I grew up in North America, where there are seven different time zones (including Newfoundland’s own peculiar time zone that shaves 30 minutes off its neighbouring Canadian maritime provinces’ GMT -4 zone). So from an early age I became familiar to time differences.

My favourite sports teams would sometimes play in the late evening. Much later I discovered English football; I got used to tuning in at 10:00AM sharp to watch live matches being played in the late afternoon local time. And that’s not mentioning F1 races, the Olympics or any other major events that took place in far away places, for which setting an alarm clock terribly early (or in the middle of the night even) became a normal occurrence.

With the advent of air travel, people have been travelling faster and more frequently across time zones than was ever thought possible. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) some 2.75 billion people are expected to take a commercial flight in 2011, and a great deal of them will have to adjust their watch upon landing. It’s a fact of modern life, along with jet lag.

Doing business these days demands a great deal of sensitivity to time zones. Long gone are the days when human interactions took place within a 50-mile radius at most. Anyone based in the UK will vouch as to how difficult it can be reaching out to continental Europe towards the end of the morning: our counterparts having dashed off for lunch, it’s our turn to be hungry by the time they’ve returned.

If you deal with continental Europe frequently, be mindful of what time it is over there. If a deadline is labelled “Date X, end of play”, remember that they stop ‘playing’ earlier. It’s not good enough to send the material late in your working day on the off chance there will be someone available to receive it. There might not be anyone left in the building by then.

Remember that short haul flights to Europe – especially those from London – often take an hour or less. So it’s not uncommon to arrive somewhere at around the same (local) time as you’ve taken off. The same is true for other parts of Europe too: Flying to Tallinn from Stockholm, or flying to Madrid from Lisbon. Being alert to these things will make your life simpler.

If you deal with the USA, it’s worth learning the difference between EST and EDT. Don’t assume “summertime” (daylight saving time) starts on the same weekend in every country – it doesn’t. If you’ve got to call someone in the US and you are not sure where they are, do a quick search for their area code on the Internet. Some companies are headquartered in obscure locations (we won’t be naming names). But it’s no excuse for missing planned phone calls with their representatives. Once you’ve figured out where it is that you are calling, you’ll be able to time your approach better.

There is a wealth of websites about world time zones out there. A simple search on Bing identifies 121 million sites; choose one and use it. And whenever you write time, include the time zone as a reference. You should never make assumptions the call will take place at the time you had in mind (i.e. your time); if anything, your counterpart will be thinking exactly the same as you. That’s a recipe for disaster, really.

Even things as seemingly obvious as dates can cause confusion. The International Organization for Standardization has gone through the trouble of publishing a standard on the matter in 1988 [ISO 8601]. So while we’re at it, always write dates as follows: 1st May 2011 rather than 1/4/11, especially if you ever deal with someone abroad. By typing the month at length, you just remove a potential source of confusion. Surely that’s worth the extra second it takes. It might still be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the standard – so that you can correctly interpret any dates thrown at you.

The bottom line is this: the clearer your communications are, the better.