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I occasionally coordinate virtual meetings across multiple timezones. Due to differences in recipients' email clients and resources (e.g. time to calculate or double-check timezone differences), I include the time in all relevant timezones in the body of the email.

Previously I would express times like this:

Can we meet at 07h00 EDT (11h00 UTC, 12h00 BST, 18h00 JST)?

...but it turns out many people don't know or recognise the obscure abbreviation for their own time zone so they'd email back to confirm. And on reflection it is difficult to read, and comes across as centric to my own timezone (which is inappropriate for a virtual meeting). I was thinking of the following instead:

Can we meet at 11h00 UTC (7am New York, 12pm London, 6pm Tokyo)?

This maintains an unambiguous universal expression, and more readable local times.

Tackling this made me wonder, are there any formal ways or de facto standards for expressing a coordinated meeting time across multiple timezones? (For human readers who don't want to calculate or look things up.)

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    Can't you just use a calendar tool (e.g. Outlook or Google Calendar) which converts between time zones automatically? – Dukeling Aug 16 '17 at 10:41
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    Are you going to keep track of when BST/CEST switches to GMT/CET? Are you aware of when any other timezones might switch to DST? Seems like a lot of work if you're not in an administrative/secretarial role. Who are you meeting with and are they truly incapable of looking up UTC? Are you meeting new people every time? is this a client or a colleague relationship? – Lilienthal Aug 16 '17 at 12:06
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    1 - do not use time zone codes for any reason, ever. 2- do not use "GMT" or "UTC" for any reason, ever. 3 - Simply state the time in one major city ("the biggest one") in your team cities and leave it at that. In this day and age, of remote working, anyone who can't work out their own time based on "London time" or "Chicago time", simply does not have basic literacy or numeracy and they wouldn't be able to work with you! – Fattie Aug 16 '17 at 12:10
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    In this day and age of distributed startups, a funny thing you see is "BTZ" - boss time zone. So, the actual VCs or owners of the company, the people paying, if they are in Dallas, BTZ is Dallas, if they are in Berlin, BTZ is Berlin, if they are in Cali, BTZ is Cali time. BTZ ! :) – Fattie Aug 16 '17 at 12:13
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    I highly recommend AGAINST using time zone codes, since they are not unique (which is really baffling). CST can be either Central Standard Time or China Standard Time. When brokering a call between Chicago and Shanghai in winter, both participants are in a "CST" time zone although they are 14 hours apart – Hilmar Aug 16 '17 at 14:22
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Can we meet at 11h00 UTC (7am New York, 12pm London, 6pm Tokyo)?

I have been doing this as well for about a decade. Nobody has complained about it so far.

Don't overthink this. Just use the city name. Don't go looking for universally agreed human readable timezone representations. Clarity is more important than correctness.

For convenience, you could use a desktop app that quickly shows the time in multiple timezones. This also takes care of DST updates. The default calendar app (on Windows and Linux) is adequate.

If you have some attendees who permanently work from home in a city where your company does not have an office, you could include their city as well, but this is purely for courtesy, and not obligatory.

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I frequently schedule international gaming events with teams from Europe (and, in the past, the Middle East). The only way I found that works is to

  1. Display the time in all participating timezones
  2. Have each representative confirm their time
  3. Do that in a way that takes care of Daylight Savings or other unpredictable timezone changes

The tool I use is time.is, particularly the compare function. For example, to set a meeting with London and New York for later today:

enter image description here


Things I've learned to look out for:

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My take:

  • At least for an internal meeting, use the timezone which applies for most people as the "primary" time. For example, if you've got a meeting with 5 people in the UK, you in the US and one person in Japan, list the UK time first, but then add times for the other participants and probably UTC as well. For meetings with external people, you may want to use their timezone as the primary time and expect your internal people to handle it.
  • I'd be perfectly happy with a three letter timezone code, but maybe that's because I'm a programmer. I think it's both a formal and de facto standard... but if it's not working for the sort of people you work with, then you definitely should use something else - and your suggestion of listing cities seems sensible to me.
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    it's actually the tz database (aka Olson database) that prompted me to consider using cities en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tz_database :) – david.libremone Aug 16 '17 at 11:57
  • I disagree with list the meeting time in UK time if you do that only. You should always add UTC, because its easier to convert from UTC than from UK time. And always adding UTC is the generic backup for forgetting to mention a specific zone. – Jan Doggen Aug 16 '17 at 12:02
  • @JanDoggen Yes absolutely, bad editing on my part. I'll correct/improve. – Philip Kendall Aug 16 '17 at 12:17
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I usually just send it with my own timezome abbreviation. The first time you do this people might ask you what it is, but after that they should be able to figure it out. So something like:

Can we meet at 07h00ADT?

It can be confusing when you send out multiple time zones because then people have to look for their own. If you only send one, then they should know that they have to convert it. You could even write it all out the first couple of times like this:

Can we meet at 07h00ADT (Atlantic Daylight Time)?

After seeing that a couple of times, they should be able to figure it out on their own.

  • I am specifically trying to avoid "figure it out on their own" – david.libremone Aug 16 '17 at 11:44
  • I also do this . Specificy it in my own time zone, and (if only one other set) in theirs, and alternativelyin UTC. Everyone can translate from UTC. – Hennes Aug 16 '17 at 23:18
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Use the internet to select mutually acceptable times for different time zones

Online Meeting Planner

And then send a link when you've selected a time

Meeting link for various cities

Which gives you:

London (United Kingdom - England) Wednesday, 16 August 2017, 11:00:00 BST UTC+1 hour Geneva (Switzerland - Geneva) Wednesday, 16 August 2017, 12:00:00 CEST UTC+2 hours Milwaukee (USA - Wisconsin) Wednesday, 16 August 2017, 05:00:00 CDT UTC-5 hours Corresponding UTC (GMT) Wednesday, 16 August 2017, 10:00:00

And work from there.

There's various websites around for this kind of thing.

Or if everyone is using Outlook, just create a meeting - all recipients will see the time/date in their own time-zone.

  • I don't mind these things as backup methods, but I want to include all times in the body of the email (question updated) – david.libremone Aug 16 '17 at 11:54
  • There's nothing to stop you from copy/pasting the output of the website into an email.... – Snow Aug 16 '17 at 12:00

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