Cisco has been running a cute commercial lately in which Juno star Ellen Page visits the “new classroom.” The big moment comes when a class of Canadian students energetically greets their Chinese counterparts on a Cisco-powered videoconference machine. There’s lots of shouting of “Ni hao!” and general excitement about our flattening world.

And all I can think is, “Those kids in China should be in bed!”

See, while there are books and Web sites and management courses about understanding the cultural and economic hurdles of doing business globally, there’s one thing you don’t often hear about.

Time zones.

Time zones are a pain. And, unless we change other people’s morning into night, they’re something us Transumers with colleagues and customers in other countries will always have to deal with.

So here are a few friendly pointers for dealing with the perils of longitude:

Know what time it is. Really.

The recent move of North American Daylight Savings Time to the second week of March didn’t help the time zone dilemma. We now have a two-week period where everything is an hour off from the norm.

It would be a good excuse if people didn’t ever mess up the other 50 weeks of the year. Unfortunately, they do it all the time, and the only thing more frustrating than getting up for a 5:30 a.m. conference call is getting up to find out the call doesn’t start until 6:30 a.m.

How do you avoid this?

  1. Check out timeanddate.com/worldclock/. It’s all on the Interwebs.
  2. Beware the Outlook Calendar automatic time zone feature. While it probably works fine most of the time, it never hurts to put the actual time for each participant in the subject and body of that meeting request.
  3. Send out a reminder. 11:30 p.m. calls are easy to forget about (intentionally or not).

Don’t give in to 24-hour email temptation.

It’s late at night. You wake up and roll over to see the light blinking on your Blackberry. You pick up the phone and see there’s an email from Geneva. You answer it. You roll back over. An answer comes back, usually accompanied by, “I can’t believe your up?” The back and forth continues. It’s now 4 a.m.

Is there some sort of weird corporate-warrior thrill from engaging in late-night email? Maybe. Do some people like the badge of honour that comes with being able to answer budget questions at all hours? Perhaps.

Is it unhealthy? Most definitely. Get some sleep.

Share the pain.

Someone on that monthly global sales call always seems to get the short end of the stick. That person is either staying up until midnight or waking up at 5:30 a.m. in order to participate. There’s nothing like trying to enjoy dinner with the looming spectre of having to dial in to the automated-conference-call lady. And, no matter how often the call happens, that poor soul always gets greeted with a “How late is it there?”

You know how late it is. You probably set up the call.

Share the pain with your colleagues and change the time every few months. Yes, it might mean that you have to get up before the sun does to discuss those projections, but your friends in Seoul or Doha will thank you for it.

One of the best parts of my job is having the opportunity to interact with people around the world. I just find these interactions much more enjoyable when everyone is awake.

Do you have any funny or frustrating time zone stories to share? Leave us a comment!