Become an insider!
Get our latest payroll and small business articles sent straight to your inbox.
In the age of globalization, the remote workforce, and easy travel, employees and employers have found a new dilemma – time zones.
Will you need this Ultimate Time Zone Guide? Only time will tell.
Time zones affect businesses in a number of ways, from meeting with other global companies, to planning work around travel, to coordinating with your own remote team.
You may only think of time zone differences as a vacation nuisance or that unfortunate sponsor to your jet lag. Today, understanding your own time zone and the time zones of your clients, colleagues and employees is a necessity for remote teams and companies exploring the future of work.
It’s all a part of a well-oiled, prepared and accommodating enterprise.
In this post, you’ll find everything your business needs to know about time zones. Already know the basics? Scroll through the headings below for online tools and to learn more about time zone etiquette.
- Time Zone Basics
- How Daylight Saving Works
- Daylight Saving in Different States
- Online Tools For Tracking Time Zone Differences
- Time Zone Etiquette
Time Zone Basics
Bear with us!
A time zone is an area of the world where the same standard time is used.
Although there are theoretically 24 times zones, most countries do not adhere to this, and often base their time zones on their own borders.
There are currently 39 local times in use in 2016. Some that are only 30 to 45 minutes apart.
The time within a time zone is defined by its difference from the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is the world’s time standard. This time is decided by powerful and exact atomic clocks combined with the rotation of the Earth.
The Coordinated Universal Time is expressed with UTC- or UTC+ symbols, indicating if the time zone is ahead or behind the UTC. For example, New York City is UTC-4 hours, and Los Angeles is UTC-7, which means that New York is four hours behind the UTC, and L.A. is seven hours behind, during DST (more on that later).
💡If you’re interested in the science behind time zones, or if we’ve piqued your curiosity, there’s plenty to learn online. We suggest working your way through the pages available at timeanddate.com.
How Daylight Saving Works
If you were able to get through the above section, there’s still time for confusion.
Standard time is the time used outside of Daylight Saving Time (DST). It is also referred to as ‘winter time’, or ‘normal time’, in some countries. 60% of the world uses standard time without ever turning their clocks forward or back.
The 40% of the world that does use daylight saving time, also referred to as ‘summer time’, does so in the summer months (typically March – November), when we switch the clocks forward one hour. This is thought to increase road safety and conserve energy.
In the spring, the Northern Hemisphere sets clocks forward, losing one hour. In the fall, we set our clocks back, gaining one hour. Confused? Just remember this classic rule of thumb: spring forward, fall back.
In the Southern Hemisphere, this practice is reversed. The countries that participate in DST move their clocks forward in November and set them back in March.
Here’s how daylight saving tripped up my latest work-travel experience.
I was recently working in the Canary Islands, Spain on Western European Time (WET). Working for a North American company, I was fully aware of the spring forward schedule, but awoke to find that the time in the Canary Islands had not changed.
Spain is a country that springs forward, following daylight saving, but the day that Spain springs forward is different from the US and Canada. Spain would turn their clocks forward two weeks later. This meant my normal +5 hours time difference changed to +4 hours.
A full hour is an important distinction when you are coordinating meetings with colleagues and customers, running Twitter chats and scheduling newsletters. Spain pushed their clocks forward two weeks later, and I was back arranging my schedule around a +5 hour time difference on Western European Summer Time (WEST).
April 2016 marks the 100-year anniversary of when Germany first implemented DST in 1916. DST had been used in some areas of Canada, first used in 1908 in Thunder Bay, but the entire country did not adopt this practice until some years later.
So celebrate April 30th, 2016 – it’s the DST centennial!
Daylight Saving in Different States
DST has been a controversial topic since its inception, with many doubting that moving the clocks forward actually does save lives on the road or conserve energy.
If you like charts (and who doesn’t love a good chart?), these ones will tell you each of the different times zones and DST observations in the United States and in Canada.
Most participating countries move their clocks forward or back an hour, but this is not always the case.
In the United States, the Uniform Time Act of 1966 set out the basic rules and dates for switching between DST and ST, to ensure that the same transition dates were used by each state. However, the bill also gave individual states the right to decide against using DST.
So for example, Arizona does not observe DST, but the Navajo Indian Territories within the state do observe DST. It could be 4:00pm in Arizona, but the moment you step into the Navajo Indian Territories, it will be 5:00pm.
Other regions in the United States that also do not observe DST are Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
Here are more FAQ about how DST is regulated in the United States.
When in doubt, always look up the time zone and possible DST inconsistencies between you and the people you are working with.
Now that’s a convenient segue into our next section dedicated to time zone tracking tools.
Online Tools for Tracking Time Zone Differences
1. Time and Date
The Time and Date website quickly converts time zones for you. The world time zone converter takes the current date into account so that you will never get tricked by sneaky daylight saving changes.
