The Tyranny of Timezones
As you log into an internal company-wide engineering event at 3AM, barely able to keep your eyelids open and mistyping your password about 5 times, you can’t help but consider the tyranny of timezones. With some countries still under heavy lockdown and a widely distributed Covid vaccine still months away, being physically closed to an office is quickly becoming a thing of the past. Just in the past few weeks, Amazon announced that their workforce can work remotely until the end of 2020, Google and Facebook have already made such announcements, and your own office, in beautiful Palo Alto, California, seems to remain closed for a very long time. Even offices that are starting to open, like the local office in Munich, is operating under reduced capacity allowing only a small portion of the workforce to come in.
So being close to an office is loosing its importance. However, an office is simply an indication of geographical connection. Employees that go to the “German Office” are likely to be working together, serving customers in Germany (or DACH) and are bound less by the office, but by their timezone and customer base.
And this is where the tyranny of timezones comes into play. A company-wide event can never work on a planet with 37 time zones (explanation to this strange data point is here). Typically in the corporate world, the timezone of the person setting the agenda serves as the baseline, It is natural that an individual looking to set a meeting is starting from her own calendar and then considering other people.
Companies could consider organizing around timezones rather than locations and let employees choose their timezone. A night owl living in Ireland might enjoy working in the East Coast timezone whereas an early morning bird in Poland might enjoy the quirky, half an hour off, Indian timezone. Companies can also define transitional timezones where employees in roles that require bridging very conflicting timezones (like India and Pacific Time Zone), are dipping into a good portion of one time zone and another good portion of another timezone.
There is no reason why an employee working in a PST tribe is unable to effectively work from Baja, California. There is also absolutely no reason why an employee bridging between IST and PST, living in London, is unable to spend the afternoon with the team in Chennai and the evening with the team in Seattle. These are personal decisions that a job seeker can make. In fact, advertising timezones in job listings might be much more effective than locations. “Must be able to spend at least 4 hours a day in IST and 2 hours in PST” will be a much more precise description of a desired capability than “live in the U.K.”.
The digital revolution is changing the way we live and work. It is time to reconsider timezones.