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Zack’s Time Zone Corner: DST ends, a new blog series begins

Daylight saving time has ended across the USA (teaser for later: it’s ended where it’s observed!). I’m sure everyone enjoyed the extra hour of sleep on Sunday. So what does that mean? It’s the perfect time to talk about time zones!

Why time zones? Well aside from the end of daylight saving time, a basic understanding of time zones has become even more important in 2020’s disparate, COVID-19 world. With more employees working remotely, there are additional time zone considerations. Many teams that were accustomed to working in an office together are now spread across the country. Maybe your D.C.-based team is now working from home in D.C., San Francisco, and Chicago. Maybe you’re planning to hire and realize you can expand your search geographically rather than limit it to a single metropolitan area. Here at Contact, we’ve hired four new team members in the past three months in three different time zones.

If you want to expand your business capabilities in our socially distant world, understanding time zones is crucial. “Let’s chat at 1:00 p.m.” doesn’t help if one person’s 1:00 p.m. is another person’s 11:00 a.m., and that’s not clarified. Technology has caught up to a point. Our phones and computers have time zones built into their clocks. Outlook and other email/calendar apps handle conversions for us. However, this also means it’s easy to get lazy about communicating time zones when we schedule things. I’m here to help make sure that doesn’t happen.

Key Things to Know!

So at the worst, time zones are a necessary evil that we need to understand in order to function in a world where so many people work remotely. At their best, they’re a fun, interesting Wikipedia rabbit hole to dive into for hours on end (No? Just me?). Either way, you’ve made it this far so it’s time to actually learn about the basics of time zones.

UTC

Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is the standard used to synchronize times and time zones across the globe.

  • Time zones are communicated based on their relation to UTC so Eastern Standard Time (EST) is “UTC -5” because it’s five hours behind UTC.
  • UTC is along the prime meridian, or 0⁰ longitude.
  • While UTC and Greenwich Mean Time are often used interchangeably, Greenwich Mean Time has been measured differently at different points in history making it a less reliable standard compared to UTC.
  • How do we land on UTC as the abbreviation for Coordinated Universal Time? An international compromise between English and French speakers, of course! Didn’t I tell you this was fun?
  • UTC stays consistent year round. In places that observe Daylight Saving Time, we change the number that goes with their time zone. UTC never changes.

Daylight Saving Time

Daylight saving time (DST) is an additional component to your time zone understanding. Different countries, and sometimes different municipalities within a single country, make different decisions regarding the observance of daylight saving time. These observance decisions also change over time so there’s constantly new things to learn. That means the fun never stops!

  • Example DST observance difference #1:
  • Currently in the United States, DST begins on the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November.
  • Currently in the UK and most of Europe, DST begins on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October.
  • This is why for most of the year, the United States Eastern time zone is five hours behind the UK, but for 3-4 weeks per year it’s only four hours behind.
  • Example DST observance difference #2:
  • Most of the continental United States observes DST. There are outliers such as Arizona which has not observed DST since 1967.
  • You might think “Arizona is in Mountain Time so it’s two hours behind Eastern Time!”, but you’d only be correct for four months of the year. The other eight months, Arizona is three hours behind because most of the country is observing DST.
  • Example DST change #1:
  • While there are changes that affect broader populations, Indiana is a particularly fun example. Time in Indiana has historically been such a mishmash that it has its own Wikipedia page!
  • Counties within the state are split between Eastern and Central time zones with counties changing numerous times over the years.
  • The same can be said for DST observance which has been inconsistent and has seen many changes. Since 2006, DST observance has been standardized so all counties now observe DST.

So Many Abbreviations

You’re right; there are lots of abbreviations. People often use the wrong abbreviations and miscommunicate their time zone. For example, who among us hasn’t used EST unwittingly in July when it’s actually EDT because of daylight saving time? Little did you know when doing that you were actually saying UTC -5, or the equivalent of CDT. After reading this, hopefully you’ll never do that again!

  • Suggestion #1: simplify your abbreviations! Few people want to type their time in relation to UTC even though it would be the most precise way of doing things. Abbreviations function as helpful shorthand. But in the US, you can easily say ET, CT, MT, or PT rather than EDT/EST, CDT/CST, etc. to communicate your time. You can save yourself from typing an extra letter and also prevent yourself from mixing up those abbreviations like saying EST during daylight saving time.
  • Suggestion #2: unsure about what abbreviation to use? Consult the internet or simply refer to the time based on a major city in your time zone. (Hint: the larger the city the better for this purpose.)

Reference Material

My personal favorite is https://www.timeanddate.com/. You can find pages for individual cities and towns, time zone maps, and lots of fun articles. It’s a great one stop shop for all of your time and date essentials, including current and historical info about time zones, daylight saving time, and more.

Wikipedia is also a great source (as it often is) if you’d like additional info.

Do you have any other helpful reference material? Drop it in the comments!

Conclusion

There’s nothing to be scared about with time zones! With this background info, you can safely sit back and let your phones, computers, and apps handle the hard part for you. Now you can understand a little better what’s happening and maybe even regale people with your newfound passion for time zone knowledge.

This is just the start of our time zone education, so make sure you follow Contact Discovery Services so you never have to worry about missing a time zone lesson! (Okay, fine, we’ll post about other topics, too.)

P.S. – For everyone in Eastern Time, it’s EST until March!!

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