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The Business of Working Virtually, Part 3: Dealing With the Time-Space Continuum

I’ve written before about how working virtually with a globally distributed team has some big pluses, and how making it awesome is up to you. We’ve also discussed the challenges of working through and understanding cultural differences. But what about bridging time and space?

Always Be Working

Upon stepping into a global role at Mindjet, I quickly learned that — like the British Empire — the sun never sets and the clock never stops. For 6 days out of the week, someone somewhere is working, needing support, advice, follow up, a photo, a quote, an approval. Sydney is 17 hours ahead of San Francisco and Frankfurt is 9 hours behind, making for a 26-hour day. Just keeping up seemed impossible. Finding a good meeting time is not so easy. Successfully negotiating a personal life with the demands of my job seemed unlikely. And getting a press release launched is never ideal when its 12AM in San Francisco, 9AM in Frankfurt, and 5PM in Sydney.

If I could only control both time and space then my life would be so much simpler. Outside of access to a private jet, a bottle of JD and useful, non-habit-forming sleeping aid, you’ll have to do what I did: come to grips with it.

Coming to Terms with Global Challenges

Lacking all of the above I’ve had to find solace the serenity pledge:

May I always have the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

If you’ve got a global team, let’s face it: you’re going to have to deal with at least some degree of cultural disagreements, odd working hours, and non-immediate response times. Seriously, you’ll need to find a way to work within your new reality. The good news is that there are things you can do to mitigate what might be driving you crazy. Here are some things that work for me:

  1. Acceptance.  If I’m really honest, my 9-5 work week has been out the window since I got into tech some 15 years ago. It helps to remind myself of that (see above). To make the “always on call” life work, I’ve blended my personal time with my business time and have become comfortable with a bit of overlap. I carve out “no work” zones that allow me to recharge.
  2. Set reasonable expectations. For instance, I get agreement on how and when we communicate. Call if urgent, text if important, email for everything else. Indicate black out times and dates. I also set SLAs with the team to manage expectations: calls within the hour, texts within the day and emails can wait until the next working day. And it goes both ways. Not everything has to be done right now.
  3. Over-communicate and get feedback. When setting times, I typically write out all time zones or indicate that the meeting or deadline is ‘4pm Thursday PDT and 10am Friday AEDT’. You can also do it by indicating 4pm “my time” and 10am “your time.” It prevents confusion and missed meetings.
  4. Meet when you can — and leverage technology when you can’t. While your team may be virtual and dispersed, that doesn’t mean face-to-face meetings aren’t important. At Mindjet, we have quarterly in-person meetings with the entire international team to set strategies and objectives. With that in hand, we can all go back to our respective local offices and execute. And in-between, we leverage Citrix Go To Meeting and our own Mindjet product to keep us all in synch and moving forward. I like using Citrix’s built-in video and Mindjet’s coediting features to make our meetings as “in-person” as possible. I use both for summit calls, planning big initiatives, and socializing ideas. It keeps us on point and aligned, and just a bit more connected.

All of this pays off. I’m happier and more productive, and so is the rest of the organization. In the end, working to iron out these challenges results higher job satisfaction, stronger ideas, and better outcomes. And isn’t that why we come to work, whereever we may be, in the first place?

Want to know more? Here are three other posts you can check out:

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