Working Remotely: Matching Time Zones vs. Opposite Time Zones

When it comes to choosing remote global teams, there are two schools of thought. You can select remoters within matching time zones of your company. For example, if you’re a U.S. company, your distributed team could be located in Latin America so that you have up to 8 hours of overlap. Or, you can opt for opposite time zones, such as managing a distributed team in China with 0 hours of overlap. (Of course, there are plenty of countries in between, with varying degrees of overlap!)

To visualize the difference between matching and opposite time zones, the chart above shows the time overlap with a U.S. company based in New York. At the top, South American time zones (Brazil time zone, Argentina time zone, etc.) take the lead with 8 hours of overlap, while Eastern European time zones (Poland time zone, Ukraine time zone) have semi-overlapping times between 3-5 hours, and Asian time zones (China time zone, India time zone, etc.) have almost 0 overlap. 

Both matching time zones and opposite time zones have their benefits and drawbacks. Today we’ll take an in-depth look across the time zone map, so you have a better idea of whether your company should use matching vs. opposite time zones.

Cultural Considerations for Any Time Zone

Remember that no matter the time zone of your workers, you’ll have to keep in mind cultural differences. For any world time, you’ll need to manage national holidays in that country, as well as whether they follow daylight savings or not.  

For successful remote work, you’ll also need to understand cultural differences among your distributed team, so you can better manage and motivate according to distinct backgrounds. These cultural considerations are essential when managing across global times. 

Matching Time Zones

Matching time zones are the top option for companies that require regular collaboration. That’s because with matching time zones, you get up to 8 hours of overlap, which makes it easy to hop on calls, get quick responses to your messages and collaborate together on work during the day. When you consider that workers spend 65% of their day collaborating and communicating with others, matching time zones can help get these tasks done without waiting another 24 hours for answers. 

However, responsiveness isn’t the only issue here. For many remote teams, virtual meetings are the heart and soul of collaboration. With matching time zones, these meetings are possible and make workdays more productive. Facetime is key for teams to quickly get updates and solve problems. In fact, when Software Advice studied the biggest communication issues for virtual teams, they found that poor task management, long email threads, bad communication tools, and scheduling virtual meetings were the top issues:

For many remote companies, virtual meetings help minimize these other issues. Instead of sending an email (which is x34 less effective than face-to-face by the way), they use virtual meetings to stay on top of pressing issues and to avoid long email threads that don’t resolve problems effectively. These meetings are only possible within matching time zones. 

Besides these collaboration benefits, matching time zones have some other less direct advantages. For example, when you choose a nearshore location for your remote team, such as South American time zones, you often are getting workers with knowledge and experience working with the U.S.

Take TECLA for example. At TECLA, we’re excited about our matching times across Latin America. The time in Argentina is only two hours different from the time in Mexico, and all South American time zones overlap well with the U.S. In particular, we find that our team members have great working knowledge of U.S. work culture. They even score higher on Gartner’s cultural compatibility index compared to other offshore locations and have some of the best English levels around the world. 

In summary, with matching time zones you can expect:

  • Enhanced collaboration
  • Boosted productivity (more virtual meetings, less email)
  • Cultural compatibility with the U.S. 
  • Better English 

Opposite Time Zones

On the other hand, opposite time zones are a must-have choice for companies that prefer a 24-hour workday. Often, these companies don’t need close collaboration for their work to successfully get done. 

Opposite time zones allow a virtual company to literally work around-the-clock. Remote companies such as Zapier and Buffer use this model to have continuous progress and to handle customer service inquiries 24/7. In this case, the 24-hour company workday can be a huge bonus, since work is constantly getting finished. However, this type of work doesn’t depend on close collaboration, so individuals can complete tasks without needing to consult coworkers or get feedback from managers. 

Nowadays, asynchronous communication is fairly common as distributed teams take on work in different time zones. (For example, the time in Ukraine has only four hours of overlap with the U.S., which means that most work will be done asynchronously.) There are now time zone meeting planner apps (that calculate hour differences), project management tools for asynchronous teams and communication tools to see who’s online and when.

That said, asynchronous communication is always a challenge because you can’t talk directly to employees on the other side of the world regularly. If your project requires close collaboration, the asynchronous communication model may not be ideal. Since 57% of projects fail because of breakdowns in communication, you can see how having opposite time zones can make collaborative projects more difficult to manage. 

In addition, some opposite time zone locations may have indirect drawbacks, such as cultural distance and language barriers. While this is not always the case, countries like China and India typically score lower in cultural compatibility with the U.S., according to Gartner’s scoring. In addition, English levels in Latin America generally rate higher in the EF English Proficiency Index, though of course, it depends on the country you’re interested in working with.

In summary, with opposite time zones you can expect:

  • 24/7 workdays 
  • Time zone coverage for global clients
  • Asynchronous communication to manage
  • Potentially lower cultural compatibility and English scores (depends on country)

Final Takeaway

At TECLA, we love working within matching time zones because for us, collaboration is at the core of producing top work. Without constant collaboration and communication, we feel that our projects wouldn’t have the same efficiency and quality. We’re also impressed by our team’s experience and cultural fluency in U.S. workplaces. More than anything, we believe our workers’ expertise - whether in databases or top JS frameworks - is enhanced by constant contact with other team members. 

But that’s just us. For other companies, having 24/7 production may be right for client needs, especially when collaboration isn’t a key component of production. Being able to serve customers around-the-clock can be a way to attract global clients, too. 

Whatever you choose, it’s important to be aware of the pros and cons of each time zone system and know what to expect. This way, you can boost your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, any hour of the day. 

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