Remote & Async Work 8 min

What's wrong with your time zone?

Written by Marcelo Lebre
July 3, 2020
Marcelo Lebre


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What's wrong with time zones?


1Let's call Monday 4 p.m. What time zone are you in?

What's wrong with time zones?

Wikipedia tells us what time zones do, but it stops short of explaining why they don't make sense.

"A time zone is a region of the globe that observes a uniform standard time for legal, commercial, and social purposes. Time zones tend to follow the boundaries of countries and their subdivisions instead of strictly following longitude, because it is convenient for areas in close commercial or other communication to keep the same time."

The concept of time zones was introduced by the Italian mathematician Quirico Filopanti in his book Miranda! in 1858. He also proposed a universal time to be used in astronomy and telegraphy.

1Apologies for missing the call, just realized you're in PST. Can we reschedule?

By about 1900, almost all inhabited places on Earth had adopted one or another standard time zone, but only some of these used an hourly offset from GMT. It took many decades before all time zones were based on some "standard offset" from GMT/UTC.

Today, there are 37 different local times in use.

37. THIRTY-SEVEN. THIRTY. SEVEN. Not 24, not 12, not 48. 37.

World map with time zones outlined from

As if this weren't a mess on its own, enter Daylight Saving Time, the practice of advancing clocks during warmer months so that darkness falls later each day according to the clock. DST was initially introduced in 1895 by George Hudson.

1If time zones are hard now, what happens when we get to Mars?

The insanity of it all

If you're reading this, there's a high chance your work is often impacted by the inconvenience of time zones, either because you have to build/work with systems that rely on it or because you have a lot of meetings with people in different states/countries/continents.

Even though time zones are a huge source of wasted effort, frustration, and business failures, no one seems interested in finding a solution.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

1Let's call at GMT+7.4^23 - EST+3.27/8.

If we analyze the primary motivation to follow time zones...

Time zones tend to follow the boundaries of countries and their subdivisions instead of strictly following longitude, because it is convenient for areas in close commercial or other communication to keep the same time.

In 1858, this made sense. Most business meetings were conducted in the same time zone, so most people perceived time as a static thing.

However, 162 years later, this isn't true anymore. The world is wide open. It's easy to travel and to communicate, and physical barriers are (almost) no more. Yet we still use time zones to schedule meetings across the world. Isn't it time for something better?

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Introducing UTC

Quirico Filopanti also proposed a universal time to be used in astronomy and telegraphy, which we call UTC.

1Gremlins can't eat after midnight?! What if they travel to other time zones?!

And, according to Wikipedia again:

"Coordinated Universal Time (or UTC) is the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time. It is within about one second of mean solar time at 0° longitude, and is not adjusted for daylight saving time. It is effectively a successor to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)."

Advantages of using UTC as your one true time zone include:

  1. No more need to Google other time zones. You immediately know the difference from where you stand to UTC, and that's it.

  2. Not affected by Daylight Saving Time. This advantage speaks for itself.

  3. No more need to ask people where they are. You can focus on finding availability quickly and easily.

  4. You can add it to your calendar by default or use it as secondary time. Most calendar solutions support this.

  5. You can be pedantic about it. Like I'm doing now.

Disadvantages are slim:

  1. You don't get to brag about where you live with every meeting invitation.

  2. You can't use the time zone excuse to explain why you missed an important meeting.

1UTC time zone is best time zone.

Why is this such a big waste of time anyway?

Let's take a step back and look at it from a scientific perspective.

Problem: four people, all working remotely, want to schedule a meeting.

Gray world map with four cities highlighted

Without UTC, everyone on this call must know the time zone specifics of everyone else.

Gray world map with cities not using UTC

Nowadays when this happens, you deal with a nightmare sequence of frustration:

1. Emailing back and forth to find out when everyone is awake and available to call

2. Googling:

  • 4PM in CST

  • 6PM in EAT

  • 2AM IST


  • etc.

3. Eventually realizing there are three people on a call waiting for the fourth, who thinks the meeting doesn't start for an hour.

Ten rejected calendar invitations later, the meeting actually happens. Wasn't that fun?

The UTC model

When you use the UTC model, you always refer to the UTC time zone when scheduling things, even if you're not in it. The only thing you need to know is how far away from UTC you are, and that's it, forever.

Most calendar apps/services allow you to have a secondary time zone, so you can set it up as such to make your life even simpler.

Gray world map with cities using UTC

UTC offers a simple and effective solution for more civilized days. With a shared standard, finding a time to meet is dramatically faster than in outdated models with multiple time zones.

All that is left is to find a time when everyone is available to meet. You always know what time it is, freeing you and your team to focus on what matters.

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  • Just use UTC as your main time zone to schedule calls.

  • Time zones are the commute of remote work: an unnecessary waste of time.

  • Using UTC saves you time, emails, and missed meetings, not to mention a lot of money in regained productivity.

  • UTC is respectful and doesn't force people to Google the time zone where you live.

Why wait? Head to your calendar right now and convert to the One True Time Zone. Your colleagues, clients, partners, and family will thank you for it.

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