Juggling time zones for work? These tools can help

Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Summary

Scheduling messages and getting a good world-clock app make all the difference

There’s one skill all remote workers, workcation-ers, frequent travelers and, frankly, anyone with co-workers in other states or countries must have: the ability to navigate multiple time zones.

It’s one I exercise daily. I’m currently based in Paris. My editor is in New York. My family is in California. I am constantly asking myself: What time is it for them right now? Are they awake? Will this midnight message get lost in their morning deluge?

To manage the never-ending time warp that is my life, I have a small army of clever clock apps. I’ve also learned more about hidden settings in Slack, Gmail and other tools. I now organize meetings and schedule messages to land at times when my co-workers are online. I also plan ahead so notifications don’t disturb me while I’m fast asleep.

Here are some of my essential tech tools for chaos-free communicating across time zones.

Converting time zones

On desktop: Time is complicated. My favorite world-clock website, World Time Buddy, makes it simpler. Unlike other online clocks, its interface is clean and minimal.

First, add different cities. World Time Buddy stacks hour-by-hour views of each location, so you can easily see that, say, noon for you is 6 p.m. in Paris. Working hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time) are highlighted in yellow, while off-hours are marked in blue. If you create a free account, you can overlay events from your calendar on top of the timelines, making it easier to find a time to meet. The best feature? You can use the site to quickly create an event in Google Calendar, Outlook or iCal. It can even copy the times to your clipboard.

I keep the World Time Buddy website tab pinned in my browser so it’s always open on my laptop. (In Safari or Chrome, press Control and click on the site tab, then select “pin.")

On mobile: World Time Buddy offers an app for iOS and Android, which I use for converting time on the go. However, the iOS version doesn’t come with a home-screen widget. (The Android version does, and it’s excellent.)

On an iPhone, the World Clock Time Widget app can display different times across different locations. Since it’s visible on your home screen, you don’t have to open the app. A color-coded label denotes whether it’s daytime or nighttime for that city. (More about iOS home-screen widgets here.)

There’s also a quick way to check time zones on your lock screen—what you see before even unlocking your device—if you have iOS 16 or newer installed. In the iPhone’s own world clock, add your desired locations. Then go to your phone’s lock screen and long-press it. A Customize option will appear, which will allow you to add the Clock widget.

In Google Calendar: In Google Calendar settings, go to Language and region. Under Time Zone, enable “Display secondary time zone." In the calendar’s single-day view, you’ll be able to see your hour-by-hour agenda in two time zones, which makes finding time for meetings much easier.

In the same settings page, enable “Show world clock." This setting will display times for various locations in the left column, with sun and moon denoting day and night.

You can also set working hours in your local time, which will alert people who try to invite you to a meeting outside of that time frame.

On Slack: This is a little feature I use constantly: Click on someone’s profile to see their local time. If you work in a distributed company, consider Team Time Zone, a paid Slack integration (starting at $9 a month) providing a helpful dashboard of each team member’s time zone.

Scheduling messages

Your colleagues are more likely to open notes they receive when they’re awake. Here’s how to send messages when you want them to be read.

Gmail: On desktop, when composing a message, click the down arrow next to Send to select a date and time. On mobile, tap the three dots in the top right corner to schedule the email. (Note: the times are your local time, not your recipient’s.) You can review scheduled emails in your Outbox folder.

When I receive important messages late in the evening, I find it helpful to resurface them in the morning. When viewing an email, press the clock icon to “snooze" it. This puts the note at the top of your inbox at your specified time.

Outlook: When composing, select the More Options arrow, then under Delivery options, select “Do not deliver before" and specify a date and time.

Slack: On desktop, click the down arrow next to the send icon. On mobile, long press the send icon. (Slack provides both your time and the recipient’s time.)

To reup Slack messages received when you’re trying to sign off, click the three dots then select “Remind me about this."

Communicating your time zone

Making other people aware of your time zone can be just as helpful. I like to put mine in my email signature, with a link to a Google results page of the current time.

For finding a time to meet, the popular scheduling app Calendly shows your availability in the recipient’s local time. Make sure to set your working hours. If your company uses Google services, you can create a similar appointment-booking page in Google Calendar. Just be aware of the etiquette around sending people your scheduling links.

There will inevitably be moments when you’re fast asleep, or just sitting down for dinner, and someone will mistakenly ring, email or text. For those times, set up a Do Not Disturb schedule. You can customize these for iOS and Android, so you can enjoy downtime, wherever you are.

After all, you can’t work your full day, then clock back in for theirs!

 

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