Ask Design Mom: Working With a Time Difference

By Gabrielle.

Hi Design Mom. I am wondering how the time difference from France to the U.S. affects you and your husband’s work days. I work from home, too, and dream of living abroad. Any thoughts? — Rebekah

Great question, Rebekah! Before we moved, I hadn’t actually given the time change much thought, but it turns out it has affected our work — and our life! — in a big way. I have several assorted thoughts on the subject, but they feel a little disjointed in my head, so I’m going to put them in a list and see how that goes:

– I love, love, love waking up 6 hours before East Coasters (and 9 hours before Californians!). When I sit down with my laptop and tackle my inbox, I can actually make progress! Because most of the people that email me are fast asleep and my inbox stays quiet while I answer emails. And it just feels like I’m getting a head start! Basically, I get my posts done for the day and scheduled — but they don’t go live until 3:00PM my time (which is 9:00AM in NY). So if we have an outing that day, or guests in town, I know I have until 3:00PM to get things going.

It’s a really nice feeling. Ben Blair and I have discussed that it will be one of the things we miss the very most when we move back.

– Interestingly, I definitely felt the opposite when we moved from New York to Colorado. I would wake up every morning feeling like I was behind, because my peers in New York had already been working for a couple of hours. We were only in Colorado a year and a half, and I’m afraid I never quite got used to it.

– The tricky part is phone calls and online meetings. I end up making calls and holding meetings at 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00 at night! It seems like I would be able to schedule the calls at a more reasonable hour — say 5:00 or 7:30PM, but I really can’t. From 4:00 to 8:00PM at our house, if I’m not giving my time and attention to my family and household, things fall apart fast.

– Another tricky part is dealing with communication delays. My best work hours are at the beginning of the day, but if I have questions or need to get in touch with someone, I won’t be able to while my head is clear and the thoughts are crisp. So I have to make good notes and hope I’ll remember everything I want to discuss when I get in touch later that day.

– Being ahead or behind the news cycle has also been fascinating to me. Last night, I went to bed long before the big game. I knew I would be missing the commercials, the half-time show, and all the accompanying tweets and instagrams. As someone that doesn’t like missing out, it took me awhile to come to terms with having to catch up the next day. (I’m not actually a huge football fan, so missing the Super bowl isn’t too challenging for me, but I was bummed to miss the Golden Globes!)

– I also remember watching the news unfold about the tsunami in Japan, and realizing I couldn’t talk to my friends and family about it because they were all asleep. I remember feeling sort of out-of-body as I watched America wake up and deal with the news and heart break, while I had already had 6 hours to begin processing the tragedy.

– Something else kind of funny: Daylight Savings time changes happen on different days here in France than they do in America. For a couple of weeks each year, it really messes with my head!

– Lastly, dealing with a time change like this definitely gets better with practice. I’m really good at instantly knowing what time it is in every time zone of the U.S. (I have work colleagues in all four!) — but when I first got here, I would have to count on my fingers every time I tried to schedule a phone call. : )

Tell me, Dear Readers, have you ever worked with a big time change? Did you enjoy it? And I’d love to know: Do you like the time zone you live in now?

P.S. — I’m a fan of Timex Weekender watches. Lots of happy straps to choose from and they’re usually less than $30!

47 thoughts on “Ask Design Mom: Working With a Time Difference”

  1. Well I like you being in a time zone that is 6 hours ahead of mine so when I get up and check out Design Mom there is usually one (and sometimes more) post waiting for me. I feel like you stayed up all night getting ready for my morning ;)

  2. i lived in the states for a bit and then moved back to barcelona, spain. i completely understand how you feel. sometimes i love the time zone difference, sometimes i hate it, sometimes i get confused and mess it up and sometimes it’s very useful (like when turning in projects, the days i’ve procrastinated, hahaha)

  3. Our son is currently stationed in Japan and we are 16 hours different, much harder to manage communications compared to an 8 or 9 hour difference with France, depending on time of year. Plus, living in Arizona where we don’t adjust our clocks means we have to remember when the rest the country (world) does.

  4. When I worked remotely in Europe (and will again come this summer) I continued with my east coast based company – we worked it out so that my ‘core hours’ were from 10am to 7pm – that way. They felt strongly that starting later/going later wasn’t sustainable in the long run and while I didn’t realize it at the time, they were pretty much right. Like you I loved having the time in the morning to get through the things that I needed without the constant inbox influx. 10am was still early enough to get in on the day (and still 9am for our london office) but enough time for me to wake up, work out, clear my head and get started. 7pm ended up being a pretty good cut off time, though once i had my daughter it was closer to six – for some calls i would hop on in the evenings but remarkably, unless it’s a big cross time zone group, or unless its clients in the west coast/asia, then most things you can solve during your working hours. i had a “black out time” from 6-9 so that i could focus on her and dinner and bedtime routines. i’m definitely looking forward to going back to that schedule – apart from a couple of exceptions i felt like i had a better work life balance over all with that schedule. but it depends on what’s a best fit for the person and for the job.

