International time-zone standards are something everyone should know about and use, in particular when information about online events are shared. Why? Because it’s the only way to quickly figure out when a particular event takes place in relation to your own time zone, whether it’s in the middle of your night, or realistic to participate in. If you regularly host, or are planning to launch, webinars, chats on Twitter, video training on Facebook Live and more, keep reading because these tips are written with you in mind!
Since time zones have confused more than one person in online discussions I’ve had over the years, I’ll assume we’re starting from scratch because I want everyone to understand this. After having read this post, I hope you’re taking with you these main three points: the time-zone concept, figuring out and informing your own time zone according to international standards, and knowing how to translate when an event elsewhere takes place “on your clock.”
The world is round, people (and if you think it’s flat, read on anyway). Our planet keeps turning around its axis, which has direct effects in your work as a small-business owner, freelancer or blogger, or your enjoyment of events offered by the former.
What I’m referring to are of course the time zones, all “plenty of them” more precisely. Contrary to what you may think, they aren’t 24 altogether but more, and counting them is an irrelevant sidetrack.
Just like we use particular weight standards as reference point when measuring an apple in the metric system, there’s a starting point for time as well. Historically, that place became Greenwich in London, UK, but I’ll get back to this below.
Not all of us are frequent travellers, myself included, so it may have escaped you that in some parts of the world time is offset not by full hours, but 30 or 45 minutes. This means the zones aren’t going from UTC-12 to UTC+12 with Greenwich in the middle at UTC-0, but there are “in-between zones” as well as those up to UTC+14.
It doesn’t matter! This is why we use international standards. All you need to care about is what your own geographic location means time-wise in relation to Greenwich and how to share this with others according to the international system. If you want more customers, it’s also a great idea to recall that there’s always night somewhere, but first we need to discuss Greenwich.
GMT or UTC?
In 1675, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was created. It’s also what I learned first, so you’ll more likely see me talk about my time zone as GMT+2 or GMT+3 depending on the time of year.
Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), however, is the international standard these days. For our purposes, GMT+2 is the same as UTC+2 so nothing trickier than that, they can be used interchangeably.
There’s more sciency stuff with solar time and astronomy to these, but again irrelevant sidestracks.
Time zones offset from UTC
Earlier I mentioned UTC+12 and UTC-12. The plus and minus signs denote whether you’re moving east or west from Greenwich. Helsinki, my home town, is a couple of zones to the east, hence UTC+2 (UTC+3 in summer).
Likewise, the Opera House in Sydney, Australia, is eastward from Greenwich, in UTC+10 or ten hours before UTC.
The Statue of Liberty in New York, USA, on the other hand is westward from Greenwich, in UTC-5 or five hours after UTC.
The first step now is to figure out how your time zone is offset from UTC. You can download your own map for future reference on Wikipedia.
“Summer time” or Daylight saving time
Yet another reason to use the international time-zone standard expressed by UTC is the Daylight saving time (DST), also called summer time. Not every country keeps moving their clocks back and forth. Nobody should have to keep track of who does this and who doesn’t. Perhaps worst of all, not all countries who switch, do so on the same date either. Then we didn’t even discuss hemispheres yet, with summer being winter on the other half of the planet in any given moment, and vice versa.
What does this mean in practice? In spring 2017, friends in the US mentioned struggling once again with their bodily clock feeling off, and this happened a couple of weeks before DST was activated in Europe.
Earlier this year, my friend in California, US, was located in UTC-8, whereas I was in UTC+2. Once she switched to DST, her time zone became UTC-7 whereas I was still in UTC+2 for those couple of weeks. Only then did we turn our clocks to UTC+3, but for a while it could have been really messed up with arranging meetings and so on.
Here in Europe, European Summer Time is observed from the last Sunday in March until the last Sunday in October.
And how about the clock, which way should it be turned? I’ve just learned a nifty rule in English to keep track of this: “Spring” forward, “fall” back (autumn is also called fall).
The conclusion about time is still that whether summer time is in use or not, knowing local UTC time is the only thing to worry about as well as share with others.
Calculating the time difference
If you know your own UTC, all time zones and their differences are behind simple mathematics, so let’s take a closer look.
Using my friend in California as an example, in winter time in the northern hemisphere, the time difference between UTC-8 and UTC+2 is ten hours: 2-(-8)=10. Going from California UTC-8 to Greenwich UTC-0 is eight hours, and from London to Helsinki UTC+2 is two more hours.
In summer time when both of us have turned our clocks, it’s still ten hours, with my friend being in UTC-7 and myself in UTC+3 then: 7+3=10.
During the short time in spring when both hadn’t switched DST on yet, the difference was UTC-7 to UTC+2, or nine hours only, 2-(-7)=9.
