With distance no longer a barrier, freelancers can have clients from anywhere on the globe. And that means that we may find ourselves working across time zones. Do you have a client or prospect on another continent? If so, we've got some tips and resources to help you stay connected even if there are oceans and several hours between you.
Remote work was already on the rise when the coronavirus pandemic sent it soaring. Now “digital nomads” and those working from home are common as businesses conduct most or all of their business via the internet.
Unfortunately, working with clients from across the globe isn't always easy. This Upwork community thread shows globe-crossing freelancing can be challenging. From communication to deadlines, freelancers working across time zones need solutions that suit both parties in the working relationship.
Freelancers now make up more than one third of the global workforce. With the trend toward globalization the internet has allowed, there are more ways to deal with this issue than there were a few decades ago. You have many choices on how to communicate with clients and prospects even if your day is their night. It's simple to track time and schedule meetings without time-zone confusion – if you know how.
Are you working across time zones? Or would you like to consider clients from around the globe?
If so, read on for some tips and resources to add to your freelancer tool box – brought to you by our very own Anywhere and Anytime Careers global team!
Working Across Time Zones Together: There's an app (or several) for that!
You probably didn't know that our team is scattered across nine hours' worth of the planet. Or that we manage multiple complex projects at any given time without once having had the entire team in the same place (even virtually).
Global freelancing is hard if you don't know how to work across time zones effectively. And freelancing is lonely if you don't have any contact with your team.
So how do we handle multiple collaborative projects when there's nine hours between some of us?
Know where you stand
First, it's importance that every team member is clear on the prioritization and deadline for each project they're involved with. That's easier if you only have one or two projects. But if you have several projects on the go in various stages, it can become tough to stay on the same page with what needs to be done by when.
Task Management with Trello
Trello works as a high-tech bulletin board. You can add due dates, color-coded labels, and individual team members to each task (referred to as a “card”) so that there is never any doubt on who should be working on what and when. You can also add checklists and attachments, which turn the bulletin board into something like a virtual file cabinet. In other words, everything needed for the project can all be “stored” on its card. A comment section below gives the team members a space to exchange comments and information.
Plus, you get to change the background to whatever photo you want and use stickers to mark the cards. How much fun is that?
There are also board add-ons called “power-ups” you can activate that allow you to integrate with Google Drive, your calendar, Slack, and more. For example, if you have several cards that each indicate a task with a due date, you can use the calendar power-up to sync everything with your desktop calendar:
Adding All the Details with Asana
While our team finds Trello to be great for working across time zones, some teams you work with might have far more complicated processes for completing projects. For these teams, an app like Asana might be perfect. It works on more of a spreadsheet model, adjusting timelines and allowing for communication every step of the way. A manager can be assigned to each task, so it's simple for larger teams to know who is responsible for which tasks.
Of course, there are many other task organization apps out there. We chose these two because we've been using Trello for years and Asana is a very different approach that may work better for some larger teams. Use these two as a jumping-off point, and see what works best for you and your clients.
Use Apps to Stay in Touch with Your Global Freelancing Team
What if you're freelancing in America while your client is in India or Australia? Freelancing is lonely without any contact, and, as we mentioned in this post on writing freelance resumes, clients often hire based on sensing a personal connection with the freelancer. This means your working relationship will be better if you can have some level of personal contact.
But maybe Zoom or phone calls are not feasible if your client lives halfway across the world. They might keep a schedule that’s totally opposite of yours. And emailing or texting back and forth don't really build the connection you're looking for. More, it can be difficult to type out detailed messages or engage in extensive back-and-forth exchanges. Since you might need several rounds of these for a particular project, you'll want a better process.
Fortunately, we've got some possibilities for you.
Hear Each Other's Voices with Voxer
Voxer is a “Walkie Talkie” app that allows you to leave voice messages for your contacts. You can also share files via Dropbox, or write quick, text-like messages. It also allows you to share photos, videos, or gifs to brighten each other's day.
You can use Voxer on your computer, or download the app on your phone. So if you know you need to speak to your client when you can’t be at your computer, all you need to do is talk while holding down the button on your phone and your voice message will reach them instantly.
Basic Voxer is free. The Business subscription level has added features, but the free version is a good place to start.
Make a Face-to-Face Connection With Marco Polo
Marco Polo is kind of a Zoom/Voxer hybrid. With this free app, you can leave short video messages for your team members (one or more). Your videos will be waiting for your team member when they can get to them. And best of all, Marco Polo is private, so you can build beyond-business connections in your freelancing world.
As with the other apps in this post, there are both free and paid levels of Marco Polo. Our suggestion is to try out the free version and stick with it until it makes sense to upgrade.
