Managing Employees Across Time Zones

Over the past year alone, the number of companies that have adopted hybrid or remote work models has skyrocketed. Subsequently, many teams that were once localized have scattered across the country and beyond. People operations officers and team leaders need to redesign their workflows and consider new variables if they want to maintain productivity levels and keep morale high.

Managing employees across time zones is more nuanced than simply scheduling meetings at suitable hours and knowing when to sign on and off. On an interpersonal level, the time of day can significantly affect employee energy levels, mood, and productivity. From a compliance standpoint, human resources and people leaders need to be aware of how harassment training requirements, wage and hour laws, and workplace safety laws can vary from state to state. In addition, the current COVID-19 pandemic can be another wild card. Different states can mean different mask mandates, business operations, and cultural perception of the virus and vaccine.

Leveraging Technology

While this may be one of the more trivial aspects of managing teams in different time zones, it’s important that meeting times reasonably accommodate all employees whose presence is required. A predominantly West Coast based team scheduling important team discussions outside of East Coasters working hours can pose a significant barrier to inclusion.

Managing Employees Across Time Zones

A New York-based employee putting a 10:30am meeting on the books for their colleague in Seattle may think they are accommodating, but depending on the employee this may not be the case. Someone on the east coast has had 3 additional hours to wake up, complete a morning routine, and get their ball rolling. Not only is it logistically challenging for someone on the West Coast to attend this meeting, but they may also show up in a completely different state of mind. Different moods and energy levels can lead to contentious conversations and, if sustained, damage interpersonal relationships between coworkers. Inversely, an East Coast employee regularly required to attend 5:30pm meetings may develop similar feelings of resentment and fatigue. In today’s hybrid work, flex schedule work world, a 5:30pm Pacific time meeting is not the most unreasonable request, but if that is the case, an east coaster may start their workday an hour later.

Luckily, shared calendars and tools like Calendly can help account for time discrepancies. West Coast employees should be encouraged to block off reasonable periods of time for their morning routines. East Coast employees may want to set hard stops for themselves and their teams so they are not constantly working into the night. Managers may even want to ask: “Is this meeting necessary?” Can the desired outcome from this meeting be accomplished via email or chat? Tools like Asana can enable teams to remain in the loop on each other’s projects, priorities, and deadlines, thus eliminating some superfluous meetings.

Keep Compliance in Mind

Human Resources, People Operations, and Compliance officers all need to think about how having a transcontinental workforce affects their compliance training needs, as well as wage and hour laws. At present, 7 US states require that employers provide sexual harassment training to employees, with similar bills pending in three additional states. It should also be top of mind that each of these states have different requirements around which topics need to be covered in sexual harassment prevention training. The law aside, it’s best to provide harassment prevention training to all employees at regular intervals. Check out Emtrain’s interactive map for detailed information around harassment prevention training requirements in those states that require training and Canada, as well as links to other relevant workplace compliance laws.

Harassment training mandates are not the only compliance laws that vary across state lines. Employers should be aware of the minimum wage laws for each state where they employ people. Many states also have additional protected characteristics to those laid out by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. Workplace culture and compliance are not siloed. Culture leaders should coordinate with compliance officers to make sure that their standard training regiments, pay structures, and workplace policies cultivate a workplace culture that is positive and consistent for all employees, regardless of location.

COVID-19 Considerations

At the time this was written, COVID-19 case numbers were spiking in South Eastern states as well as some counties in the North West, with much of the country remaining relatively stable. Managers and culture leaders should keep in mind that employees’ experience with the pandemic, lockdown orders, and freedom of movement are largely subject to their geographic location. People would do well to avoid broad sweeping statements like “Well I’m glad that’s over” or divisive comments like “If everyone would just get the vaccine, we wouldn’t be dealing with this.”

Perception of the virus, vaccines, and government responses differs from person to person, and–similar to political stances–geographic location certainly plays a role in those perceptions. Emtrain has a library of microlessons that provide training on topics around COVID-19 awareness, cultural differences, and political differences. Consider training your team on the workplace culture skills that are often needed to bridge these divides.

Managing employees in different time zones can pose some new challenges, but the freedom and flexibility that flex work and hybrid work structures provide largely outweigh those barriers. Emtrain is here to help you build the most comprehensive compliance and culture training program that can ensure a consistent, positive employee experience. Contact us to learn what we can do for your transcontinental workforce.

John Wiese
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