How about if my friend in Australia and I want to schedule a Skype call? This friend is in Sydney, in UTC+10. The difference between UTC+10 and UTC+2 is eight hours, 10-2=8.
If this friend were to tell me that she needs to stop talking around 22.00, the only thing I need to do is 22-10=12 or my lunch break. Sure, I can do that.
Local time zones and their abbreviations
I’m in EET. Would you care to learn it? I never use it myself, so I wouldn’t assume that it floats your boat enough to learn by heart my local abbreviation, or any other abbreviation than perhaps your own regional ones for that matter.
My country happens to span one time zone only, and we don’t frequently use EET here, so I actually had to look it up to be able to tell you that I’m indeed in Eastern European Time. Of course it’s EEST in summer, Eastern European Summer Time. Care to add this to the list of must dos as well? I didn’t think so :)
Likewise, I don’t care about Pacifics or West Africas, HKTs or MVTs. Really. For the letter A alone, there are 20 different abbreviations you can learn if you have nothing better to do with your time.
Fortunately, we do have the nifty tool of UTC to use.
Why using the 24-hour clock is beneficial
When doing time-zone calculations and another person sits in UTC+5:45, when you’re in UTC-9, first you figure out that your time difference is 9+(5:45)=14:45.
Then that other person wonders whether a Skype call at 17 their time would work, just before they go home from work. 17-14=3, and 45 minutes more is 2:15. No thanks, that’s in the middle of your night.
Had they talked about 5 pm instead of 17, however, you’d first have to convert to the 24-hour clock for easy subtraction.
Pro tip – How to use international time-zone standards in business and beyond
I propose that informing times in 24-hour clock and UTC combined with full-format date is the only way to go forward in international scenarios.
What do you prefer:
- UTC+3 at 19.00 on 7 June 2017 or
- 7 pm EEST on 7.6.2017?
If you want to do business, does it make sense for all your global customers to jump through individual hoops to find out what the time in the second alternative means for them? Every single instance I choose that, across the world someone needs to first look up my EET /EEST to understand exactly what it means for them, then possibly convert for quicker brain function to a 24-hour clock (we normally use the international 24, not 12), and then ponder whether 7.6. is 7 June (it is) or 6 July.
Practice inclusive thinking by going global. Make your customers and friends happy by preparing the easy calculation instead and write a date with day number and month letters.
English is spoken all over the world today, so not considering global time zones can hurt your business unintentionally. When I tell you that I hope to see you in my webinar on a particular day at 16.00 in UTC+2, but you’re in UTC+10 that’s 16+8=24 or midnight. Could work. If you’re in UTC-9, on the other hand, that’s 16-11=5.00 early morning. Could also work.
Think about where your customers are and could be, what their time zones mean, and whether a proposed live chat or webinar could be moved just a bit to attract more people live. I can’t tell you how often I see local abbreviations used, and how seldom I am delighted by thoughtful preparation such that converting to my time is as quick and easy as possible according to the calculations shown earlier.
This also refers to event-times chosen. I’m suggesting favouring one part of the world one time, and another part another time. This will allow everyone to attend live at least once in a while.
When a particular host repeatedly picks hours that won’t fit my awake hours ever, it tells me that actively excluding me as a customer is their preference. Watching re-runs of a webinar never is the same as feeling included in a live event. In most cases, though, I honestly don’t believe that has been the intention, yet even after alerting a host in a couple of cases, they haven’t changed their practices. Then it’s time to shop elsewhere, but it doesn’t have to be like this for you.
Here’s a tl;dr for you: Find out your own UTC and use it when telling others of your events. Calculate the difference in hours between a host’s time zone and your own, then subtract easily with the help of the 24-hour clock. Share all information in international formats to avoid confusing people, and do this instead of forcing everyone to find out your local abbreviated time-zone names, thereby delighting your fans. Pick times that fit people in other time zones than your own, perhaps going as far as to change up your usual chat or webinar times a bit. English is used globally and you’ll soon increase through word of mouth your customer base, because there’s nothing quite like feeling connected to people in other countries as well.
If you need help visualising what the time would be elsewhere on the planet, there’s a nifty Meeting Planner available, which will show what they call normal sleeping hours when the average person is asleep. You start by entering a few locations of your choice (for instance where you have known customers or contacts) and then you’ll see a table on which certain times would be out of the question for each location.
Finally, since I chose an image of the Earth taken from space, how about the people on International Space Station? They’re in UTC-0 by convention.
And now over to you. Questions? If the time zones seem a bit foggy still, can I help you figure out yours? It should be evident by now that I’m rather passionate about all of us soon using UTC by default, so shoot questions in the comments!