Virtual Working – When people ‘forget’ you are in a different country

Sarah in Australia asked me “What tips do you have for responding to people when they repeatedly set up meetings at antisocial times because they ‘forget’ you’re in a different time zone?”



To me, this problem is not specific to virtual working. This is a more general problem of poor behaviour from a colleague and you deal with it in the same way that you deal with any poor behaviour at work. (And by that, I don’t mean ignore it!)


Your best approach is always to try and deal with the issue as soon as you spot it. Letting things fester, in the hope it will get better, can make you angry and resentful. That has never yet been the best basis for a working relationship.


Is it a misunderstanding?


The first thing to do is to set up a one-to-one chat with your colleague. Talk to them on their own and find out why they set up the meetings at the time they do.


It could be that they are unaware of the problems it causes you. They may think as you turn up to meetings than the time must be OK, otherwise you would decline.


Do they actually understand that you’re in another country? As ridiculous as it sounds, I once worked on a project where I had frequent requests for late night meetings. I’d turn up, and at one point I mentioned I was in the UK and discovered that they didn’t know. They thought I was an English person working abroad and therefore in their time zone. The penny hadn’t dropped with them that I was actually in England. After that, they moved the meetings to be earlier in their day to make it easier for me.


It might be something that simple.


But it continues


So  you’ve had a chat and people still ‘forget’ you are in a different time zone. You will need to be more assertive if you want it resolved.


Step back a little and take the time to decide, for yourself, the hours you are and aren’t willing to work. Identify where your opportunities for flexibility are, and what times are impossible for you. Share this with the person who is responsible for setting up the meeting and ask that they change the times of the meetings.


Where your meetings are team meetings, make this a team discussion as you may not be the only person struggling with scheduling. Get the topic on the group’s agenda and agree how are you going to work together as a team.


Take control


My final point is that a meeting request is just that, a request. Any Time Management expert will tell you that it is up to you to take control of your calendar – don’t leave it to other people.  Once you have decided what hours you will be available to your colleagues, decline any meetings that fall outside that. Suggest  a different time to talk. Bat it back and forth until you find a slot that works for you both.You are not duty bound to go to a meeting purely because you aren’t already in one.


Like all other issues, if you need support from your line manager to help work out a more equitable solution then don’t struggle on your own. People meet together because there are business activities that must happen. Setting up meetings at times that other people can’t make is neither respectful of your colleagues nor beneficial for your company. Get help with solving it. forget


Most people naturally want to be accommodating and helpful and don’t like to generate conflict over what may be seen as a minor issue. However, the best working relationships are built on mutual respect and consideration. Nipping a problem like this in the bud will set you in good stead for the future when you and your colleagues may have truly difficult problems to solve.

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