Social Connection With Slack
Slack is a versatile, all-in-one team platform with both free and paid levels. Not only can you have channels for all your team's projects, you can also add social channels. This means that you can get to know your team, share your daily plans, videos and gifs – even recipes, books, and music!
Slack has a very responsive development team. So this app is always getting better, with new features and integrations. You can connect your Trello, Drive, Canva, Zoom, calendar, and more, too. All of this makes Slack a great “control center” as well as a private social network for your team.
Use a Clock App for Working Across Time Zones
Let’s face it, time zones can be confusing. Some countries observe daylight savings time while others don’t. Even if you know how many hours ahead or behind they are, it’s all too easy to get confused. If you’re not 100% clear on what time zone your client is operating in, you risk missing meetings and deadlines.
Fortunately, there's been an explosion in apps that make working across time zones easier. Rather than go into the complete list, we've found articles that will give you the best of what both Android and Apple have to offer.
There are many other free apps you can download on your phone as well. With so many options, there’s sure to be something that helps you keep track of time across the planet.
Side Note: Establish Availability and Turnaround Time from the Get-Go
Before you even begin working across time zones with any client, it's best to set clear expectations and boundaries around time. Be clear about your availability and how quickly you can complete the tasks assigned. If you are responsible for time-sensitive duties, make sure you can commit to them based on your schedule. Manage your clients' expectations to avoid overwhelming yourself with impossible deadlines.
Sometimes, working across time zones can work to your advantage. For example, if you are a few hours ahead of your clients, you can get tasks completed before they even log on in the morning. Or, if you're behind, you can work while they sleep. Then they wake up to a fresh batch of completed work – it's a little like magic!
Other times, opposite schedules can become really tricky, so it’s important to agree on timelines and deadlines for each new assignment. Be kind to yourself and build in buffers wherever you can, so you'll have extra time if something comes up and you need it.
It's a good idea to resist the temptation to accept terms that conflict with your schedule. This can be hard if you're afraid of losing a client or prospect your really want. But if taking on this client means working in the middle of the night when you do the rest of your work during the day, or during the time you would normally spend with your family, that's a high price. You might be able to keep it up for a while, but eventually, you’re likely to burn out. As a result, your productivity will suffer, and neither you nor your client will be happy with the outcome.
Diving Into the Docs
Do you need to use documents in collaboration with your client? If so, modern doc apps make working across time zones much easier. You, your client, and other team members can view, comment on, and even edit the same document in real time. This means everyone will know the document's status when they come to work on it.
Let's look at the two most well-known options: Google Docs and Microsoft 365. Each of these offers options from text documents to slides to spreadsheets and beyond.
Drive to Document Colloboration
With Google Drive, you can work from shared folders, assign levels of security, and enable notifications to let you know if another team member has worked with a document. Sharing is simple and changes are tracked. Here at Anywhere and Anytime Careers, we use the comment section to provide feedback, ask questions, or add more information we want to add to a document in progress.
Drive gives you the ability to color code and organize as you please, plus upload files and folders with ease. Even better, there is a lot you can do for free with this collection of apps. It might end up as your global freelancing go-to.
Move Documents Forward With Microsoft 365
As you might know, Microsoft goes a lot further than just Windows. Are you already familiar with Microsoft Office? If so, you've got a head start with Microsoft 365. This updated version has added many of the features that make Drive work so well. And it will feel like an old friend if you already know how to use functions like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. New real-time interactive features make sharing and collaborating much easier, too. One Drive cloud storage is like an expandable file cabinet that holds all the docs your team needs.
Unlike the other apps in this article, 365 doesn't have a free version. But if you're just starting out, you can probably do most of what you want with the personal version, and upscale later.
Conclusion: Working Across Time Zones is Possible!
In the end, working successfully with long-distance clients really comes down to communication and prioritization (just like any relationship!) If you explore the resources and tips we've provided, you'll have many tools to help you keep things organized and provide excellent services to your clients, wherever they are.
Need some more tips on running a successful home business? Check out our 10 steps to become a better entrepreneur.
A few final notes
Having a client/service provider contract can really help iron out the details and ensure that everyone is on the same page, protecting both the client and the service provider.
Remember that not every potential client will be the right fit, and that’s completely normal and okay. If it’s absolutely not working because of communication expectations that are made impossible by the time zones, then it’s okay to decline work with that client. Even if it takes longer to get a full roster of clients, it will be more beneficial in the long run!
Do you feel better equipped for working across time zones? Do you have any questions we missed? We'd love to hear from you in the comments!