Working across time zones can be interesting, to say the least...
Years ago when I went out on international business travel (before I even knew how to create an “out of office” message) I used to proactively send out an e-mail to associates and clients with a link to a “time-zone-checking website” along with a “disclaimer,” if you will, that defined “urgent” as “life as we know it in the Alpha Quadrant will cease to exist if you don’t speak to me live and on the phone right now.” That didn’t always do it, but it certainly helped.
Even with that, I remember one time my phone rang at about 3 a.m. in Hong Kong and the caller asked, “What time is it there? I didn’t wake you up, did I?” Then of course proceeded directly into the reason for the call—and I had to play catch-up without caffeine. Luckily, I’m a quick study.
These days, I (usually) remember to turn my cell phone off before bedtime when I’m travelling abroad. When I’m on a program, anyone who really needs me immediately can reach me through the hotel operator, after all.
During the pre-planning process I’ve learned a trick that is especially effective when I’m working on programs in Asia/Australia and Europe simultaneously, for example. I simply adjust my work schedule. Working from my office in California I’ve been known to go to bed at 2 a.m., adjust my work day to coincide with that of the destination I’m working with, and take naps throughout the day. I’m fortunate to have a fully set-up home office and the flexibility to allow me to work from home when the need arises.
When I’m working with Australia my work week potentially begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday afternoon (but luckily ends early on Friday, as they’re a day ahead).
Conversely, when I’m working in Western Europe, 9 a.m. Pacific time is 6 p.m. GMT + 1, so Los Angeles is opening up for the day just as the cocktail party at our conference is getting started.
When on-site after a long trip to a very different timezone I follow a very strict regimen:
- On arrival day, no matter how tired I may be, I try to stay up until at least 9 p.m. if not 10 p.m. (local time).
- When I first arrive I unpack and head immediately for the hotel gym, where I do 30 minutes of cardio and some stretches.
- Whenever possible I always “pad” my travel by a day (meaning the day after I arrive is a “recovery day”).
- I probably drink about a gallon of water the first day I get off of a 10-plus-hour flight to rehydrate.
- Most importantly, I don’t over-do it (whatever “it” may be) on that first day.
When I am working in the U.K. and Western Europe, the hardest time of the day is around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. local time, as that’s when the majority of the mainland U.S. and Canada is opening for the day. To alleviate the potential misery, I dedicate about an hour each afternoon to return e-mails, return calls via Skype (or now on my mobile phone over Wi-Fi) and then shut down for the balance of the evening and tackle it all again first thing the next morning. For me, flexibility is the key to survival.
So the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, remember these simple tips. I hope they’re helpful! As always, I can be reached directly at email@example.com. In the meantime, travel safe and travel often.
Charles Massey is founder and CEO of SYNAXIS Meetings & Events. A member of MPI, Site and GMIC, he serves on the board of Site SoCal as well as on the Meetings Focus Content Advisory Board and the APEX Standards Review Council. While technically maintaining a residence in Los Angeles, you’ll usually find Charles on the road, where he stays connected with friends, clients and family via Facebook.