By Karla Webb

At WriterGirl, we get to work with clients and colleagues all across the U.S. and sometimes around the globe. Keeping time zones straight when setting up meetings and conference calls becomes an important part of the job.

A brief timeline of time zones

Time zones are relatively new in human history. They weren’t necessary until the late 1800s when railroads needed uniform schedules for departures and arrivals. At that point, every city in the country had its own time zone, based on the sun’s path in their location. In 1883, the U.S. went from 100 time zones to the four we use in the lower 48 states today.

Spring forward to 1916, when daylight saving time was first introduced, then used inconsistently off and on. In 2007, the beginning of daylight saving time was moved up to the second Sunday in March and back to standard time the first Sunday of November. Most of us participate in that clock-changing ritual twice a year, except our friends in Arizona who stay on standard time all year round. There’s a move afoot to eliminate that change – and stay on daylight saving all year long.

States with two zones

To keep you on your toes even more, 13 states in the lower 48 are in more than one time zone.
The zone splitters are:

Eastern/Central:

  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee

Central/Mountain:

  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Texas
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

Mountain/Pacific:

  • Oregon
  • Idaho

Alaska has its own time zone and Hawaii is one hour behind Alaska in the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone.

Where we live

The population density within each time zone in the contiguous U.S. is far from equal. Here’s how it shakes out:

  • 6% live in the Eastern time zone
  • 29% Central
  • 7% Mountain
  • 6% Pacific

Tips for time zone etiquette

Check the time. After a long day at your desk, figuring out what time it is across the country or the world may seem daunting. Use a time zone converter or download an app to be sure you’re transposing your local time correctly for others you communicate with.

Core hours for all. Be aware of the time differences of all the participants in a conference call or online meeting. Try to offer times that overlap everyone’s normal business hours. That’s not always possible, but courtesy goes a long way. WriterGirl writers are known for their flexibility and are often willing to work early or late, especially if it means catching up with a busy subject matter expert for an interview.

When in doubt, spell it out. My practice when offering availability for scheduling a meeting is to reference the time zones for all the participants including mine, starting with the recipient’s time. “I am available for a call on Wednesday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. MT/1 – 4 p.m. ET.” Determining a date and time can take a few rounds before you send a calendar invite. Thankfully, digital calendars send out invitations in the recipient’s time zone with no math involved.

Do you have a best practice around communicating across time zones? Tips to share? Let us know in the comments section below!