How to Overcome the Challenges of Time Zone Differences with Your Virtual Assistant: 5 Tips and Tricks for Global Collaboration

In this article, we discuss how to leverage practical communication tools, be transparent about time zone restrictions, evaluate an assistant’s flexibility and availability, and more.

How to Overcome the Challenges of Time Zone Differences with Your Virtual Assistant: 5 Tips and Tricks for Global Collaboration
Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions / Unsplash

In 2021, 88% of companies outsourcing tasks to a virtual assistant (VA) saw significant cost savings and improved efficiency.

This shows how the digital world has allowed successful business owners and remote workers to collaborate globally. 

However, working across time zones can make it difficult to achieve effective collaboration. But the good news is that there are ways to overcome these challenges.

In this article, we discuss how to leverage practical communication tools, be transparent about time zone restrictions, evaluate an assistant’s flexibility and availability, and more.

Let’s dive in.

Understanding the Impact of Time Zone Differences

Several challenges can come up when trying to communicate with time zone differences. Here are a few:

1. Fragmented Communication 

When your VA lives in a different time zone from you, the flow of communication may feel choppy and sporadic. 

That’s because your working hours may differ entirely from those of your assistant.

Because of significant time zone differences, finding overlapping working hours when both parties are available for real-time communication can be challenging. 

The time zone map below provides a quick, at-a-glance view of the time zone differences across the globe. There are 24 time zone boundaries; each spaced 15 degrees of longitude apart.

And within those 24 time zones, there are 37 different local times. That’s a lot to keep up with.

screenshot of https worldtimezone.com homepage

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2. Delayed Decision-Making

Fragmented communication can lead to delayed decision-making, as differing time zones can delay responses to emails, messages, or requests. 

So, the ability to make key decisions quickly can take a toll because you may have to wait hours or even days for responses or feedback.

3. Delayed Project Timelines

In a global or remote work environment, you still have to make important decisions. And you may have to do so promptly. When you have to complete a time-sensitive project, there can be delays if you work with a global VA. 

For example, project direction, resource allocation, or problem resolution may go into a brief hold, which can affect the timeliness of your projects. 

Choosing the Right Virtual Assistant for Global Collaboration

If you’re going to collaborate in a global environment, be sure to assess the availability and flexibility of your assistant. 

It’s best to choose a remote assistant accustomed to working across time zones, allowing them to seamlessly integrate into your workflow.

If you need help finding the right online assistant, Wishup does all the vetting. You can access the top 0.1% of talent and build your remote team in less than 24 hours. What’s not to love?

Screenshot of Wishup homepage for virtual assistants

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5 Tips for Working With a Virtual Assistant From Another Time Zone

By 2025, models indicate that the global VA market will hit $4.12 billion.

Whether you choose to work with an online assistant for cost savings or to benefit from their wide range of skills and expertise from working with businesses worldwide, you’re bound to face some time zone challenges.

But don’t worry. Use these tips and tricks to combat the challenges of working across different time zones.

1. Be Transparent With Your Team About Time Zone Restrictions

From the start, communicate with your assistant that you work in a different time zone from them. Knowing this information before they work with you can help them prepare for the job.

For example, your VA may devise a schedule that works for both of you to ensure real-time communication is still attainable. 

Here's a straightforward schedule emphasizing the convenient times set for meetings between you and your VA in different time zones:

Weekly Meeting Schedule with VA

Monday:

  • 5 pm EDT (my time) / 8 am GMT+8 (VA time): 30-minute check-in call

Wednesday:

  • 5 pm EDT (my time) / 8 am GMT+8 (VA time): Progress update and review

Friday:

  • 5 pm EDT (my time) / 8 am GMT+8 (VA time): Weekly wrap-up and planning for next week

This simple schedule guarantees that there's a dedicated time of day for real-time communication between you and your VA three times a week. Remember to incorporate Daylight Saving Time.

Also, it’s important to let your VA know the hours when you are unavailable (or offline) and vice versa. That way, you both know to avoid urgent requests during that time. 

Starting with a solid foundation for communication (that works for both stakeholders) makes it easier to stay aligned and coordinated despite the time difference.

2. Enable Asynchronous and Synchronous Communication 

To ensure your collaboration strategy goes as smoothly as possible, leverage the best of both worlds: asynchronous and synchronous communication. 

Synchronous communication happens in real-time. So, schedule meetings with your VA depending on your preferred communication channel.

Whether it’s a phone call, video call, or instant message, set up a time that works for both of your schedules to discuss tasks, projects, and deadlines that you have coming up.

Slack is the perfect tool for both types of communication. You can use their instant messaging feature or send messages at your convenience.

Screenshot of Slack homepage

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Since synchronous communication has limitations regarding scheduling across time zones, asynchronous communication can help balance things out. 

There will be times when your VA isn’t available to communicate in real-time. Asynchronous communication occurs when there’s a lag between sending a message and receiving a reply from your assistant. 

This type of communication may be suitable when your message isn’t urgent, and you don’t need your VA’s response immediately. 

You might also use asynchronous collaboration to provide instructions or explain complex concepts in a way that allows your team to refer to the message later. 

