February 6, 2016

Working abroad for an American company

Advice on the costs & benefits of “time shifting”

By Jacob in Living Abroad 5-minute read

Working for an American company but living in Europe, I had some concerns about how to adapt to working stranger hours. So I started asking my colleagues for advice, and here’s what they had to say.

Fortunately for me, I don’t have to carry one of the greatest worries about moving abroad: Finding a new job. Because I work for an American company whose employees all work remotely – and are actually scattered across the world – they have not only accommodated my move, they have been very enthusiastic about what this means for me and my family as I move so much closer.

Even better, we have a larger group of employees in London who have been dealing with the “time shift” challenge for years. They had some helpful advice in how to set healthy boundaries while still maintaining productivity and cohesiveness with the rest of the team.

Arrange for a smaller set of shared working hours

Our shared hours at InVision are 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM ET, so all employees are asked to be available during this time. How else you spend the remainder of your 40(-plus) hours per week is up to you, but this set of shared working hours makes it easier to rely on a solid company momentum and to build a meaningful company culture together.

On the other hand, our company has grown a lot since I joined last April – by over 120 employees – so the increased specialization of our teams and reporting structures means that it is also more common for us to work with a smaller group of people on a day-to-day basis.

As a result, the major advice I got was to plan on “time shifting” to an earlier set of hours. Our design team ends at 7:30 PM in London, which is only 2:30 PM in New York. But this provides the added benefit of giving them 4.5 shared hours with the team for meetings, presentations, and collaboration while their mornings and early afternoon are available to allow focus on their design work.

At the end of the day, it sounds like this work schedule has contributed to the design team’s productivity – and we have been making similar adjustments across the company to provide a similar level of focus to other team members, including Product Managers such as myself.

In the end, I’ll likely end at the same time, which will be 8:30 PM for me. And then I’ll have my phone on my in case of emergency, and check in later in the day for anything that needs wrapping up before the next day.

If you’re in a company where working remotely is possible, but time shifting isn’t as possible, I would recommend looking up general industry advice about how to create more creative, more productive employees. Much of this research supports the idea of less “context switching.” This is about more than just being interrupted; this is also about the level of focus you are able to dedicated to a specific task or challenge over time. Context switching can drain limited reserves for decision-making, exhausting a larger percentage of employee energy on administrative tasks and busy-work versus the type of work that builds long-term business value and employee satisfaction.

Make the most of your mornings

A unique result of this unusual working schedule is that it frees up the times you are most likely to spend with other people: Meals. Although dinner will be late, a leisurely hour or two for dinner is completely possible. Brunches and lunches also become possible, and generally starting earlier in the day also gives you the opportunity to remain flexible. Some team members start early on some days, and then not until 2:00 or 3:00 PM on others.

As I prepare to move from sunny California to a country with more inclement weather, having beautiful mornings free to explore the city and get some sunlight may be more valuable for my health than working standard hours. If Rich is not traveling for work, this gives us a prime quiet time to spend together and discover our new city.

And, lest I fear my ability to meet new people and connect with others, this also affords me the ability to join morning industry creative and networking events – where I will also have the sublime opportunity of meeting some InVision users and talking about how they use our product.

Discover your inner “night person”

If you’re a morning person, I can see how this working schedule might be difficult. Luckily, I am very much a night person and so this represents a return to old habits for me – and more powerfully coincides with what I feel has always been my most creative time of day.

Some team members really do work much later hours when inspiration strikes, and find that they feel less exhausted since they’ve had an opportunity to take a few hours to make dinner and take a break… even visiting a pub.

But, on the other hand, this working arrangement does legitimately make it more difficult to make plans with others, like having someone over for dinner. Especially on Fridays, we have a hard stop of 3:00 PM ET, which will be 9:00 PM in Amsterdam. But that hard stop creates some pressure to work even harder on Fridays.

But if you can schedule around this – making plans with friends during the weekends – our company offline hours actually mean that things really do go quiet on Friday evening and Saturdays. And this matches another factor that is commonly attributed to higher productivity and job satisfaction rates: Truly taking at least one full day off of work each week.

As a result, the best technique is to take a more structured approach to making plans with friends. Intentionally scheduling dinners, brunches, and outings with friends and family over the weekend can help ensure that your sole life’s purpose doesn’t feel like work.

Consider a coworking space

When working late, it also becomes important to set a working space apart from the rest of your space. Especially if you’re living with a spouse or other people, taking calls later at night can be disturbing. And then there’s the challenge of meeting new people which I mentioned earlier.

Becoming a member at a coworking space can help remedy both of these issues. Instead of renting an office space, coworking spaces create a more affordable place to work alongside others. This can encourage productivity, form new friendships, and (especially in a place like Amsterdam, a.k.a “Appsterdam”) even provide new opportunities for business partnerships.

Some team members also indicated that relocating at some point in their day provided a nice division between one type of work and another – provided that the commute wasn’t too grueling to simply keep them at home. And, importantly, a friend in Amsterdam indicated that having a business address to deliver packages to could be safer and more convenient than having packages delivered at home.

So I set to work and quickly found a beautiful WeWork coworking space only 15-20 minutes away from home… by bike!

If you also tend to need a focused or dedicated space which signals to your mind and body that “it’s time to work,” researching coworking spaces near you could be a valuable way to be more productive – and meet new people!

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The WeWork.com coworking space

1 Comment
  1. Kathleen February 6, 2016

    You know I know you love coworking spaces. I’m excited to come visit you guys!


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