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time zones

How to: Managing multi-national events across time zones

Jennifer Houlihan, freelancer and founder of Dotted Lines Events shares her top tips on how to run a virtual or live event across different time zones.

Gradual time-zone adjustment

If you are working on event planning for an overseas event, plan your gradual switchover to the event time zone. Adjust your alarm clock 30 minutes to an hour every five days or so and change your working hours. If you need to travel for the onsite build and event itself, you will better adjust your body to cope with jet lag. Plus, it can help when communicating with people already onsite/in-country as you'll be more aligned to their clock.

Treat it like you are trying to prevent jet lag

The NHS recommends several tips for avoiding jet lag and they work well for managing events, whether you are travelling internationally or managing a virtual set-up. Their tips include drinking water, keeping active, sleeping if it’s night-time at your destination and using an eye mask.

I've added my personal tips here for you, too. Try turning your watch to the destination’s time on the plane, avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine as they dehydrate you, get outside as soon as possible as vitamin D is related to your melatonin (the hormone that helps your body get ready to sleep) and even try going for a run.

Structure your team internationally

This is my biggest recommendation. Structure your team to fit across time zones, it works incredibly well. You can schedule meetings for cross-over times. Towards the end of your day can be the start of someone else's, so you can keep productivity high.

For example, I worked with a freelancer in the US who assisted with the build of our virtual event's tech platform. At the end of each day (8pm), I'd brief her remotely with any changes we needed and any client requests I received. My US teammate would make changes overnight, and the approach prevented delays for the client. It also limited confusion and mistakes as we maintained consistency and control over who was making changes.

Paul Fenton, managing director, Viva Esprit, Inspired Events, said: "Jennifer introduced the concept of structuring our team internationally when we hired her as a freelancer for one of our big multi-national events in 2020. I'm so glad she did; it worked extremely well for our client and us. It's an efficient and productive method, and we'll use it again where it works for particular events."

Time-zone switch

If you are lucky enough to oversee team planning, you can alter your time zones to work when you need to.

When freelancing on a multi-national event earlier this year, we had two events in the US, five in Europe, and more in Asia, including India.

We split the team up and had a lead for each location based on family commitments in their home time zone. This system also considered each team member's lifestyle.

Sustainable and efficient ways of working

When I freelanced on one event pre-Covid, the agency was in Asia, the venue was in Italy, and the client was in the US.

So, the team had freelancers in America running American pre-events and launch events, a fellow UK freelancer and I working in Europe across the venues and suppliers time zones, whilst the agency lead and creative teams were in Singapore. The agency did a great job of structuring its team internationally to deliver the job around the clock.

Rather than like a lot of agencies would have had everyone in Singapore where the agency is based. We set all our calls for a time that just about fit into everyone's workday, and overall, the team's productivity was incredible.

Working in 2021

In 2021, now that many people have become used to virtual coworking, it's easier to work this way; to have freelancers in different time zones for international events when you wouldn't necessarily have considered it in the past. It's an excellent contribution to the sustainability of events, and you have the pick of a global pool of talented freelancers.