Visualizing Time Zone Challenges for Distributed Teams

Posted by Patrick Sarnacke

13 June 2016

One of the frequent challenges for distributed projects is dealing with timezones. Time displacement adds such a degree of complexity that our clients specifically request North-South distribution instead of East-West in order to avoid things like late night calls and daily hand-offs. In order to plan team ceremonies, meetings, core hours, and the necessity of hand-offs, it’s very helpful to employ a few diagrams to show time zone overlap and what it means to the team.

The simplest diagram is the Time Zone Line Chart. This is a simple list of everyone on a team, and the hours they’ll be working. It’s extremely similar to the types of charts drawn by


A few tips

Sometimes the Time Zone Line Chart doesn’t show the whole story. There may be only a few meetings where the whole team is necessary. In order to get a better idea of your time zone complexity, use a Time Zone Bubble Chart. This adds communication links to time zones, and shows which team members have key information flows. (Heavier flows have thicker lines). Because the number of lines can become unwieldily, it might be useful to plot separate charts for key communication hubs on the team, like the PM or Tech Lead.


By plotting both charts, you will have a better picture of how time zones affect your teams, and you can begin to strategize on ways to address your time-related challenges.

Other useful sites for finding appropriate meeting times:
WorldTimeZone: Current time around the world and standard world time zones map

Meeting Planner: Find best time across time zones

Every Time Zone: compare time zones and the best time to meet with one click

An an app that I particularly like for finding meeting times on the fly:
TimeScroller | World time zone utility for Macintosh and iPhone

For the book that introduces these chart types (and that discusses cross-time-zone work in detail), see: I’m Working While They’re Sleeping

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