Working Across Many Time Zones

I was in Europe for most of June and working on a lot of things with people in the bay area. The nine hours of time zone difference was challenging. I was doing a lot of calls in the evenings with people who were just waking up.

There were many times when I woke up in Europe to a brief window where I could talk to people in the bay area who were still working and had not wrapped things up for the day before.

Our portfolio at USV spans ten hours (Estonia to San Francisco/Los Angeles).

Being based in NYC helps a bit as we have longer overlaps between Europe and the Bay Area than those two locations have with each other.

But I continue to find working across many time zones challenging.

Yesterday I had a conference call between people in five time zones. Getting everyone to agree to the correct time was almost laughable.

I’ve learned to use the time zone feature in Google Calendar to make sure I’ve got the time right. That helps me a lot.

As the world becomes more globalized, we find that we can do business more easily across time zones. And so we do more business across time zones.

That in turn leads to longer days.

When I am in LA, I often wake at 5am to an inbox that is full and active.

When I am in Europe, I am often on conference calls on the way to dinner.

I suspect there is someone working at a USV portfolio company at every hour of every day.

And new technologies is pushing this trend even farther.

Traditional capital markets open and close. The NYSE will open for trading today at 9:30amET after being closed all day yesterday for the July 4th holiday.

But crypto traders can trade on GDAX 24/7 and do.

So the tech and startup business is quickly becoming a 24/7 affair.

It wasn’t that way at all when I got into the business in my mid 20s.

But thirty years later the pace and rhythm is very different.

Keeping up with that pace and rhythm can be exhausting if you let it be.

#entrepreneurship#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. jeffyablon

    Fred, I elect you to fund something to figure that out.It was almost 20 years ago that I learned this same lesson. At the time (1998 … think about it) I was one of two owners of one of the earliest streaming and new media services. It did pretty well; Dish TV, as they were called at the time, hired us to build a ZDTV (remember them?) killer.Our production team was in Australia. One of our key content guys was in South Africa, another in Seattle. My partner was in Chicago, and I was in NYC.Once a month, we ran a conference call that I took at 1AM, and the other principal at midnight. Do all the other math and it will be obvious why we were the winners in that sweepstakes.I learned around then that making sure to quote times to include the phrase “and that’s YOUR x o’clock” was the only way to stay anything even close to efficient.Seriously … We need to fix this. The whole world now knows what we figured out back in the day. But somehow nobody’s made any headway at all addressing it.

  2. LIAD

    …. pace and rhythm can be exhausting if you let it be.That’s one of the (many) reasons I haven’t and won’t get a smart watch. Life is too short and precious to have your wrist vibrating 24/7 with minutiae.Also why I’m bullish on the meditation/mindfulness apps. Once you get started with them, instant daily respite and see positive changes in all areas of life. They’re a great recurring business model. Can see people staying paying customers (~-$15 p/m) for years.Was recently having an al-fresco lunch by the port in Majorca. My phone rang. I answered it. Old guy walking past, stopped. looked me dead in the eye, shook his head and said “Tranquilo, Tranquilo” – Chill Chill

    1. Matt Zagaja

      The trick to the smart watch is that for it to be useful you have to tune your apps/notifications to end the noise. Slack and general emails do not warrant a notification for me. You need to @me on slack or text me to get my attention. Even then do not disturb mode silences everything at 10 p.m. I’ve realized that for the most part “urgent” things aren’t actually urgent. You can triage and handle most communications as long as you check them within 24 hours.

      1. Vasudev Ram

        >I’ve realized that for the most part “urgent” things aren’t actually urgent. >You can triage and handle most communications as long as you check them within 24 hours.Agreed. Years ago I worked in a hardware+software company. I was a systems engineer there. We – both tech and sales staff – sat in an open-plan office, at individual desks, not even cubicles. (Only some managers had cubicles, and only the branch manager had a separate office – with glass walls, old-style, so he could watch what everyone was doing, ha ha. [1])One day, in the office, I heard a sales manager talking with of his juniors (somewhat recently joined). The junior was saying that some task had to be done soon – maybe involving a customer, maybe not). The manager replied:”No transaction is so important that it cannot wait for 24 hours.”Obviously to be taken with an “Almost” at the beginning of the sentence, but you get the idea …Too much of pointless or less effective / ineffective rushing around seen nowadays.[1] Don’t remember if the glass was one-way (for seeing). There used to be some of those then.>>I’ve realized that for the most part “urgent” things aren’t actually urgent.Right, and if they were actually urgent, it may often be your (meaning whoever’s) own fault, because many such things can be anticipated and planned for in advance.That same company was most of the time in fire-fighting mode (at least the branch offices were). A commonly heard refrain was “there’s a fire” (meaning some issue at some customer’s end, often it was the company’s fault). [2][2] My point being that this shit is not new.This meaning of refrain:

    2. Girish Mehta

      “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives…” – Annie Dillard”You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.” – Seneca, 1st Century AD.The old guy in Majorca has got it figured out.

