πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΊπŸ•°οΈ EOT, European Office Time

Balancing work across time zones.

November 24, 2019
Portugal , productivity

European Office Time (EOT) is a unique time zone available to people who work in the European office of an American company. It is also a superpower.

How did we get into this spacetime?

I work in the Lisbon office of Cloudflare, a software company headquartered in San Francisco. 5,660 miles seperate San Francisco and Lisbon (or 9,110 km seperate Lisbon and San Francisco). More significantly, the two locations are 8 time zones apart.

I moved to Lisbon from our office in Austin, Texas, where I spent over a year. Most of the teams I worked alongside were based there. If they weren’t down the hall, they were most likely in SF, which is only 2 hours behind Austin.

While we are are actively building a large team here in Portugal, I still need to work closely with folks back in the States. I moved offices, not teams, and I’m grateful for that.

I love my teammates back in Texas and I also am excited to be part of a new office. However, that means that most of my teammates are arriving into the office as the afternoon winds down out here. Here’s what the overlap looks like:

(I have 10 hour windows displayed here to account for lunches, commutes, and longer days)

For the first 2.5 months of my time in Lisbon, I really hated this. I felt isolated both at the office and at home. I felt like I was on Mars. I’d wake up and learn about things on tape delay, or I’d stay up late to try and be part of sessions back home. No one was happy.

However, that all changed when I embraced EOT.

Some constraints on a routine

Before I get to EOT, I want to break down a “normal” day. Regardless of where I’m based and the distance from teammates, I have a handful of strong preferences about my routine.

Preference My lame justification for that preference
Rest I need at least 6 hours of sleep each night. Or I try to get that. If I get less, it’s not about being tired as much as joint pain, oddly.
Exercise I work out for 1 hour each day. Included in that hour is the marginal time to walk to and from the gym.
Commute I walk about 30 minutes to the office each day. Back in Texas, I drove.
Lonely Lunch I eat lunch at my desk. I know, I know. But I love it.
Work Hours This assumes a roughly 10 hour workday. That can vary quite a bit, but is a fair representation of “normal”.
Breakdown Meetings, both internal and with customers, typically account for about 5-6 hours of my day.

An American routine

Back in the USA, those preferences translated to a routine that roughly looked like this:

I woke up, walked the dog and worked out, and then got to the office to race through my email backlog. I started my meetings with stand-ups and then customer calls or internal project discussions. End of the day? Trying to cover more emails and tickets and, optimistically, writing.

Category Result Good or bad?
Overlap with Austin 8 Hours Perfect
Overlap with SF 6 hours Pretty good
Deep work hours 2 hours Terrible

In this model, I was able to attend any meeting that I wanted to attend. However, that wasn’t a blessing. I wound up procrastinating on what I call “deep work” by just going to more calls instead of doing things like writing specs or research.

Trying to fit an American routine into Lisbon Hours

I arrived in Lisbon entirely unprepared to adapt my routine to the new time zone reality. I gave it zero thought. This was a tremendous mistake.

If I lift-and-shift my routine to Lisbon (which I did), I got this:

Category Result Good or bad?
Overlap with Austin 4 Hours Subpar
Overlap with SF 2 hours Unworkable, since half of those were also overlapped with Austin
Deep work hours 2 hours Terrible

This also falls apart when I actually attempted it. I would wind up covering US meetings late at night and delaying the start of my workday well past 9 AM. I wound up shifting this rightward to overlap with the US at the expense of my own personal life in Lisbon.

It wasn’t tenable. I wanted to be both present in the Lisbon office, a real part of this team, while also productive with my teammates in Texas and SF.

The EOT Routine

I started exploring breaking my day into two parts. It started naturally - I woke up and wanted to respond to emails that came in overnight before going about my day. However, it evolved into something standalone.

European Office Time is an advantage, not a challenge. What I didn’t appreciate was that the quiet mornings gave me an opportunity to focus on deep work. The limited overlap became a forcing function to decide what meetings where important and what meetings could be declined.

To accomplish that, my uninterrupted block of work time became two distinct windows. And it looks something like this:

Now, I wake up to a healthy email backlog because, while I was asleep, America happened. I knock those out at home with my morning coffee before handling my dog walking responsibilities and my gym attendance.

When I arrive into the office, the world is completely silent. From 11 AM to 1PM, no one in the US is awake and I can research and write with a fresh mind. Once I’ve hit my limit on useful deep work time, the US wakes up and I can begin covering meetings.

Overlapped on time zones, it resembles this:

Important callout here - take a look at the line between the start of my day and the end of San Francisco’s day. More often than not, when I wake up, some teammates that I work with are still around. We can knock out one round-trip on chat before I start my day and they end theirs.

Category Result Good or bad?
Overlap with Austin 5 Hours Pretty good
Overlap with SF 3 hours Good because I learned to say “no” to some meetings
Deep work hours 4 hours Fantastic, because those 4 hours also occur when I’m the most ready to do that type of work

EOT is the best time

Moving abroad is hard. Moving abroad and trying to stay connected to teammates can be harder. Making this better required breaking apart the work routine I had for years but, in the process, I found something I think works better.

  • I have more uninterrupted time to focus on work that requires critical thinking, like writing.
  • I have viable overlap with American teams.
  • That overlap has a ceiling, which forces me to better consider how to spend my time.
  • I feel connected to Lisbon. I’m around the office for lunch and local meetings without being too exhausted from trying to keep American hours.
  • The mental break between phase 1 and 2, which includes a completely tranquil visit to the gym and a dogwalk, helps clear my mind.

As the Lisbon office grows, I’m sure this will continue to evolve. I’ll be more focused on overlap with counterparts here in town and other responsibilities in Portugal. For now, though, I’m grateful for the space in time.

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