Tech tips for working with people in different time zones

Avoid messaging people when they’re sleeping. It’s rude.

In this day and age, offices seem to have no barriers, so you may have colleagues or clients living in different time zones. This is great (and almost magical—thank you, internet!), but it can also lead to headaches when it comes to staying in touch or when projects and deadlines are involved.

You don’t have to use your fingers to figure out what time it is in various cities around the world. There are plenty of tools out there ready to lend a hand, plus the apps you’re already familiar with likely have options and settings that may be helpful when dealing with people on different longitudes.

Know what time it is

Scheduling a meeting or planning a project is definitely easier when you actually know if your colleagues are out for lunch or just had their morning coffee.

World clocks in Google Calendar

The days of having three different clocks hanging on your wall are over. Now, you can have them displayed on Google Calendar whenever you’re planning your week. On the web (not on mobile, sorry), click the cog icon (top right), then Settings and Show world clock to configure one or more world clocks that will be visible on the left-hand side of the calendar interface.

World clocks on your phone

Open up the clock app on your device. If you have an iPhone, tap on World Clock, and then the plus button; if you have an Android phone, tap on the globe icon and search for the city you’re interested in. You can add as many as you want, and the app will show you a list of your chosen cities, the time it is there, and how many hours ahead or behind they are relative to your location. For even easier access, add the clock widget to one of your phone’s home screens.

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World Time Zone

Sometimes you need to know how time zones fit in with each other—that’s where World Time Zone comes in. The site displays a compact but comprehensive map showing every time zone and how they’re linked by longitude. You can zoom in to get specific lists of city times across countries and continents, as well as search for particular locations around the globe.

Every Time Zone

Open up Every Time Zone in your web browser for an at-a-glance guide to your time zone as compared to multiple cities, including Tokyo, Berlin, and Dubai. It’s laid out so that each time zone appears relative to one another, and if you register for a free account you’ll be able to customize the cities that show up and the order they’re in.

There

This is a free and simple tool for macOS (other platforms “coming soon”) where you can see a list of people, their locations and current time where they are. You can import your team’s contact list directly from Slack to There, or you can add people and locations (like team headquarters) individually.

Timezone.io

Open up a free account at Timezone.io and you’ll be able to see your entire team on a grid showing who’s in which time zone and what time it is there. You can also easily adjust the time slider at the top of the screen to go back or forward in time, which is helpful when planning meetings and projects.

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Assign time zones to calendar events

Both Google Calendar and Apple Calendar let you assign time zones when you create new events. Tap the corresponding entry on your phone or the web, and the time of the events in your calendar will automatically adapt to whatever time zone you’re in. If your event happens to fall out of office hours for any guests, you’ll get a notification letting you know so you can modify it accordingly.

Add a second time zone to Google Calendar

Google Calendar lets you set a secondary time zone, though only through its web interface. Click the cog icon (top right), then Settings, and Secondary time zone. Once you’ve set it, and checked the Display secondary time zone box, it’ll show up in the day, week, and month views alongside your current time zone.

Set your time zone in Slack

Simple tweaks can make a big difference. On Slack, for example, if you set your time zone, other users will be able to see your local time when they interact with you. They’ll also get notified if they’re reaching out to you outside of office hours, which can be helpful if you don’t care for your phone buzzing in the middle of the night. You can do this on the web by clicking on your profile picture (top right), then choosing Edit profile. If you’re on mobile, select You, View profile, then Edit profile.

Take breaks from notifications

If your co-workers overseas are a little relentless, there are multiple ways to make sure a ping from your phone doesn’t interrupt your full eight hours of sleep. You can start by setting how notifications work inside individual apps, or even turn on the Do Not Disturb mode on your phone altogether. On iOS, choose Do Not Disturb from Settings, and if you haven an Android device, pick Sound and vibration, then Do Not Disturb from Settings.

Plan meetings in a smarter way with World Time Buddy

Trying to get multiple people across various time zones on the same page for a meeting can be tricky, but World Time Buddy can help. Add up to four locations (or more if you subscribe to a paid plan), and you’ll be able to see how meeting times fall across each place. When you’ve decided on a slot, you can email all the participants and invite them to your event.

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Delay sending your messages

If you want to be courteous towards your co-workers, consider delaying sending emails outside of their working hours. If you’re using Gmail, you can do it no matter how you access the platform. In the mobile app, tap the three dots (top right) then Schedule send. On the web, click the arrow next to Send and then Schedule send when you’re composing a message.

Subscribe to multiple holiday calendars

If Slack seems awfully quiet, it might be because your colleagues in another country are celebrating a holiday. One of the ways you can keep tabs on these is by subscribing to the relevant calendars in Google Calendar. From the web interface, click the plus button next to Other calendars, then Browse calendars of interest, followed by Regional holidays. Now every time you suspect the other side of the world is busy celebrating, you can open your calendar and check if that’s the case, or if there’s some people you need to nag.

David Nield
David Nield

David Nield is a tech journalist from the UK who has been writing about gadgets and apps since way before the iPhone and Twitter were invented. When he's not busy doing that, he usually takes breaks from all things tech with long walks in the countryside.