      1. Twain Twain

        I swear I read AVC because there’s always something here I didn’t know before… Like …”Who was Seneca?!”Now I’ll have to read a whole lot more about him.

        1. Alex Dunsdon

          Start with Tim ferris and Ryan holiday – stoicism for world today

          1. Twain Twain

            Thanks for the tip. I dip into Ferris from time to time but hadn’t heard of Holiday.

          2. Twain Twain

            Ok, I must be a stoic — of the Aurelius strand rather then the Seneca one.An ex-boyfriend (a lawyer) once made me endure him treating me like I was his attentive jury, practicing his debating skills. I did that stoically even though I was bored out of my skull and would much have preferred if he’d taken me to the movies. Lol.

    3. Vasudev Ram

      In “Indian”: Shanti, ShantiI’ve actually seen old Westerners have to say that sometimes to youngish Indians who were rushing around – e.g. in traffic in India, trying to worm their way through (thereby making the jam worse) when there is an obvious traffic jam, instead of waiting. #irony…

    4. Vivek Kumar

      I consider multiple time zones workable for execution but death for innovation.As I moved towards a more innovative role – exploring new business oppertunities, from a more execution oriented role – running large-scale programs, I quickly realized multiple time zones created an enormous strain on the team’s innovative ability.During execution, communication was the invisible force that led the team’s efforts. Without it, schedules slip and visions diverge.Compared to that, most value I have gotten from brainstorming was due to face-to-face communication. Awareness and informal communication become essential when you are charting unknown territory. “What has the potential to work ?” – becomes more apparent when not focusing on the solutions. Breakthroughs come during informal conversations during coffee and lunch. Serendipitous crossing of knowledge is the key. If you need a breakthrough, it’s worth a considerable investment to get them together.If you are trying to create growth with minimal resources on tight timelines, getting people in the same physical space – at least the same time zone – is key.

      1. PhilipSugar

        You must be old school like me. For execution everybody in the office. For sales, you need to be there.

        1. Vivek Kumar

          Did’t used to be – iterated and pivoted to what works :-/

          1. PhilipSugar

            I have said the best thing we do is when somebody from Support comes over to Dev which then brings in Ops.

