5 tips for managing clients across different time zones
One of the perks of freelancing is that you’re not limited to a specific location for work. Jobs and opportunities can be found anywhere across the globe thanks to the rise of marketplaces, networks and communities dedicated to helping freelancers find jobs.
Since taking the leap, I moved to Germany and have worked with clients from here, the UK, the US and my home country of Australia. Essentially, I’ve been working in four time zones for the last year and it has taken some getting used to.
Learning to manage these effectively while not taking on crazy hours and bizarre sleep patterns has been a challenge to say the least. With some trial and error, I now feel that I have found my rhythm and what works for me. To make it work, it takes adequate planning and sticking to a strict schedule that accommodates your clients’ time zones.
From my experience, I feel it often comes back to core values of solid communication and effective organization. If you’re always open with clients and respectful of each other’s time, managing multiple time zones can easily become a part of your daily routine.
Plus, thanks to the rise of the remote worker and digital nomad, there are some great tools available to make managing this that whole lot easier. Here are my top five tips for managing clients across multiple time zones:
1) Be organized and know your zones
Don’t waste your energy trying to calculate time zone differences yourself, make use of the fantastic tools available. I prefer World Time Buddy and have it open all day as a constant reminder. Other options include Every Time Zone and The Time Zone Converter.
Find a tool that you logically connect with — one that’s intuitive for you. Setting your time zones on your iPhone World Clock is also handy and provides a reference point when on the move. Oh, and get familiar with those pesky time zone abbreviations.
I recommend setting up systems and processes that align with each client’s time zone and required deadlines. Plan your calendar and daily schedule accordingly. Don’t forget to note down each country’s daylight savings period and public holidays – or you’ll be left wondering why no one is in the Slack team one Monday (yes, that’s happened to me)!
2) Utilize Google Calendar
Using Google Calendar is handy because it allows you to schedule meetings and appointments in both your time zone and your clients, without either having to decipher it together. If working closely with someone or a small team, you may even consider sharing your calendars to keep across availability and movements.
I sync my Google Calendars with Sunrise to provide one huge overview (seriously, a fab app!) and have recently started using Calendly to book all meetings, which provides clarity on my availability and preferred meeting times. You can also use World Clock Meeting Planner if you have people from across the globe joining into a call.
3) Communicate clearly and regularly
People get busy and sometimes forget that you’re in a different time zone and not available now. Look it happens, so keep your communication open and transparent. Always share availability, movements, holiday time, plus regular updates via your preferred communications tool. Over-sharing might even be okay in this situation!
It can be good though to restrict your Slack use to within that team’s time zone in some cases. Working with the CloudPeeps team in San Francisco, I don’t share anything on Slack outside of broader US 9am to 5pm period to avoid pinging any of them while they’re sleeping or in their break time. This sets boundaries for the whole team.
Lastly, always trust your gut before you sign off for the day. I’ve had a few occasions in the past with other clients where I didn’t, went to bed and woke up to a hectic situation to deal with that I could have attended to the previous night.
Now, I always check my emails and Slack before signing off for the day. I’d rather go to bed an hour later knowing all’s well than wake up to a stressful situation to deal with quickly before they go to bed!
4) Structure your day accordingly
When working with clients in very different time zones, you will have to make some compromises with your schedule.
As I have clients in Australia, I’ve become accustomed to working for a few hours on a Sunday night to meet their requirements for Monday morning AEST. On the flip side, my week finishes earlier as it’s already Friday night when I wake up on Friday.
In the reverse, it’s also vital to note key moments in your clients’ schedule. As the Peep for CloudPeeps, I structure my day to align with 9am PST each day, when the CP team comes online. This is 6pm CET, so I often take a longer lunchtime or an afternoon break to accommodate the fact that I’ll be working into my early evening.
It’s important to always manage expectations and minimize the need for follow-up if possible. If you only have an hour or two a day in overlap, you can’t afford confusion or you lose too much time with the time difference.
Using tools such as Asana for ongoing project management allow progress to continue even if some team members are sleeping. Make the most of the time you have available when your client is sleeping – it actually can really help you get ahead.
5) Set boundaries for yourself
You’re not a machine and can’t work 24 hours per day, so setting boundaries is seriously important for your health and productivity levels. The odd late night to meet a deadline for a client on the other side of the world is okay, but don’t make it a regular thing.
Personally, I know that my attention to detail and decision-making skills start to decrease after 10pm, so I try to ensure that I’ve either had an afternoon break/nap to provide more energy for evening work, or be prepared in advance while my client is sleeping so I can hand over when they wake up – and then sign off for the evening.
Most importantly, learn to say ‘no’ if the requests from your clients start to become unreasonable and require you to work super late. It can be hard, but if you have set the right process in place from the beginning, the client should understand your availability and will manage workload, deadlines and expectations reasonably. Don’t be afraid to remind them.
Before signing on any new clients, always know what you’re getting yourself into with the time difference. If the crossover is very narrow and will result in you having either no social life or to work bizarre hours, might be worth reconsidering – unless you’re happy to do that kind of thing!
Finding your flow
Working with clients across multiple time zones doesn’t have to be a burden. Get familiar as quickly as you can; start to live and breathe those zones. Put up several clocks on the wall if you have to! Find systems and tools that work for you and stick to them, and your communication flow.
I did have some hiccups when I first started out and made several time zone blunders, especially when I was travelling. It was embarrassing but each time, it actually helped me solidify my processes to avoid it happening again.
Overall, it can be fun though dealing with clients in multiple time zones, with contrasting seasons and different holidays. It provides a glimpse into another culture, country and society, it definitely keeps your day interesting, and well, it sure beats the boring 9-to-5 office job!
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