If you work with other people or have regular deadlines, time becomes incredibly important. It is even more so when you work at home because you may interact with people all over the country or the world.
You want to be available when your clients need you, which requires understanding time zones and how they work. You want to develop good enough knowledge to be able to match up time zones & working hours.
What Are Time Zones?
Britannica explains time zones represent 15-degree horizontal sections of the globe. We use 15 degrees because the Earth takes 60 minutes to rotate 15 degrees. It gives us an easy-to-use period by which to assign times across the world.
Each segment or time zone works using Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Time essentially begins at the prime meridian, which is 0 degrees longitude and found in Greenwich, London in the United Kingdom.
For time zones west of the prime meridian, you need to add an hour for every 15-degree section.
For those to the east, you subtract an hour. For example, Ohio in the U.S. is five 15-degree sections west of the prime meridian. You would say it is UTC -5 because it is five hours behind Coordinated Universal Time. If you are in Brisbane, Australia, you would be 10 hours ahead of UTC, so you say it is UTC +10.
You should note that the observation of Daylight Savings Time alters the time zones. During DST, Ohio is UTC -4 due to the hour change in the time. Not every place observes it, though. Brisbane does not.
You may wonder why we use time zones. Wouldn’t it be easier if everyone was using the same time? It probably would be, but the reason for the use of time zones is so that every location can have the sun directly above at noon each day.
Imagine if we all used the same time. Assuming it would be UTC, people in Ohio, for example, would have the sun directly overhead at 8:00 a.m. That would really be different and mess up everyone’s sense of time. It would make it tough to navigate without tools as well since people often use the sun as a guide to know the time of day.
Having different time zones may seem overly complex, but it really does suit humans and our nature the best by providing some type of stability as it relates to daylight.
How Many Time Zones Are There?
There are 24 standard time zones, but the real answer is there are many more than that. Each local area can designate time standards, which means there may be much more than 24 zones operating at any time. Time zones outside of the standard ones may operate on differences less than one hour.
The number of time zones also changes due to DST observation. In the U.S., for example, not every state or local area observes it. When this happens, it changes the time zones. You can easily see if a place observes DST because of the time zone name.
When not in DST, the time zone will include the word “Standard.” When in DST, the time zone name includes the word “Daylight.” For example, when observing DST, the eastern time zone is Eastern Daylight Time. When not observing it, this time zone becomes Eastern Standard Time.
Due to DST and the other variables, the actual number of time zones at any given time fluctuates.
How to Find Your Time Zone
The easiest way to find your time zone is to do an internet search or look on a map that has time zone labels. It is almost impossible to figure it out without some type of reference material because you have to at least be able to see the location’s relationship to the prime meridian.
If you know how many zones it is from the prime meridian, you can calculate the time zone based on UTC. However, you would still need to know the names of all the time zones.
So, the bottom line is that you need some type of reference or tool to find your time zone, but there are many options these days. You can download an app or do an internet search quickly on your smartphone.
Time Zone Overlap
When you work with people all around the world, you will have to figure out the best time zone overlap. This means those times when everyone is working and can interact. You can have these issues even if you are in the U.S. and everyone you work with is, too, because the U.S. goes through various time zones.
For example, if you are on the east coast, you are in the eastern time zone. Someone working on the west coast is in the pacific time zone. Your time is three hours ahead of your coworker’s time. So, if you start work at 6:00 a.m., it is only 3:00 a.m. for your coworker, which would not be a good time to collaborate.
It gets even more difficult as you have multiple people in different areas to figure out your time zone & working hours. It can help to map things out or create a chart so you know everyone’s time zone.
You can also make scheduling easier by using technology. There is a range of tools you can use that can show you various time zones or help you to collaborate as a widespread team. Two of the most useful are Google Calendar and Outlook.
Google Calendar is a wonderful scheduling tool because when you create an event, everyone you invite will see it in their time zone. For example, if you are in the eastern time zone and you set a meeting for 11:00 a.m., then your coworker in the pacific time zone will see that show up as a meeting at 8:00 a.m.
Your calendar will also adjust if you change time zones due to traveling. It will always match the local time zone.
If you need to work in a different time zone but you are not in that time zone, you can change the time zone for your calendar. You need to open the app and go under the settings menu. Once there, you will choose “Time Zone.” Here you will see a field for Primary. You want to choose the time zone you want here. It will set your calendar to that time zone.
Remember, if you want to see your current time zone, you will have to reset it using the same steps and choosing your current time zone.
Google Calendar also allows you to see other time zones, which is wonderful when you need to schedule meetings whose attendees are in different time zones. You can do this by adding world clocks to your calendar.
You will find this under the settings menu in the app. Look for “World Clock.” There should be a box beside it that says “Show world clock.” Put c check in that box.
Now you want to select “Add Time Zone.” The first time you do this, it adds your current time zone. Click it again to add additional time zones.
You can also set two time zones in your calendar. Again, it is under the settings menu. You will select “Time zone” and click the box that says “Display secondary time zone.” In the field labeled “Secondary time zone,” you can choose the time zone you would like and label it.
Outlook offers many of the same options as Google Calendar. You can easily change the time zone in which your calendar currently works by going under the “File” tab. Choose “Options,” and go to the “Calendar” tab.
Once here, you will look for “Time zones.” You want to label your current time zone in the box provided. Then you can use the provided list to choose the time zone you want.
If you want to add a time zone, you will check the box that says “Show a second time zone.”
There is also an option to show a third time zone if you want. Make sure to label each time zone and choose it from the list to set it.
Once you set up your time zones, you can swap between them by right-clicking in the time bar and choosing “Change Time Zone” from the menu. Then, you want to click “Swap Time Zones.”
If you want to remove the time zones you’ve added you simply uncheck the boxes for “Show a second time zone” or “Show a third time zone.”
Just like Google Calendar, Outlook will show events in the time zone of whoever is seeing it. Outlook automatically adjusts all times to coordinate between time zones and shows you only the time zone in which you wish to work based on your settings.
When it comes to time zones & working hours, you need to find ways to ensure you can coordinate with everyone else on your team and with customers or clients. You should have a reference to go to that allows you to easily see time zones and calculate time differences. You also want to make use of tools that can help you manage time zone-related tasks.