The website is full of time zone resources and includes a tool for scheduling meetings. It’s great for people who need to see the visual of it all, showing, in color, the times that work for scheduling your next meeting.
You can access the meeting scheduling tool here.
2. Greenwich Mean Time
Greenwich Mean Time is the resource for you if you like a good interactive map. You can search for time zones based on continent and then country. The site also has its own meeting planner too.
3. Time Ticker
Time Ticker is another international time zone map that utilizes an interactive map to help you find the time zone you’re looking for.
With this map, you can easily see how far away you are from other time zones. The visual bands give you a sense of the other regions within each zone. You are also able to pick out the off-hour time zones such as GMT.
4. World Time Buddy
With World Time Buddy, you can set up your most used time zones and easily compare them. It’s a great tool for scheduling meetings across multiple time zones because you can drag your cursor across to find a time that works for everyone.
It shows the current time in each location along the left side as well as the abbreviated time zone beside each city name. Unfortunately, you can only plug in up to four locations at once. If you need more, it’s $2.99 a month to add and compare 20 locations or $5.99 a month for an ad-free unlimited account.
5. Every Time Zone
Every Time Zone has a similar setup to World Time Buddy. With this site, you can compare 14 time zones at once, but you do not have the ability to change any of the cities.
The convenient interactive line allows you to move your cursor over the time you need. You will see your local time as well as the time in 14 other time zones. The best part about this resource is the time+date visualization. You can easily see when a time zone crosses past midnight and becomes a different day of the week.
6. Time Zones for Humans
Time Zones for Humans delivers what it promises. It’s the site you need when all you want are the straight up facts. You can update any of the four fields and it will automatically adjust to your changes.
It’s a nice touch that you can use common terms such as noon and midnight. You can also adjust the “here” field to another city if you want to compare two locations that you are not currently in.
7. The Time Now
The Time Now is a WCAG 2.0 compatible site, which is helpful for people who are sight impaired. The website homepage defaults to your location and gives you the local time and also includes the weather forecast.
Time Zone Etiquette
Now that you know a whole lot more about time zones, and you have a collection of resources to help you, there is no excuse for poor world-time-etiquette.
1. Update your team
If you are on the move and changing locations while you work, it’s important to update your team. Even if you are just away for a short work-cation, your team will benefit from knowing you have entered a new time zone.
You should notify anyone you work with on a regular basis. It’s a simple as sending a short email or a quick note in Slack.
Good morning beautiful teammates,
For the next two weeks, I will be working from Colorado, which is currently under Mountain Daylight Time (MDT). That’s 2 hours behind my normal EDT time zone. This change should not affect any of my regular work or scheduled meetings.
2. Alternate meeting schedules
When your team spans across a variety of different time zones, it can be tough on some members to always have meetings at the same time. Your weekly 2:00pm meeting may be at 10:00pm for others.
It can help to mix up your meeting schedule to accommodate everyone on your team. This way, each team member takes a turn at having an inconvenient meeting time.
Additional tips for engaging your worldwide team can be found in Help Scout’s 7 Ways to Engage Far-Flung Team Members.
3. Set appropriate deadlines
Is your colleague 10 hours ahead or behind your schedule? In these cases, it’s important to set clear expectations on deadlines. “By end of day,” will mean something very different to someone working 10 hours behind your schedule.
We worked with a designer who was 8 hours ahead of us. It was always something we had to be aware of when setting deadlines for visuals and whenever we needed last minute work done.
Asking for something extra at 3:00pm was actually 11:00pm for her, which meant the work would need to wait until the following day. The time difference also worked in our favor. She was able to get 8 hours of design work done before we began our workday, so there was plenty of completed work ready when we woke in the morning.
4. Know what time you are sending messages at
There are many settings for turning off notifications overnight or while on breaks, but it’s still something you should be aware of when communicating.
Are you direct messaging someone in Slack at 2:00am their time? Did you just try to call someone’s office at 6:00am? This is especially important when working with customers and clients across different time zones.
Freelancer Kat Loughrey shares 5 tips for managing clients across different time zones. If you’re working with clients or customers across the globe, she has put together an excellent resource for managing your time and communication.
5. Understand your company’s holiday schedule
Every country has its own important holidays. Even in the US and Canada, there are states and provinces that follow a different statutory holiday schedule.
📝 Here’s more on Canada’s 2016 Statutory Holidays With Worker Eligibility and Pay Out.
You should be aware of the holidays that apply to you and have a rough idea of the holidays that apply to anyone you work with from a different country, state or province.
Unsure why no one is getting back to you? It may be a national holiday!
Dealing with time zone differences boils down to effort and communication. As companies adapt to the virtual workplaces of the future, time zone awareness and understanding will play a larger role. Know your own time and be aware of the time zone of others.
Cheers to a time accommodating future!
📝 Interested in the future of work? You may enjoy this post on the Rise of the Planet of Remote Workers, which includes the dawn of remote work, benefits for remote employers, remote tools and more.