be reported to the regional manager of the IT department for a globally working IT service provider.

  • Communication protocols should be updated and provided

    These steps should be followed:

  • Every six months, all-protocol reviews and updates should be held after the organizational changes and acceptance of this protocol.
  • These updates should be based on methods that are easily reachable, such as intranet or another protocol form.
  • The international non-profit organization updates its protocols biannually after adjusting them in accordance with operational changes in such a large organization. Individual and general communication protocol talks given in computer labs are conducted by an engineering company, utilizing real-life scenarios in practice and turning them into amusing anecdotes.

Seek Feedback and Iterate

One of the strategies that are fairly effective when organizing meetings across different time zones is actively seeking feedback on meeting management and continuously iterating in accordance with that feedback. This helps in organizing best practices that actually correspond to the needs of your global team, allowing for their evolution to continue concurrently with these needs. Below are some methods and examples on how to actively seek this kind of feedback and utilize it for the improvement of your meeting practices.

Conduct Surveys

After every meeting, send out a quick survey to your team members and gather the feedback on different aspects of the meeting:

Timeliness and convenience of the time that was scheduled.

Relevance and efficiency of the agenda that was present.

Overall satisfaction with the outcome that the meeting resulted in.

For example, a software development company organizes monthly surveys aimed at assessing the effectiveness of their sprint planning meetings. Depending on the received data, these meetings might be rescheduled or adjusted in length or format.

Hold Retrospective Meetings

From time to time, hold meetings during which the team will discuss what is working and what is not in your current meeting structure:

Different areas that the meeting covers should be considered, from scheduling to execution.

The only thing that must not be present should be a tabooed subject matter.

For example, a marketing team, which we consulted, holds quarterly retrospectives that are aimed specifically at reconsidering the efficiency of a communication channel across the different teams of the company that are spread worldwide.

Use Feedback for Changes

After gathering the feedback, follow these steps:

  • Analyze that, and try to identify the most noticeable tendency present in the data.
  • With the feedback available, it’s easy to identify the areas that require change.
  • Make the changes that will be as inconsequent and subtle as possible, and analyses that impact that they will make.
  • After implementing these changes, get the feedback on them.
  • For example, a finance team that operates globally continuously edits their meeting times and frequencies to ensure the least drastic outlier-cases of meetings at inconvenient times.

Implement a Flexible Adjustment Policy

Enforce a limited period in which these changes can be made by your team leads:

  • Based on received feedback, if a broad necessity is identified, then the meeting schedule or format must be changeable shortly.
  • All of your team members should be adequately informed of such a change possibility existing.
  • Make sure that, for example, a project in an IT service company has a flexible meeting policy. This policy allows certain project managers to change meeting frequencies and timetables depending on the current intensity of project activity.

Share the Outcomes of Your Feedback

Communicate with your team regarding the feedback and the changes that it implies on a regular basis, informing them of everything that they should know:

  • This will emphasize the impact that their feedback is making on the situation and develop participation further.
  • This will also inform them of the reasons behind your changes, increasing transparency.
  • At a global consulting company that we consulted, a quarterly feedback review is used. After each of these, a feedback report is sent to all of the company’s employees. This report explains changes based on feedback trends that were identified in it.

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