When interviewing for a job at a creative agency based on the West Coast, Jane was assured she could work East Coast hours. But almost immediately after she started the job, the expectations shifted. Jane, whose name has been changed since she still works in the same industry and fears being blacklisted for negative comments, said coworkers expected her to respond to Slack messages in the morning and late at night and she was invited to meetings well after her working hours ended, she told me. “I was expected to be responsive 24/7,” she said.
In the age of remote work, many people have left coastal hubs for more affordable cities across America. This means many more workers are in different time zones from their coworkers, bosses, and companies. And some employees have felt they have been exploited because of their differing time zones, being expected to take on extra work.
Other employees I spoke with said it felt as if working hours had no meaning in the remote world and that they were “on call” more than before, often because of their time-zone difference. While working remotely offers benefits that often weren’t available in a pre-pandemic world, such as living in less busy or less expensive cities, working flexible hours, or getting to wear sweatpants instead of business slacks, the issue of time zones is already causing confusion, miscommunication, and even prejudice against employees working on a different clock.
Globally, by one estimate, 16% of companies are now fully remote. And a Gallup survey from late 2021 found that 45% of the US workforce was remote at least some of the time and that most planned to stay that way. A survey from 2022 found that 56% of full-time jobs are “remote capable.” While many jobs have requirements on which states or countries employees can work from, some do not.
Employees and freelancers who are able to have spread out across the US and the globe — creating large time differences between them and the people they work with. But while the coronavirus pandemic created a surge in remote work, it isn’t a pandemic novelty for companies to have a global reach. Businesses have been navigating time zones as long as “telecommuting” has been in the lexicon. While remote is all the rage now, Gallup figures indicate 39% of Americans worked remotely in some capacity in 2012, too.
But the shift in which companies are now offering remote work options provides a clue to why time-zone bias is becoming worse. Previously, most of the businesses that hired international and across states were bigger companies with bigger infrastructure. They are more likely to have software that can handle scheduling, videoconferencing, and accommodating larger groups of people in different time zones.
Smaller companies may not be able to afford scheduling software or dedicated staff members to manage scheduling, leaving the onus of navigating time zones to managers and employees. With a surge in how many people are working remotely and from where, more people than before are navigating large time differences. As with any shift, there is a learning curve.
Some employees I spoke with felt that their companies were just careless and didn’t realize or remember differences in time zones. After a US-based company he worked for was purchased by a company based in Europe, R. Karl Hebenstreit noticed that “all of our team meetings were scheduled around European time zones and holidays, while the US employees and the Asia-based employees were afterthoughts.”
Katrina, whose last name has been withheld so she wouldn’t get in trouble for speaking about her job, is a customer-service associate for a nationwide telecommunications company. She often didn’t have a supervisor at the end of the day because of the time-zone difference. In one case, she said, she was “admonished” for not handling a situation with a customer the same way the supervisor, who wasn’t reachable, would have.
For Hebenstreit, the bias toward a European schedule caused more work to fall on his shoulders. “Meetings were scheduled on and without regard to US holidays (even though we have automatic calendars that inform us of these details),” he told me. “And due to Europe’s more generous vacation, part-time schedule, and holiday schedules, the US employees were expected to pick up the slack for their European counterparts by taking on their clients as well.”
John, who worked for a company in Texas and lives on the West Coast, also had to pick up other teams’ slack because of his time zone. (His name has been changed to avoid retaliation since he still works in the same industry.) Because he was the last to log on for the day, “end-of-day deliverables like coverage reports, rapid commentary, etc. often got handed over to me,” John told me.
Managers are often not trying to exploit; they’re simply not able to remember everyone’s time zones when managing a large team. But often, that unintentional bias can lead to full-on prejudice….Read more….