Technology has made the world into one large, diverse business community with employees working thousands of miles apart in different time zones. The modern workplace culture is 24/7 with colleagues online at all hours of the day and travelling extensively.
This can have a huge impact on employees mental and physical health. So how can employees maintain their resilience when working in this modern work culture?
The World Health Organisation defines mental health as “A state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Working across multiple time zones with extensive travel, can, before we know it, affect both our mental and physical resilience. Colleagues often forget that, to realise our full potential at home and at work means we need to find balance in our life.
Those that thrive whilst traveling and working across time zones understand how to make it work for them and the changes they need to make to their everyday life.
This article explores the Circadian Rhythm and how understanding it helps us operate at peak both at work and when we are with family and friends; cultural considerations to reduce embarrassment and stress; and techniques to stay healthy and recover quickly from jetlag when travelling.
Be aware of each other’s natural body clock
The Circadian Rhythmis often referred to as the "body clock," it is around 24 hours in duration and is a cycle that tells our bodies when to rise, eat and sleep — regulating many of our physiological processes.
At the start of the day cortisol levels naturally peak giving us energy, making this a good time for challenging work, and in the afternoon these levels dip as our body and mind naturally get ready to recharge, rest and repair whilst we the sleep.
Working across multiple time zones means employees are working with colleagues who are at different stages of their natural body clock.
For instance, in an international organisation it isn't unusual to work in a team with colleagues across Asia, US and Europe. That means a 10am call in the UK would be at 4am in Chicago and 6pm in China. Whilst it is not possible for all employees to be at the same stage of their body clock when working in different time zones, there are adjustments and considerations that can make it easier.
Be aware of the working patterns of your fellow colleagues
If you have regular conversations, meetings and calls with colleagues and clients across different time zones, make sure you know what time of day it is in their working pattern.
Setting up a call to discuss a challenging topic at the end of a working day can affect yours and your colleagues’ rest and sleep.
Try and work together and prioritise work to complement each other’s natural body rhythm.
Consider when to send emails/messages
If you must send an email that will have an impact on a colleague (such as a question requiring swift response, challenging feedback, or that is ambiguous in its content), consider the time you are sending it.
It may be the morning for you but late afternoon for someone else which could have a negative impact on your colleague’s sleep. Leaving work wound up, worrying or feeling under pressure for a response can leave you anxious and not able to totally switch off from work.
Think about meeting times
A meeting at 10am is ideal, however colleagues in other parts of the world may be in their afternoon / evening and closer to sleep.
Certain times in the day are always busy, the school run, time to speak to carers, rush hour etc. Often by not being aware of our colleagues’ working days, we forget these times and can book calls bang in the middle of these very busy times.
You can’t always schedule calls/meetings avoiding these times but if you can offer a choice to attend these meetings, stress levels will reduce and team work will improve.
It’s amazing when you start asking colleagues about their working patterns, how much you learn. Before you know it, you will find a way that works for everybody.
Be aware of cultural differences
Diverse teams are proven time and time again to be some of the most successful. Working in different countries on the same projects or for the same company allows different cultures to share their unique experiences and perceptions which strengthens productivity.
Great companies work hard to ensure colleagues from across the globe understand each other’s cultures and different ways of working. Education helps to avoid misunderstandings and relationship breakdown which can, at times, leave employees feeling confused and stressed. Some of the basics include:
Lost in translation
It is important to think about the language used and the way you communicate. Avoid jargon and slang especially on calls/video’s
Junior members of the team in certain cultures may be uncomfortable with confrontation or speaking up in meetings due to cultural attitudes to hierarchy.
Means of address, concept of punctuality and attitude to working hours all differ in different cultures – get to know them as soon as you start working within a global team
The simple answer to all these cultural differences is never assume. Consider your approach, research colleagues’ cultures and if in doubt, ask. This will avoid inadvertently embarrassing colleagues which could put a strain on the relationship and increase stress levels.
Jetlag and how to master it
Jetlag happens when people travel across several different time zones. If we don’t change our habits, it can disturb our sleep patterns, causing extreme tiredness and other physical symptoms.
Jetlag plays havoc with our health and wellbeing. It causes us to feel exhausted during the day, struggle to maintain concentration and have difficulties sleeping at bedtime.
Tips to help recover quickly from jetlag
There are some simple tips and techniques that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of jetlag:
During the flight encourage employees to:
· Drink plenty of water because dehydration makes it harder for the body to adjust to the new rhythm
· Stay active by stretching and moving around the cabin
· Avoid alcohol as dehydration can make jetlag worse
On arrival encourage employees to:
· Adapt to the current time zone as quickly as possible when travelling
· If you fly to the same place regularly, find a ritual to train your brain to adapt – stay in the same hotel, eat in the same restaurants, go to the gym at the same time etc.
· Set an alarm so you get up at a reasonable hour in the morning
· Get outside as daylight (ideally early in the morning) can help reset their body clock. Perhaps help colleagues to factor time into their schedule to get outside so they know you value their wellbeing
If possible, try to give employees one full day before important meetings start, to allow them to adjust to the new time zone.
It is important to remember when working across different time zones, it is not always about the time of day that is different. Recognising the impact cultural differences play in international business can help to avoid misunderstandings and relationship breakdown which can leave employees feeling confused and stressed.
There is no denying that technology has made working across multiple time zones much more accessible. It has reduced the size of the world to one diverse marketplace, with huge opportunities such as access to a rich talent pool.
However, it is easy to forget time zones, travel, cultural differences and our body clocks can all take their toll on employee resilience, which threatens performance.
There are simple changes that can be made to ensure everyone works in harmony and is able to reach their full potential.
Making health and wellbeing a part of the wider business strategy will ensure colleagues feel empowered to manage their own and their colleague’s wellbeing and achieve optimum performance.
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