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Managing Time Zone Differences with Clients

Written by Jessica on March 20, 2011

Time zone map for managing differences while working around the worldOne or two hours difference? Not a problem. Other side of the world? Problem. Most people say the best resolution is to adjust your working day to match theirs. Get up earlier or work later. I say phooey. Work when you want, just follow a few simple tips to keep your clients at ease.

Set check in day or times

For ongoing projects, set check-in dates or times. Clients need to know when to call you if they need you. I found this works only really in the short term. If you’re on the move it’s a pain to always schedule your travels around client check-in times.

I keep my clients updated with a weekly plan. It’s very important that you communicate using THEIR time zone. Something like:

Dear really great client,

Here’s my basic schedule for the week. I’m offline Monday and Tuesday, and planning to be available Wednesday morning through Friday morning (your time). I won’t be working over the weekend, but will check email occasionally if you have questions. The following week I plan to be online in the mornings, but won’t know for certain until this weekend. More updates then.


Your favorite freelancer.

Set out of office messages

An out of office message is the easiest way to let your clients know when to expect a response. Usually I say something generic like: “I’m traveling this week and have limited access to email.” Whenever possible I try to be more specific: “I’m hiking the Macchu Pichu trail this week and expect to return on Friday evening. I apologize for the inconvenience, but promise to send really great photos to make up for it.”

Make a timezone cheat sheet

I know this sounds silly, but a handy spreadsheet that compares your time to your client’s time is incredibly helpful. It eliminates mistakes that will drive your clients crazy. “Oh you meant PDT, I thought it was PST”. Use actual hours and the words YOUR TIME or MY TIME. Actually never say MY TIME. No one cares about that. Only ever talk in your clients time zone.

Over communicate

When you write an email response, consider the questions it might trigger and answer those at the same time. Here’s a normal workplace scenario:

Client says: “Can you send me the new company logo file so I can put it on our new company t-shirts?”

You say: “Color or Black & White”

They say: “Color, please.”

You say: “Jpeg color logos are available on the portal here: Let me know if the t-shirt printer requires an EPS?”

They say: “Thanks. WTF is EPS?”

You say: “It’s a vector format that can be scaled to any size so that the image doesn’t lose quality. I have attached the EPS files”

They say: “I can’t open those files. Here is the URL to the printer can you see what they need:”

You say: “I don’t see any specs on their site, it looks like you will need to contact the printer directly to find out what they need.”

They say: “Here is Bob’s email at Really Great T-shirt company”

You write Bob.

Bob says he prefers an EPS.

You email Bob and your Client the EPS.

If your client is in San Francisco and you are in Sydney, that conversation would likely take two weeks to carry out. Fast enough to get you fired.

Here’s what you should do:

Client says: “Can you send me the new company logo file so I can put it on our new company t-shirts?”

You say:

“There are standard jpeg versions of the logo available on the company portal at I’ve attached two files in EPS format which the printer will probably prefer but you will not be able to open on your computer. One version attached is the full color version of the logo, the other is the black version. The files are named accordingly. If you would like me to email the printer directly please send me the name and email address of your contact.”

Problem solved in two emails instead of 10. No one in an office ever gives enough information in an email. Rather than beat it out of them one email at a time, be specific and over communicate everything.

Check in very early and very late

Most clients don’t care when you do the work, as long as you do it. The problem is when someone needs an answer, or a file, or a clarification and you’re on the other side of the world. They don’t want to wait 18 hours to hear from you.

The solution is to check in first thing in the morning and just before you call it a night. I block 30 minutes twice a day to write quick emails that make other people’s lives easier. If I can’t do it in 30 minutes, I at least let them know when they can expect it from me.


#1 Marie 2012-10-15 07:40
So glad I found your site! I'm running my UK business from Japan and was thinking it was a bit unreasonable. ah! :D

I'll come up with a Timezone cheat sheet right away!

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