Today, I want to highlight a few useful apps that I use regularly in my leadership and ministry, coaching and training missionaries in 20+ different countries and multiple time zones. The two teams I lead are both virtual teams, and the members of those teams are located in 6 different time zones. Currently I am coaching five different individuals, and they are located in 4 different time zones. Skype and GoToMeeting make connecting across time zones relatively easy, but before you can make the call, you have to arrange a time. Setting up one-on-one meetings across time zones can be a real challenge, both because of the complexity of trying to remember how many hours difference there is between our respective time zones, and because of the hassle of trying to find a time slot that fits both of our schedules.
A few years ago, I recommended Tungle.me for online scheduling of meetings. Tungle figured out all the time zones, and made it relatively easy to find a time slot that would suit everyone. But Tungle.me was acquired by Blackberry and no longer became available for users outside of the Blackberry ecosystem. I then switched to Doodle, which is still an OK alternative for scheduling group meetings. But Doodle decided to remove the Google calendar integration from its free version, and too many of my contacts were confused by its interface, so I stopped using it. I went back to playing email tag to try to set up my Skype meeting.
In the past few months, with a need to schedule many more one-on-one meetings, I found Assistant.to.
Assistant.to is fully integrated into Gmail as a free add-on. It also works really well with my Google calendar. Since I use both every day, this suits me well. When I want to schedule a one-on-one meeting with someone, I just compose an new email to them, click on the special “Select Times” button in Gmail and immediately I get a pop-up menu with my calendar and an invitation to click on time slots that I would want to suggest as possible meeting times. The possible meeting time options are automatically pasted into the email as links. With a single click, the recipient can see these time options in his or her own time zone. With another click they can pick the option that works best for them. After first checking my Google calendar to make sure that time slot is still open, Assistant.to automatically inserts the selected meeting time into my Google calendar. The other person gets an email with a link to reschedule, if necessary. If I need to reschedule, I can do so right in my Google calendar, and the other person is notified.
Assistant.to does NOT require the other person to sign up with Assistant.to, nor does the other person need to use Gmail or Google calendar. Did I mention that Assistant.to is free? I highly recommend it. The only downside at this point is that the app does not yet allow me to schedule group meetings – just one-on-one meetings.
But before you can suggest suitable times for a meeting with someone that is in a completely different time zone than you, you need to have some idea of whether your available time slots are at all suitable for the other person. No need to suggest a meeting at 2:00 am, their time! Here I rely on another app called World Time Buddy. This app runs on your tablet or phone (Android or iOS), and shows you what time a particular proposed scheduled time would look like in multiple other time zones. It even allows you to send an email to the meeting participants with all the different times neatly laid out for each time zone. It does not allow you to suggest multiple meeting time options like Assistant.to does. But it does show you at a glance whether a particular time would even be reasonable for someone in Asia or in Alaska. The full version costs $2.99 but is well worth it.