Create a system that effectively accommodates both methods of synchronous and asynchronous communication. 

Let your assistant know when you expect them to communicate with you in real-time (synchronously) and when it’s acceptable for them to reply as soon as possible (asynchronously). 

For example, you might schedule weekly check-ins for real-time collaboration (synchronous). However, for updates and project green lights, you may allow asynchronous communication. 

If you prefer a more personalized touch with video features, Loom is a great communication tool to add to your tech stack for asynchronous touch points. And the best part? It’s free. 

Screenshot of Loom hompage

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3. Maintain Participation Without Micromanaging

While it’s important to know how to improve collaboration in an organization, it’s not realistic to expect your assistant to always be available to check in with you. 

It can be frustrating for your team to join a meeting when an email would have been sufficient. Unfortunately, constant meetings aren’t a respectful use of someone’s time. It can make them feel micromanaged. 

You can implement effective collaboration strategies without micromanaging by scheduling a reasonable number of check-in calls that respect everyone’s time. 

It’s also important to set your team up for success to minimize the need for unnecessary communication. 

To do this:

  • Clearly define the scope and goals of your project/task.
  • Trust your VA to complete the project/task and give them the authority and resources they need.
  • Track progress and provide feedback, but don’t hover over them and check in too often. 
  • Establish regular check-ins with your VA that are appropriate for the project size and complexity (i.e., If the project is relatively straightforward, then you won’t need to check in as often as you would if it were rolling out in different stages). 
  • Give your team the autonomy and flexibility (especially in the summer months) to choose how they work and how they get it done. 

While you may be working with assistants whose work structure may differ from permanent employees, they’re still assets for your business. 

Through strategic HR management, you can provide your team with ‌tools and resources that enhance their skills and abilities to pursue your company's goals effectively. 

You can also set your team up for success when working across time zones through electronic logging devices (ELDs). These tools empower customer support VAs by monitoring and recording a driver's service hours in the logistics industry.  

ELDs have become invaluable assets for tackling the intricacies of time zone disparities. Since the ELD mandate's implementation, this real-time monitoring of orders has become the linchpin that enables companies to stay ahead of the curve. This data empowers customer service assistants to provide proactive assistance by keeping a vigilant eye on order statuses and delivery schedules. 

screenshot of ELD data

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In the realm of global collaboration, the synergy between ELDs and dedicated customer service assistance equates to on-time product deliveries and unmatched service, all while bridging the geographical gaps that time zones create. 

The same principle applies to asset management. SAP EAM, an enterprise asset management solution, allows for real-time asset health monitoring, which further empowers your assistants to proactively address issues.

But to ensure streamlined global collaboration and overcome time zone challenges with SAP EAM, you can seek out the expertise of SAP consulting experts. They can help you make the most of the software and tailor it to your organization's needs.

Screenshot of Surety Systems homepage

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4. Leverage Practical Communication Tools As a Top Priority

Using tools that facilitate information sharing, brainstorming, and problem-solving can also help you collaborate with teams in different time zones. 

Consider project management tools like Asana or Trello. Or messaging tools like Slack. Or video conferencing tools like Microsoft Teams or Zoom with a time zone converter. 

Do you use Teams for video conferencing? You might be trying to find out how to change the time zone in Teams. It’s more simple than you may think. 

To change the time zone in Teams, follow these instructions: 

  1. Open the Microsoft Teams application. 
  2. Go to Calendar, and click the +New Meeting option. 
  3. Select the Time Zone from the dropdown menu. It'll then automatically adjust to your assistant’s location. 

By changing the time zone on Teams, you can adjust the meeting time according to the time zone you and your team are located in. The result? Less confusion about when the meeting is taking place. 

Here’s a screenshot of how to change the time zone in Teams meeting.

Screenshot showing how to change time zone in Teams

(Image Source)

A digital business card is another useful tool that can help you streamline communication across borders. You can provide essential contact information and even display your time zone. 

This feature can help your team gauge suitable communication windows, fostering efficient interactions. That way, everyone knows when they have the green light to ask questions in real time.

5. Be Mindful of Cultural Norms 

When working with people across different time zones, you’ll likely encounter diverse cultural backgrounds. 

So, get familiar with the cultural norms and traditions of the assistants you’re working with. For example, they might have certain holidays when they don’t work or attend meetings. Or they may have different ways of communicating. 

Staying in tune with these cultural differences will help you find the best ways to collaborate with them.

Conclusion 

Working across time zones effectively is essential for global collaboration. Choosing the right online assistant, being transparent about time zone restrictions, and respecting cultural norms are just a few ways to overcome time zone differences.

As a business owner juggling multiple responsibilities, consider embracing the potential of VAs in a globalized world. Doing so can help you focus on what matters most to you‌ — ‌your core business. 

Are you looking for pre-vetted, experienced remote assistants every single time? Wishup has you covered. We can build your remote team in just 24 hours. Get a free consultation today.

Author bio

 Guillaume Deschamps

Guillaume is a digital marketer focused on handling the outreach strategy at uSERP and content management at Wordable. Outside of work, he enjoys his expat life in sunny Mexico, reading books, wandering around and catching the latest shows on TV.