Project management across time zones: 7 lessons

· 7 min read
Project management across time zones: 7 lessons

Right now, I’m working with an international remote team. 

And, we support a number of clients who are also spread out across time zones. 

Project management is challenging even when everyone is in the same place, and being in different countries (and therefore on very different schedules) adds an additional layer of complexity. 

Remote teams are also more common than ever. 

In an increasingly digitized and ever more globalized world, more and more of us are finding ourselves working from home and collaborating with people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away. 

In addition, it looks like remote teams are here to stay. According to ProfitfromTech, 85% of managers believe that teams with remote workers will become the new norm. Meanwhile, 77% of employees say they are more productive while working from home. 

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So I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned about remote project management across time zones.

Let’s dive in! 

1. Communicate in whatever ways your team members prefer 

My default is to use email for all my professional communication. However, there are also people within my team and within my client base who prefer different methods of communication. 

For that reason, I use Slack, WhatsApp, and occasionally Skype alongside email. 

The trick is to not be too rigid and to use the communication tools that work for your team and clients. While it can be time-consuming to manage multiple different messaging apps, most of us have at least a few different tools that we use in our day to day lives anyway. 

Ask people what they prefer, and come up with a system that works.

The methods you use are far less important than keeping an open line of communication with everyone in your team. You must make sure your team members know that they can come to you with any problems or questions, and that you are there to help and support them. 

2. Make it clear that you don’t need immediate answers

You cannot always expect people to get back to you straight away. 

It’s good management practice not to always expect instant replies anyway, but it’s essential when you work across time zones. It might be 2pm for you, but if it’s 2am for your colleague, they’re probably not going to read your message for a few hours. 

Therefore, make it clear to people in your team that you don’t expect them to get back to you instantly, especially if it’s outside of working hours in their part of the world. 

You can model good behavior and lead by example here, too—if you get a work-related message late at night, consider leaving it until the following morning. 

By respecting your own boundaries and your own work/life balance, you signal to your team that you will also respect theirs. 

3. Choose appropriate project management collaboration tools

Most of my projects are managed through a combination of Trello and Google Docs. These tools are ideal because they allow for collaboration across miles and timezones, allowing people to log in and contribute as and when they’re working. 

Choose the appropriate collaboration tools for your team, and make sure that everyone has access and knows how to use them. That might include a specialist project management software, shared calendars, file sharing systems, and so on. 

Remember that the tools should serve the project and your team, not the other way around! 

4. Make the time for video calls 

Even when you live and work in different locations, it’s often better to talk face-to-face rather than in writing where possible. 

Thankfully, video conferencing tools like Skype and Zoom make it easy. You might choose to have whole-team video meetings, or just one-to-one check-ins with your team—or both. Choose whatever makes the most sense in your context.

Having a video meeting allows you to see the other person’s face, hear their voice, and read their body language. This all enables closer team relationships and better communication as long as you do it regularly. 

5. Remember to account for language barriers

Though you presumably all share a common language that enables you to work together, people on your team are likely to have different native languages. That means you should make an additional effort to communicate in a clear and straightforward manner so that everyone can participate equally. 

Be aware of regional slang or terms that people who don’t share your native language might not understand. You should also avoid using buzzwords and instead say exactly what you mean, as precisely as you can. 

If written work is an important part of your team’s function, you might want to provide a grammar tool to enable everyone to write with confidence. We put together a list of our favorite spelling and grammar checkers that we’ve found useful at Launch Space!

Part of running an effective international team is making everyone feel included. To do that, you must be aware of language barriers and make sure you are communicating clearly at all times. 

6. Track progress and monitor performance

It can be challenging to keep track of how your projects are going and how your team members are performing when you are many miles apart. 

Therefore, as the project manager, it’s your job to come up with an easy way to track progress and monitor performance. 

The methods you choose will depend on the project and what makes sense for your team. For example, I use a lot of Google Sheets that anyone within the team can input on. They allow me to see at a glance what’s on track, what’s ahead of schedule, and anything that might be falling behind and need extra attention. 

Other remote managers I know use tools like timesheet apps and remote monitoring software like TimeDoctor. Monitoring project progress will allow you to catch any problems early, and resolve them before they put the whole project behind schedule. 

Most importantly, you must make sure that everyone is aware of their key performance indicators (KPIs). People can only achieve what is expected of them if you are clear and specific about what that is. 

7. Be flexible

According to CompareCamp, 89% of companies report better retention rates thanks to offering flexible work options. Flexibility matters to employees at least as much as pay and other benefits when it comes to job satisfaction. 

But when you’re working across time zones, flexibility is essential. You will need to be flexible to accommodate different working hours, cultural norms, and responsibilities outside of work for your team members. 

The secret? Trust your team. 

If they know what needs to be done and feel empowered to get on with their jobs, they’ll go above and beyond to do their best for you. 

In other words, support your team and they’ll reward you with loyalty and hard work. No micromanagement necessary! 

Last word

Remote project management across time zones takes a bit of getting used to. But many of the skills you may have learned from managing on-site teams also apply here. 

In a nutshell, here are my top tips for better project management for a remote, international team:

  • Keep an open line of communication, using whatever methods work for your team members
  • Don’t expect immediate answers—respect your employees’ off-time, even if it falls in the middle of your working day 
  • Choose the right tools and make sure everyone has access to them 
  • Take the time to have an occasional video call to allow for face-to-face communication
  • Remember to take language barriers into consideration and use clear, easy to understand language 
  • Be clear about KPIs and monitor progress and performance
  • Be flexible with your team members and trust them to get their jobs done 

One last little pro tip that has been a game changer for me:

Download the free World Clock app on your smartphone. 

You can input the relevant cities where your team members are based, and then see everyone’s current time at a glance. Great for those moments when you can’t remember if someone is four hours ahead or four hours behind! 

If you do all these things as the project manager, you’ll have a happy and healthy remote team that performs at its best. Time zones don’t need to get in the way of great collaboration and achieving fantastic results. 

Best of luck!

Jess Dixon

Jess Dixon

Jess Amy Dixon is a project manager at Launch Space, where she helps SaaS clients land guest posts so they can generate links that push their content up the search rankings. She lives in the UK and when she’s not writing you can probably find her knitting, reading, or sipping coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JessAmyWrites.

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