Monday, 22 April 2013

The traveling freelancer: Professionals working in different time zones

Why did we choose to become freelancers? For the freedom, of course! The freedom to work whenever we want, but also wherever we want. We are location independent after all. That means we can take our laptops and work at the beach if we want to, in a hotel room, or at the roof garden, next to the pool. But what happens when our travels take us far, far away to another dimension time zone? Can we work whenever we want?

I am based in Europe and 75% of my clients are also based in Europe, esp. the UK. With regular trips from Athens to London and everywhere in between, I have most of my territory covered as far time zones are concerned. My clients in the United States (esp. east coast) are not a problem time-wise as I start hearing from them around 2pm GMT, when I am still in working mode. If the day is good, I can work late thus accommodating the occasional request from California too. My clients in East Asia are not a huge problem either, although there have been instances where I woke up in the morning to find requests from Hong Kong and Japan waiting for me in the inbox. The biggest problem I have had so far was with clients from New Zealand, where it had been practically impossible to sync and communicate in real time. Bottom line, I feel lucky to be living in Europe from a geographical (and time zone) point of view as I am located right in the middle of things and can thus accommodate clients in all, or almost all, time zones.

Let's just shuffle the cards for a minute. Last November, I was in Australia visiting family. Since it was my  first time visiting Oz, I wanted to be a tourist and enjoy as much of  the country as I could. But I wanted to work too. I had my netbook and a very fast Internet connection pretty much everywhere I went. Everything was perfect. Everything but my schedule, which had to change drastically. Again, I feel I was lucky because as a tourist, I was able to do all the the touristy things I wanted to do in the morning and go back home to sit in front of my pc at around 19.00 or 20.00 in the evening. I would then work up until 1 a.m. local time and take the rest of the "day" (my well-deserved night's sleep for me) off. Australia was kind to me and  I was thus able to accommodate 80% of my clients. When my New Zealand client contacted me though, I was out touring the country :)

The above example has me wondering what could have happened if I had visited the United States instead. It would have been pretty much impossible to work with my clients in Europe, no doubt, as I would have had to be sleeping during their day. Or maybe I would have had to change my schedule completely, work nights, sleep in the mornings, and pretty much ruin my holiday there. I would be very interested to hear from freelancers who have worked under those circumstances, in the meantime, I contacted two other freelancers, a translator and a travel blogger with abnormal or even extraordinary time schedules to tell me how they manage being/living in one time zone and working with clients from another dimension.

I first contacted a Japanese translator who lives in Athens, Greece. He works with clients from all over the world but 90% of his work comes from Japan. Naturally, I was curious to find out how he manages to work with clients who are 6 -7 hours into his future ahead of him. What he told me was spectacular.

"I work best when I work early and I have been doing so, even before I moved to Greece. I cannot usually sleep longer than four hours each time anyway, so my day usually starts at 1:00 - 2:00 a.m which is 7:00 - 8:00 a.m. in Japan. I then work through until 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m. Sometimes I take a nap for two hours in the afternoon but it depends on the situation. Some of my clients "take advantage" of this time difference and may send me work at the end of  their business day to receive it first thing the next morning. There have been some extreme cases when a company in the US has posted its quarter annual financial report at 5 pm (local US time), which is about midnight in Greece, which I then have to translate and send to Japan for my client to post it on his website by 10. a.m. (local Japanese time).  Nevertheless, the time difference doesn't bother me or affect me and I can easily adjust my schedule to accommodate my clients' needs. Besides, I take it for granted that translators will work 24/7, if needed." 

The other testimony comes from Juno Kim, Korean travel blogger at Runaway Juno. As a travel blogger, there isn't a place she calls home. She is constantly on the road but the majority of her clients come from Europe and the US. Luckily, since she works for the travel industry where everyone travels all the time,  there is some mutual understanding when it comes to time differences. "I can now see a pattern but it was a bit tricky when I first started. When I am in Korea or East Asia (Seoul is 9 hours ahead of GMT), I have to check emails and take care of stuff in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. Monday is very quite for me since it is Sunday for the majority of my clients in the western hemisphere, but Friday is longer for me for the same reason. I have hosted a couple of Twitter chats at Pacific Time Zone when it was just 3 a.m. in Asia but I consider this to be a minor occupational hazard.  I feel more comfortable when I work in US Eastern Time Zone. It is ahead of the Pacific Time Zone and slightly overlaps with Asia (one day apart) and the majority of the European time zones."

The world is so interesting and funny when you travel. It is so big and yet so small. I remember when a client of mine from the Eastern Coast of the US once sent me a message to apologise for a mistake she had made in my PO. She said, "Apologies for the stupid mistake, it is so late here and I am so tired" to which I immediately replied straight from Abu Dhabi airport: "No worries, I understand, it is so early here and I am so tired."

Photo credit:

Natali Lekka is an EN & FR into EL freelance translator and the owner of Worlds of Words. She tweets @worlds_of_words   


  1. Recently worked from Europe for 5 months (I am normally based in the US). I found it difficult to juggle all the time zones and ended getting up early and going to bed late. Was dealing with CET, US Eastern, Mountain, Pacific and Alaska time. I do the same thing when back in CO, but I guess we are all more accustomed to dealing with it where we normally live (?). Anyway, I am not complaining, but it is a fact of freelancing when you have customers (and colleagues) around the world. Thanks for your take on it. We also discussed this during a recent Speaking of Translation call - See Freelance Sabbaticals, Part II -

  2. Thank you for your input Eve. I am aware of the website and the call you mentioned. I saw it in one of Corinne McKay's newsletters. Traveling plays an important role in my life and so does my freelance business. Therefore, it is important to find a way to marry the two as smoothly as possible. However, it does look like it works out better if you travel east, rather than west. Do you agree?