The maximum time difference across the world's 24 standard time zones is 12 hours. In an ever-connected world, this time separation presents numerous challenges for businesses.
Professors Erran Carmel and J. Alberto Espinosa explore the myriad ways that time zones impact the productivity of global workers in their new book, I'm Working While They're Sleeping: Time Zone Separation Challenges and Solutions, published this month.
"This is a huge problem, but no one has focused on it because of the 'distance is dead' myth," said Carmel. "Today, we see knowledge workers doing a lot of timeshifting to accommodate another person's schedule and interact synchronously."
The book aims to answer questions—and make recommendations—about the optimal geographical setup to complete specific types of tasks, and how to maximize the effectiveness of an existing workplace configuration.
Carmel and Espinosa had separately studied how knowledge workers coordinate workflow across time zones prior to collaborating.
"After 13 years in international development supporting operations in Africa, Latin America, and Europe, I know the challenges of working in multiple time zones very well," Espinosa said.
Carmel has studied global software teams, offshoring of information technology, and emergence of software industries around the world.
Espinosa worked on a multi-year survey study of more than 100 project teams at Intel Corp. that evaluated how technology could help the teams overcome the difficulties of working in different time zones. He and his team discovered that technology alone could not overcome time separation obstacles.
Beginning in 2006, they conducted several experiments that simulated global working environments. Their findings—which involved a wide variety of research methods and extensive fieldwork—indicate that the quality of work suffers when workers are spread across far-flung time zones.
In essence, global teams whose work schedules do not overlap at all are more likely to finish projects quickly, but not as precisely. Put another way, the lab results found a clear tradeoff between speed and accuracy.
"The Internet hasn't erased time zones," said Carmel in his presentation at TEDxGeorgetown in March. "It has made them even more problematic."
Find I'm Working While They’re Sleeping on Amazon.