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Distance, time zones and culture – creating a 24 hour work day


Instead of whining for more hours in the day, let’s use the ones we’ve got as efficiently as possible, says Susan Schwartz.

Living and working within our tumultuous times is difficult. Everybody wants work done yesterday -- colleagues and clients expect you to read their minds – and yet, we all complain that there are only twenty-four hours in a day!!!

Creating a 24 Hour Work Day

And the solution to this global conundrum is…., “Yes, there are twenty-four hours in each day.” Instead of whining for more, let’s use the ones we’ve got as efficiently as possible. Take a moment to examine the possibilities…

By stating that global teams can work 24 hours a day to improve revenues associated with designated products and services, I don’t mean to imply that team leaders can’t sleep. What I do suggest is that team leaders leverage each member of their team by using well-executed communications strategies. One company leveraged a world-wide work team to develop a training course in weeks not months because they created a continuous collaborative cycle. The process began with European staff who handed the work over to North American staff, who then passed the project on to staff in Asia, who passed the work back to Europe—thus, beginning the cycle again.

Collaboration and Communications

Communications represents two-way interaction. This doesn’t mean that every team member must be on-line, real-time with every other team member all of the time. I recommend people use a variety of collaborative techniques combining voice calls, web-based conferencing, e-mails, and discussion threads. At a recent meeting, I heard one participant lament that because his staff was located on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, they only had four “real” working hours in a day when the two teams could access each other by telephone. I may have cut the gentleman short with my response, “four hours – what a gift!” What goals and objectives are actually accomplished during 4-6 hour “group think” conference calls? What were the East coast folks able to accomplish during the early part of their workday and vice versa for the West coast folks? What could these same people achieve given a few quiet moments to research, prepare, think about alternatives, and maybe gain a bit of oxygen flow to improve the clarity of their thought processes?

The Gifts of Diversity

Speaking of clarity, differences in culture within the U.S. as well as outside of our borders can enhance an organisation’s traditional problem solving solution. People work differently. Albert Einstein once said, “You can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them.” Organising and expressing your thoughts for a person who speaks a different language or comes from a different type of work environment provides some wonderful moments of clarity and broadens the solution possibilities. Being forced to express oneself via e-mail, collaborative discussion threads, or voice telephone calls without the aid of body language or someone to finish your sentence helps you to focus on the message and the mission for your thoughts.

We all speak wistfully about a work/life balance, of trying to do more with less and focusing on quality time. Well, there are only 24 hours in a day – no matter what we do. So why don’t we learn how to work smarter? Why do managers think that virtual global teams need to be joined at a proverbial hip, in-person – or at least via long distance conference calls? Differences of perspective stemming from distance, time zones, and culture are not problems – frankly, they are not even challenges. They are gifts to be transformed into increased revenues, cost savings, and productivity enhancements.

Susan Schwartz works with global companies to design and launch on-line collaborative communities and next generation learning solutions.


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