Ask LH: How Can I Adjust To Working From Home In A Different Time Zone?

Ask LH: How Can I Adjust To Working From Home In A Different Time Zone?

Hey Lifehacker, I will soon be starting some contracting work for a US-based company. I’ll be working a 40-hour week from home in Sydney based on my employer’s time zone. Any tips and recommendations on how to best manage working at home given the time zone disparity? Thanks, Zoned Out

Home office at night picture from Shutterstock

Dear ZO,

This is essentially two workplace challenges rolled into one — you’ll be working unusual hours and doing them from home. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Working non-conventional hours

Matching your office hours to an overseas time zone is not hugely different to working night shifts. There are nine standard time zones in the US with a difference of five hours between them. Your working hours will therefore depend on where the company is situated: you could be clocking off when most Australians are having their first morning coffee or a few hours after they start eating lunch. In any event, you’re going to be working through the wee morning hours and sleeping through some of the day.

The first step is to adjust your sleeping pattern for the new role — preferably well in advance. If it’s feasible, kick off your nocturnal schedule at least one week before you start the new position. By easing yourself into things, you’ll feel adjusted and refreshed on your first day at work instead of shocked and exhausted.

Naturally, it’s imperative to get an adequate amount of sleep while working the graveyard shift; a task that’s easier said than done. If your bedroom window lets in lots of sunlight or you live in a noisy neighbourhood, you may need to invest in some heavy-duty blinds or double-glazed sound proofing.

For a cheaper solution, you could try covering the window panes in aluminium foil: in addition to shutting out all sunlight, this will also keep the temperature down on hot days. (You can read more tips on turning bright and noisy bedrooms into a sleeping paradise here.)

It’s also important to regulate the amount of sleep you get: don’t get five hours of sleep one night and nine hours the next, as this will make it harder to adjust to your unnatural working hours. If you’re finding it difficult to adjust to the weird working hours, try to pick up some of these recommended sleeping habits.

As with all aspects of life, adopting healthy eating habits and a regular exercise regime will help you to perform at peak levels in your new job. A few tweaks in this area will vastly reduce the fatigue and physical exhaustion you feel. You can find plenty of healthy-living hacks via our Health tag.

Working from home

Adjusting to your new working hours is going to be tough — but doing it from home is arguably even tougher. Unlike most night shift workers, you presumably won’t need to put on a uniform or travel to work. These are valuable rituals that help you to get into a productive mindset and maintain professional standards.

While it might seem silly, I’d make a point of dressing for work as if you were heading into the office. While the effect is purely psychological, you will feel like you’re putting in a proper work day instead of pottering around at home. (Plus, you won’t need to scramble into appropriate clothing when an unexpected video call comes in.)

In fact, you should apply an in-the-office mindset to all areas of your work day. Just because a manager isn’t actively breathing down your neck doesn’t mean your workflow isn’t being monitored. Take time to properly schedule your day-to-day tasks, keep your work space uncluttered from distractions and try to stick to the same basic regime as opposed to doing it all on the fly. The more order you impose on yourself, the better you are likely to be at your job.

The other issue with working from home is the other people you live with. Obviously, it will be doubly difficult in your case as you will be keeping different hours to everyone else. If possible, set up your home office in a separate room to limit unwanted distractions. A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones are also a good idea; especially if you have kids or noisy housemates.

If you can’t commandeer an entire room for your home office, try some of these space-saving tips that are specifically designed for people who work at home. Basically, the important thing is to find a spot where you can actually be productive: everything beyond this space is a workspace boundary that you should rarely stray across.

If any readers work odd hours or in a home office, we’d love to hear your experiences. Please share your tips with ZO in the comments section below.


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  • Help your body adjust its circadian rhythms so that you are waking and sleeping during the right time for your time zone

  • As someone working from home albeit in local timezone for a USA based company for 10 years. It can often be hard to keep motivated when you have unfettered access to netflix/family around the house while working (especially when you are essentially on flexTime).

    Dressing for work (which i don’t do anymore, and these days im often in my PJs till late arvo) is some of the best advice, just remember once you make a few allowances it gets easier and easier to make more of them, set your rules and try not to deviate except for emergencies. (eg for me its soo tempting to go have lunch and a beer by the pool in this weather but before you know it the rest of the day has gone)

  • I work from home (self-employed) and I have worked night shift in the past.
    Re working from home, I find it helpful to set up accountability to someone for what I’m doing. Either asking a client for a deadline (if it’s not obvious) or asking my wife to keep me honest. I work on a computer most of the time and have managed to avoid most distractions through the SelfControl app on the Mac – it blocks access to a blacklist for a period that you set. Even restarting the machine doesn’t turn it off.

    Regarding shift work, I didn’t find the sleeping at day / working at night thing an issue. What did bother me was the isolation. My friends all missed me for the 3 months I did night shift, as I was always working when they were getting together for golf, drinks or a meal. I dealt with that issue by quitting the job!

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