    5. ShanaC

      Not bullish on meditation apps but I am concerned on more personal levels/sociology of religion levels.Re Meditation apps:1)A lot of the content is re-creatable – basically, popularity is your moat, but popularity can change overnight. Hence why there is a ton of meditation apps2)Apps aren’t teachers or even humans.While there is definitely a dearth of qualified teachers out there (which makes apps VERY appealing, as you can self teach), having a teacher and/or working with a real life community in person (at least occasionally) is, in reality, a necessity the more one meditates. Teachers and communities help reframe meditation experiences that can be extremely negative/disturbing, as well as provide communal behavior standards and practices about entering and exiting meditation that makes handling the occasional negative (as well as positive) behavioral changes and experiences people have. Having negative experiences is actually fairly common, especially for people who meditate regularly.…(this is the actual reason I gave up the app I did, it provided no structure to handle some experiences I got from it.)3) Mindfulness meditations that we see today weren’t a popular practice among Buddhists until the 18th century as part of a reformist movement – it had basically died out among most Buddhist priests and monks in the 10th century.http://brooklynquarterly.or…Meanwhile, in the 10th- 19th century among the Abrahamic religious traditions, meditations and mystic practices were developing and growing (eg: Development of European monastic orders, the beginning of Sufism, the Chasidei Ashkenaz and the later development of Lurianic Kabbalah). These traditions haven’t disappeared (nor some of their “newer” counterparts, like meditation practices of modern Chassidim, the Taiz community, or the Maizbhandari Sufi Order). The meditation practices of west are now in danger of disappearing from the wider public. They are being replaced with vispassana based mindfulness relabeled and recontextualized for a different faith background, even though.all of these traditions have worthwhile meditations of their ownTo whit: the Jewish Meditation Center of Brooklyn doesn’t teach the screaming Jewish prayer meditation practices of Karliner Chassidim, because pretty much only Karliner Chassidim teach other Karliner Chassidim.4) Speaking of replacing and recontextualizing: Mindfulness meditations are being profoundly capitalized. Aka secularized, but Buddhism is an extremely weird faith/nonfaith in terms of beliefs, or lack thereof. Secularized isn’t exactly the right word, especially since the reasoning behind why is often to make money.In doing so, it is leaving behind the unique ethical precepts and distinct worldview that make mindfulness meditation really work, while also creating bland pablums. Furthermore, as mentioned in 3, by taking the vispassana out of mindful meditations, it prevents the mindfulness practices of other faiths and their matching socio-ethical teachings from flowering and impacting those faith traditions positively. Mindfulness meditations are now so bland as to be ignorable in what one learns that they don’t shape religious traditions and how these traditions cause people to relate to each other, which is among the reasons I believe that, for example, contemporary evangelicalism has become so legalistic and political, or how contemporary chassidic groups have behavior that is very foreign and comparatively negative to their groups’ beginnings.5) what happens when the “mindfulness” trend no longer keeps going, or more mixed evidence (such as the fact that for some people, mindfulness doesn’t work), becomes more public? These apps are dependent on mindfulness being trendy for growth. All of these apps have some churn (and probably more than many want to admit) – if the trendiness dies, that churn is going to go wayyy up.______yeah, I overthought this for here…

  3. William Mougayar

    Yup. As one does that a lot, you start to learn the blocks that work for others. If you’re not considerate about that, then it’s not good business etiquette. Don’t schedule something across zones without knowing what might work for the other party.When I worked for Cognizant 10 years ago, we were doing constant calls with India. So, we all knew that the best times were either in the evening 9-11pm EST or 6-8am and these were the golden windows. With Europe, it’s a bit easier, but Europe/EST is easier to co-ordinate than Europe/PST.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      Tell me about it!I used to think communicating regularly with EST was a challenge. That now feels normal. Hopefully will become the same for Europe… and beyond.

  4. Shripriya

    What I found helpful was picking one day that you know is going to be terrible and then just dealing with it. For me, that was Mondays. Start at 8a and often goes past midnight (It would be afternoon in Singapore).It’s not always possible to set up the week that way, but if you can make that work most of the time, it’s better.

    1. PhilipSugar

      I have a variation. You rotate the terrible days on a rolling basis. That way you only have one or two every three weeks. See below. One week sucks, one is ok, and the third is totally fine.

  5. jason wright

    i always take the eighth day of the week off.

  6. Marissa_NYx

    My team work across 3 time zones : Pacific, Eastern and Australian Eastern, and we’ve figured out the rhythm fairly well. It’s not that exhausting , it’s the new normal. It is easier in the Northern American winter as clocks come together. Over a decade ago, I worked for an investment bank in London and we regularly had calls amongst the global equity team – from London and Frankfurt to NY, Singapore, Seoul and Sydney alll on one call. The Aussies would always get the short end of the stick, having to join calls at midnight! . Luckily today I can ask my US team to join a call in the evening when I’m with our product team in Australia as that’s our team’s new normal.

  7. Jay Bregman

    Sam Lessin’s piece in The Information (though its conclusions may be too extreme) highlights the issues as they concern product development:

  8. Twain Twain

    At 22, I worked Europe-AsiaPac-US time differences when compiling Risk’s Global Banking Survey.* http://events.waterstechnol…In the office super-early to call Managing Directors in HK & Japan to remind them to fill out the survey and to give us a quote on why they voted the way they did. Super-late to call MDs in NY to do the same.Then as a banker, our Strategic Investments portfolio was global. Sometimes, board calls in Japan happened at 07:00GMT and, then in SF, they happened at 16:00 PCT (00:00 GMT) so I had to be in the office and then leave at 02:00 GMT.Nowadays, I still get about 5-6 hours of sleep and the global clock is a norm.I find hiking and doing Zumba (lots of dance steps) helpful for my body clock and alertness.

    1. ShanaC

      light (from the sun) and movement does help by all accounts!