    1. Settling on “core hours” with his employer is what Ben Blair had to do when we first moved here. And every so often they would reevaluate together and rework the core hours.

  5. I work remotely from California, but my company’s US offices are on the East Coast and our EU offices are in Belgium. I feel like I am constantly living in three timezones at once! While I love that my work day is done by 3pm most days, I hate that it starts between 4 and 5 am! It always feels a little strange to say “Have a good evening” to my European coworkers at 9 in the morning for me.

    In the end, it has worked out pretty well. I can pick the kids up from school and can take them to appointments without having to take off work. But it has taken some getting used to. The main hassle is when I have time off, I slip into a more normal routine – staying up past 10pm and getting up around 7. Then I have to reset my internal clock when I go back to work.

  6. I have always lived in the same timezone, but we have family members in other time zones and are often making calculations to see when we can call them. We are also in the process of adopting from Taiwan, so I am constantly thinking about what time it is there and what our son might be doing. It has been difficult to schedule communication with our agency there- we usually have to do it after 10pm our time, which is past my bedtime!

  7. And it is almost time for dinner there! On that note, do, you all as a family, eat “later” as the French do, or have you stuck to a more “American” time for dinner? AND do you eat your salad at the end of the meal with cheese or just with the meal? Curious how a lovely family adapts and merges into such ins and outs of the french culture/cuisine. I was a nanny there for two years (in the south of France) & I am sure there are things YOU ADORE! (& never want to leave!!) and other things you miss. Have a lovely evening! xxoo

  8. I’ve worked across time zones for 15 years. For me, the key to keeping family life sane and work life progressing relatively smoothly is to establish and abide by those “blackout hours” – the family comes first hours! Next, I must ‘claim’ some reasonable time for myself or get swallowed up by family and work.

  9. I moved to LA from NYC when I was in my 20s. The good thing was that I worked from noon to 7pm so there was less traffic but the bad thing about that was when I got home, it was 10pm at “home” so I couldn’t call anybody!! I felt behind like you did moving to Colorado.

  10. I live in Zurich, Switzerland and I have to say, I love that too! When I’m on top of things enough to schedule my posts, I always do 3pm our time, too. Even when I don’t get it published until after my daughter goes to bed, it’s still before noon on the west coast and I love that! :) How long does your family plan to stay in France? We know that we will one day move back, too…le sigh.

  11. Elizabeth Sorenson

    I loved growing up in AZ and not ever having to do Daylight Savings. When I went to college in ID and had to do it for the first time, it was annoying and hard to remember. And since my parents still reside in AZ, Daylight Savings is still occasionally frustrating because sometimes I’m 2 hours ahead and sometimes I’m 3 and I have to remember which one it is.

  12. My daughter and son-in-law live on the other side of the world from us, sometimes 8 and sometimes 9 hours apart. I have a widget on my desktop that shows their local time and that makes communication times so much easier/manageable.

  13. I agree with you completely. It’s nice to be the alert one when talking to the US, as they wake up. I’m feel like a have a magnifying glass on my sleepies when I have to talk to anyone in the US during our night time though — the adrenaline different feels like day and night! I’ve been living in Sweden so long I have an internal alarm that notifies me for my regular calls. I love “having morning coffee with my parents” as I’m driving to pick up my kids from school in the afternoon here. We have a real ritual of this.

  14. we moved to a time zone 10 hours ahead of LA a few years ago. my husband still works with his company in LA and also loves being able to catch up on email while everyone else is asleep and loves that his business is covered 24 hours a day between himself and his partner who lives in California. What is the hardest is that it always seems that right at the kids bedtime is when his conference calls start and he is gone off to work but we are super grateful for his being able to work from around the world.

  15. I live in Jerusalem, but most of my work colleagues are in California (a nine hour difference most of the year) and my family are in Texas (a seven hour difference most of the year). It’s really great until those late-night calls! :) But for us the weirdest thing is actually following the Jewish work week (we work Sundays but get Fridays free), while all our colleagues are on the Western work week (working Fridays with Sundays free). I get a lot done on Sundays for the same reasons you mentioned, but we also have a whole three days of not being available to each other over the weekend!

