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All you need to know about time zones

Have you ever wondered why we have time zones? Could we not just run the same time everywhere in the world? The more you think about it the more you really start to wonder what time actually is and your brain may go into overdrive mode with all that philosophical input.

But before we get too deep here, let’s find out where it all started. What are the weird things some countries have done with time zones and how does it all affect businesses in the modern world?

Where did time zones begin?

Before time zones were used, every town and city used their own local time which was based on the sun being directly overhead their current location at 12 noon. When railway was introduced travelling became easier but scheduling time became a lot more difficult to arrange and the solution for that was to introduce time zones.

It has been suggested that the United Kingdom was the first country to adopt a standard time zone which the British know today as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In 1884 an international conference decided that GMT would be marked as zero and because the Earth takes 24 hours to orbit the sun, then 24 time zones were inserted, so now we get times zones like GMT+7 (to the right) or GMT-9 (to the left).


Originally 24 lines were drawn straight down the map to differentiate the suns position at noon but as it’s each country that decides its own time zone the lines didn’t stay very straight for long. For example China, being a pretty massive country should really have five time zones according to it’s position in the world. However, China opted to roll out one time zone for the whole of its land. Meaning that sometimes the sun doesn’t rise until 10:15am in some areas.

How do international businesses deal with time zones?

Today around 70% of consumer spending is situated in North America, Europe and Japan. But 10 years from now, about 80% of the middle-income consumers will live outside of these economies.

Considering all the imports and exports taking place around the clock and not forgetting that manufacturing plants are usually located where labour is cheap, you can appreciate the importance and demands of time zones in the business world.

Projects may run a lot slower than anticipated due to time differences especially if you are constricted by strict office hours. These delays must balance out with the benefits of doing business abroad to justify its value.

That’s only one of the obstacles when going global. You also have the tricky situation of promoting yourself in a language, dialect and accent specific to the local people, this technique is known as localisation. Localisation is becoming increasingly popular and there are great voice over agencies and subtitling companies out there to take care of that. As technology advances so does the need to localise.


Technology combating time zones

Sometimes we can get impatient with time delays when communicating with clients, supplier or colleagues. We all need to take a minute and appreciate now and again how far we have come from sending a fax or incurring large international phone bills.

There are so many tools designed to make business processes easier. Skype is a great platform to send instant messages and set up video conferences. But what if your partner is sleeping when you’re just waking up? WhatsApp allows you to easily record and send an audio message while using little data, some companies are even using it as a business to consumer way of communication.

The key thing to remember if you are dealing with time differences is to provide as much information to the recipient as possible. There is nothing worse than having to go back and forth to find out basic details like the budget or purpose of a project and delay the process even further. But as you gain experience working with alternative time zones the time wasted will gradually reduce.

Now we understand a little bit more about where time zones came from and that they are pretty useful I’m sure we can all sleep easier at night (meanwhile someone else is just finishing their shift at work – damn those lucky future people).

Technology has to be credited too of course. It has allowed us to communicate easier and smoother than ever before but what does the future hold in the category of technology vs time zones? Communicating via internet is one thing but that’s old news. Get with the time inventor people and start creating things like some airplane technology that could prevent jetlag (oh wait that’s been done).

If you enjoyed this article then check out our the nine weird facts about time zones that you probably didn’t know by clicking below.

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