Best Practices for Remote Work Scheduling

Posted By on May 13, 2020

As we continue our series of posts about remote work, one topic that is best discussed early and often is scheduling. For some companies, time zones aren’t a big concern. A few employees working from home but still local to the office doesn’t create an issue. If your company has people in different parts of the country (or the world!) this post is for you.

Remote Work Scheduling

It’s important to set expectations for your teams — a task that’s easier to accomplish once you set up a standardized timezone. For example, if your company calls California home, but a team manager is in New York, you’ll need to decide whose timezone dictates scheduling. The best practice here is to go with the physical location of the company. This eliminates the confusion of “10 A.M. your time or mine?” questions every time someone schedules a meeting.

Once you establish the primary time zone then it’s time to have the discussion about expectations. Scheduling should not be a free-for-all, but it should take the needs of your team members into account. For instance, a California-based company with employees in New York might find that having four to five hours per day of overlap is necessary. That may mean that the New Yorker needs to adjust their schedule and end their day at six or seven o’clock rather than the traditional 5 P.M. quitting time. Meetings, collaboration, and general office chatter are all challenges with different requirements in the remote environment, and mandated overlap can help here too.

Best Practices for Remote Team Schedules

The subject of scheduling goes far beyond finding common times for people to work together. It’s also a matter of being understanding of your team’s needs. One difficult part of remote work is that the people who make up a company can sometimes have difficulties getting to know one another. Are there holidays that your coworker celebrates that you don’t? What about their faith-based activities? Are there cultural differences that will come into play that you’ll need to know because they’ll impact scheduling?

There are tools that can make this challenge easier to handle. The first of those is Every Time Zone or something similar. It displays a timeline that shows — as the name implies — every time zone and its corresponding date/time versus your own.

The next tool you’ll want to employ is one you’re already using: Your calendar. Set up a team calendar that shows holidays that fall outside the scope of official national events. Even if those holidays won’t impact every employee, the calendar can provide a quick reference as to why someone might not be available on a certain date or time.

On the subject of calendars, it’s important that every person in the company makes it a habit to keep theirs updated. Share a calendar that shows PTO or other out-of-office time. Not only does it give an at-a-glance reference, it cuts down on needless “is ______ working today?” questions that take up time.

Setting reasonable meeting times is something that we all have to do. Your New York person scheduling an 8 A.M. meeting that includes Sacramento people is not only unreasonable, it’s also counterproductive. Do your best to find out when people are more likely to have productive meetings, and then share those available meeting times with the team.

In a previous post we spent time discussing tools. Schedules are an area that is critical to keep in mind when using them. Need to send out a message to everyone in a Slack channel? Consider using @here rather than @channel, to avoid disturbing people outside of their normal hours. Burning some midnight oil and sending out emails? Try Send Later so that they arrive in a timely manner and during normal working hours. Need a break of your own? Pause your inbox. For many people, having that early-morning or late-evening “alone” time is crucial to their success. So do your best to facilitate mutual respect among your fellow employees.

No single blog post is going to cover every “what if.” So let this be a starting point, and then customize these ideas to meet the needs of your team. Remote work is here to stay, and the earlier that each company embraces it, the smoother the transition will be.