  16. I work as a project manger for a global company, so the time zones I’m working with changes every couple of months. Last year, I spent several months each working on projects with Eastern Canada, Thailand, The Netherlands, England, and India. And my support team members are based in the US, the Philippines, England, and Australia. To say it sometimes gets confusing would be an understatement! We rely heavily on the website to plan meetings in multiple time zones. It’s especially useful because it keeps track of those pesky Daylight Savings time changes too ! :)

    (and like you, G, I frequently end up with late nights full of conference calls. Thankfully, I know the inconvenience is only temporary!)

      1. I second this recommendation and as a lawyer in a global firm with colleagues and clients all over the world, I use the site all the time.

  17. I don’t work across time zones (unless my husband is away on business in America – and then it’s just to schedule calls with him) but having read your comments I have to say that I love the idea of ‘black out hours’. I am self employed and work from home and often wonder how other working mums manage work/family/home. The concept of having non-negotiable hours when the phone and e-mail will not be checked or answered, when I give my full attention to the children and my ‘home’ responsibilities is wonderful! Not rocket science I realise and I probably should have thought of it before but now I can give that time a name I feel a more empowered to enforce that and not feel pulled in two directions. Thanks!

    1. Oh for sure! I’m a huge fan of black out hours. Sometimes I wonder if they become more and more important as kids get older and family schedules get more complicated.

  18. Good gravy!!! Thanks a bundle for the link above. Yet the only way I deal with the time difference between Europe and the US is really never getting to much sleep… It’s a bit honest yet sad, but true. And for folks living in Europe, like me right now — let’s not forget about all the D-A-Y-L-I-G-H-T that stretches way into the night… the extended evening light will be around the corner in no time… argh…

  19. Hi everyone,

    we moved from Germany to Hawaii half a year ago. In summer, the time zones are exactly 12 hours apart which is not too bad. We get the chance to talk to family and friends twice a day, in the morning/evening and the other way around. Though I sometimes it is just a little odd to talk to someone in such different moods of the day…


  20. I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years and always had a hard time with the time difference. It was also hard because they use military time so I always had to convert it in my head. Despite that I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything!

  21. I do most of my business with partners in Hong Kong who are 12 hours ahead. I end up waking up very early (4am!) east coast time to have conference calls and catch those folks while they’re in the office. The worst part is that when I’m just finishing work (at 8pm) they’re just getting into the office and are so eager to start up the communication. Technically, I could work around the clock, but have to be very diligent about walking away and going home!

  22. We have a company in Chile and the US. Half the year it is the same time zone as NY, 3 hours ahead of LA, but half the year it is 5 hours because they are in the Southern Hemisphere. They spring forward when we fall back! I never get used to it.

  23. Bonjour! I am on the other si of the mirror : French designer/illustrator , with some of my clients and publishers located in France, I get the other side of the arrangement…I actually like to start the day later…I like to be ahead in my schedule anyway. I schedule Skype appointments and phone calls in the morning, answer my emails as soon as I get up with the ipad. Then the day is mine until my little boy is out of school. Sometimes I take a nap with him : everybody is sleeping in France anyway. On these days I often work late at night , enjoying a quiet house while the whole family sleeps.

    I also worked with South Africa , same time difference as France! And China . Working with China, France and the US at the same time is tough and I won’t do it again : I ended up working at all hours . Not fun!

    I would miss very much working by “time travel” , I love feeling the planet waking up and going back to bed while I work under the same stars!

  24. It’s really interesting to read your thoughts about time difference. I’m from New Brunswick, Canada and I moved to Beijing in August. At first, I was 11 hours ahead of friends and family in NB, but since Daylight Savings (China doesn’t observe it), I’ve been 12 hours ahead. It’s easy to remember because I’m the exact opposite, but it’s difficult to skype or call, except on weekends.

  25. I’m glad you start so early in the morning (U.S. time). It means when I wake up in California, there are @designmom tweets and posts waiting for me to start my day. I love it. :-)

  26. We live in Dublin – a 6 hour time difference from the rest of the family in Texas. Although I love the early morning work time, the most challenging thing for us is finding a good time to have the kids Skype with the grandparents. My kids are most attentive and engaged in the mornings, which is the middle of the night in Texas! Of course, when the grandparents can skype is late afternoon, early evening – which is NOT a good time for them. They are grumpy, hungry, whiny, and just all around more difficult than they are in the morning. Definitely a first-world problem though!

  27. If I work with people living in different time zones I get so much more patient waiting for answers and comments simply because I know that all the communication travels over the ocean and back. I think that’s a good thing. Sometimes in the middle of a project I tend to work so much and all the time – so time differences give me more space.

  28. The funniest time zone difference I had was as a missionary in Geneva, Switzerland. Part of our ward was in France. They change times a little bit apart, too, which meant different bus schedules once we crossed the border. I can only imagine trying to get your family to church on time during that switch!

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