      1. Twain Twain

        Lol. I think I should move to Brazil because they have a LOT of sunshine and all the dance moves … as well as capoeira.

  9. BillMcNeely

    Things have come a long way. 10 years ago I worked in the Middle East. Many Americans were clueless that there were time zones outside the US. My favorite were US time mid afternoon conference calls

  10. Pointsandfigures

    Truth be told trading hours at established exchanges might be posted but it’s been 24/7 since the 90s in financial markets. Ag markets were always different and changed with computers. They tried 24/7 and ruined them. Last year they went back to limited hours in agsAmazing London isn’t more of a VC center given their advantage on time zone

  11. sgleahy

    The FX trading markets have been 24/5.5 for decades. For the East Coast of the US that means 5pm Sunday through 5pm Friday. London is 10pm Sunday through 10pm Friday (not much social life if you were a London-based dealer covering Asia/Pac timezones). As challenging as a 24/7 business can be, it does keep one vested in global current affairs. And unlike brick and mortar businesses, the register keeps ringing even while you sleep.

  12. Dave Hendricks

    Having worked in London for a NY- based (-5) company with offices in Berlin (+1) and Texas (-6) for the last several years, I can attest to the challenges of communicating across time zones and borders, and it’s not just language barriers.It can be advantageous to be ‘east’. You can get several hours early in the day to be productive before the NYers hit the pipes at 12-1pm BST.However, the problem for those East is that the day often goes from 8am to 10pm because a ‘weekly’ conference call is scheduled for 3 or 4pm NY Time. If you are trying to get things done at HQ, and you are remote, this can be a real issue for time-remote staff. And often the afternoons are the only times when you can get all three offices (UK, NY, and SF) on the phone.This is a first-world problem for sure. It’s really cool to say that you work for/invest in/etc a global company. It’s another thing entirely to manage decision making and consensus across time zones, and a real art. Doing it right has to be a cultural value and focus.

  13. Pranay Srinivasan

    We work with China and India and I found that being on the West Coast actually helped us line it up better. 6-8a: India / China End of Day.8a-5p: EST / PST 5-8p: China Morning8-11p: India MorningSunday evenings kick off the week and the only free day was Saturday morning – Sunday afternoon.

  14. sigmaalgebra

    Time zone problems? Problems picking times so that everyone for a meeting will be available at that time? Okay, partial solution: Talk less and type more, that is, make more use of e-mail. E-mail is already one heck of a big step forward compared with before the Internet, traveling physically by car or plane to a face to face meeting in person. E.g., AVC is open for reading/writing 24 x 7; so is e-mail. Besides, on a serious subject, it’s better to think twice and type once than just to talk back and forth.

  15. Paris reader

    Interesting what you write. I work across 3 time zones Mumbai, Europe, LA. I am based in Europe. I actually like being ahead of LA because I have the whole day to prepare for anything in LA. I also think culture matters. In the US there is much more expectation to be “on” or available all of the time. So we try be available according the culture of the clients- who are usually in California. That said, I am an American working in France and my job is to be the bridge between these cultures, so I am checking mails before I go to bed and when I get up. This is unusual where I am since in France there is now a law that employees don’t have to reply to emails after normal work hours. I don’t have too hard of a time with it and most US clients respect the time difference and calls are usually at 8/9/10am-5/6/7pm Europe. My only rule is no calls after dinner with wine, and since you are a lover of Paris you know what I mean ;-)!

  16. PhilipSugar

    Here is what I do.You agree that there are three basic time zones. North and South America, Europe and Middle East, Asia and Australia.You then pick the core hours in each time zone that are office hours. For instance for me on the East Coast in the Americas that is 10am to 7pm (that accounts for the West Coast)You then pick one or two days that you are willing to have calls.You then rotate between the three zones each week.That means for every three weeks you have 4 days of “pain”If somebody wants a call off cycle they take the pain and call during the agreed time.

    1. PhilipSugar

      Sorry and I’ll add you only use GMT. Right now we are -4 GMT here on the East Coast.

      1. Donna Brewington White

        And UTC!

        1. PhilipSugar

          I suppose I show my age and the fact that we have a large London office.

          1. Donna Brewington White

            I like your suggestion of compartmentalizing in order to make it more manageable. Even more so when adding in non-European countries. I had two calls last week where the person lives in Europe but was visiting another continent — two different people. A different lifestyle.

          2. PhilipSugar

            I always remember talking with Frances Frei… very well known Harvard professor.She said you have to write down things that you do and then rate them at how well you do them. 1 is worst, 5 is best.She says you MUST average a 3. Meaning you cannot put down 5 for all things because then all you will be is an exhausted 3.So being always available I am a 1. For being available and attentive during the times that I designate I am a 5.It is the same as my office hours at night which I was the one that started years ago on Brad’s blog. Will I talk to you about anything anytime? 1 During office hours 5

  17. Surabhi Shastri

    So the tech and startup business is quickly becoming a 24/7 affair – Totally agree. I work across 3 time-zones – New York, Mumbai and Mountain View. While it’s quite challenging as you can never really turn completely off – I think tools like Slack have made communication extremely efficient and increased accountability- time-zone specific calender invites would be a great feature for slack. It has also become important to have protected time (which is usually 6- 9 pm in all time zones for folks), flexible work hours and high level of trust among the team members.

  18. Jack Byrne

    The leverage – or loss – of flipping requests around the world: When I first had clients in Europe, Asia and the USA, I knew that my personal ability to wake-sleep at odd times would almost guarantee – “that I would forever wake-sleep at odd times”. But we get one additional advantage – you can put out a request before ending your own day and there is a good chance that the other side of the world will have a “workday” to complete it before you next wake. It’s great if you use that flip across the world, and it can be frustrating if you miss it. (also with gmail events for a new contacts: I will put the their day and time at the front of the calendar event or in the subject – otherwise people sometimes get confused.)

  19. Donna Brewington White

    We really are having to think differently about time and schedules.I guess I should consider it a blessing that I am interviewing European candidates at 7:30 a.m. every morning this week. My night owl ways will need to change.

  20. Nick Hutton

    If you’re building relationships, brainstorming, or have anything particularly contentious to work through (unless you know the people _really_ well) then face to face is essential IMO. Especially if there are cultural differences to manage.Besides that, I still think there is an opportunity to improve collaboration for other jobs which are non-tech related but could “follow the sun” in an organisation upon which the sun never sets. Collaboration software for “normal people”.

  21. JLM

    .Equally remarkable is that this body of work is being conducted in English.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  22. awaldstein

    Tools help.The body is the think to manage

  23. Nathan Lustig

    I work with teams across the US, Latin America and now Europe and am just starting to try out Twist from the people who make todoist, which bills itself as “the communication tool for teams who believe there’s more to work than keeping up with group chat apps.”https://twistapp.comI’ve used Slack, Facebook for Work and a few others, but the constant notifications make it easy to be on 18 hours per day.

  24. Richard

    Think about this as “transaction costs” and maybe you’ll conclude that adjusted for transaction costs investing as an early stage VC globally may not make financial sense relative to investing locally?

  25. ShanaC

    Melatonin and scheduling discrete work time?Though I have to say – traders do a lot of automation. Maybe the question is what can you automate to create time?

  26. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:Oh where oh where is the AVC post at Oh where oh where can it be?

  27. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:OFF TOPIC ALERT!Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub Resigns!…Those to hate the swamp will extol Walter Shaub as a Patrioit and those who continue to support and make excuses for the swamp will say Walter Shaub good riddance because he made the office political. How views are so obfuscated based upon the well they drink from.

  28. Jose Paul Martin

    Fred, I think multiple time zones are going to become the norm. The world is getting smaller, more global. The pace of development is very rapid. Honestly, its a bit tiring – I used to start my day early when the Indian markets started trading 7 am Bahrain (9:30 am India) for my personal portfolio so I could place my trades, then go to office at 8:30 am (Bahrain) and then start working with our portfolio company in NY at 5pm Bahrain (9 am ET). Come back home exhausted. And keep in mind, that the Middle East weekends are Friday & Saturday (not Saturday & Sunday) – and it was worse before when the weekends were Thursday & Friday!That was 2-3 years ago. Today… another story!

  29. CY

    For the last few years, I have been working across US, China, Singapore time zones. I find the sun never sets and I am 24 hour “on”. Being a culture bridge and connector can also lead to burn out.

  30. Mark Essel

    Just because your business is 24/7 doesn’t mean you have to be. Setting boundaries is hard but necessary to continually do your best work and to continue to enjoy doing it.I’ve slipped here in the past couple of years letting work eat early mornings, nights, weekends and even holidays. This is something I need to change.