Editing across time zones

By Janet MacMillan

Earth from space, one half in sunlight, one in darkness

There’s no doubt now that editing is a global profession. Not only are there a significant number of international members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), an even greater number of us have clients all over the world.

Editing in a variety of Englishes – for example, British, Canadian, American, Australian, New Zealand – doesn’t faze many of us these days. Our love of language and communication, to say nothing of the ability to travel widely, be it virtually in online groups (which include the SfEP’s active forums) or in real life, has led a large number of us to embrace the world as global editors.

Getting to grips with time zones

Time zones are often the international editor’s best friend, once the editor does the mental gymnastics to figure out what time 9am in Singapore (or anywhere else around the world) is when they are in Toronto (which is my hometown and where I spend a good deal of my time). Can the editor in Toronto, who receives a 3,000-word document for an international organisation at 5pm local time, meet the deadline of 9am the next morning in Singapore? Can the editor in Hampshire, who gets a request at 9pm to edit a 6,000-word document with a deadline of 9pm Pacific Time that day, meet the deadline? And can the editor in Shanghai who wakes up to a request to edit a 10,000-word document by 10am Eastern Time that day take on the job?

The answer for all three editors is yes. A resounding yes. The editor in Toronto will work out that 9am the next day in Singapore is actually 9pm that day for them, so with four hours in hand, the job can be done, delivered to the client, leaving time for dinner and a glass of wine once the job is done.

Four clocks on a wall: one showing the time in London, one New York, one Tokyo and one Moscow

As to the editor in Shanghai, they’re laughing. They have so much time in hand – at least 14 hours, depending on when they check their emails in the morning – they can join their friend for coffee that morning, then do the edit, returning it to their client so it’s there hours in advance.

At first glance, the editor in Hampshire seems to have a problem. They know that the eight-hour time difference means they’d have to get the job done by 5am GMT, which would mean more than burning the midnight oil. And they’ve already enjoyed dinner and a drink. But that editor’s reality is that all is far from lost. They belong to an international collective of editors who are, in effect, able to provide a seamless service pretty well around the clock; and the request has come from a very regular client that all of their colleagues – wherever they are located – can and do undertake work for. So, they check that one of their colleagues in Toronto can fit in the work; and as the Toronto editor has eight hours to do the job, all is well. Happy client, happy editorial professionals. What’s not to like?!

The reader doesn’t need to be Einstein to work out that in this tale, I’m the editor in Toronto (though it could just as easily be either of the other two collective members who are in Toronto). With collective members in various time zones, we’re able to take on work with short timelines, and often that work is a largish document that arrives late in the day, wherever the editor is.

Global colleagues and opportunities

Sometimes people think time zones make working for global organisations difficult. While I suppose for some it might, for those who are up for a challenge, and who like a huge variety of work from an equally huge array of clients, time zones are wonderful. And clients can often take advantage of time zones to have urgent, time-sensitive documents efficiently edited (or proofread), especially when editorial professionals work in a team.

Not all that long ago, my colleagues and I were asked to proof-edit a 35,000-word document for a global professional services firm. The request came in at 5pm Toronto time (Eastern Time), with a deadline of 8am Eastern Time the next day. A daunting prospect, but we knew it could be done. One of us set to a couple of hours later, doing certain tasks on the document, then downed tools before their head was drooping, and a colleague in Aberdeen took over, finished the document and returned it with a bit of time to spare. Again, happy client, happy editorial professionals. And time zones were our friend, enabling us to work efficiently and effectively.

However, I do need to admit that working across all the time zones in the world is not for the faint of heart, but it is hugely interesting and equally invigorating. Getting to know clients and cultures and different ways of doing things around the world is a joy. It does require very efficient methods of working, a high degree of flexibility and, preferably, a team of trusted colleagues, be those colleagues a more formal grouping, as my colleagues and I are, or a more informal, ad hoc arrangement.


Janet MacMillanJanet MacMillan is an Advanced Professional Member of the SfEP specialising in law, international development, politics and all the social sciences, who, along with her Editing Globally colleagues, provides editorial services to everyone, everywhere. Following a successful career as a lawyer, mostly in the UK and Europe, Janet’s main base is now in Toronto with her Best Dog in the World, but she spends periods of time each year in rural Suffolk. Janet is the coordinator of the SfEP Cloud Club (a monthly in-real-time ‘local’ group for international members, and others), a co-coordinator of the lively and expanding Toronto SfEP group, and attends both the Norfolk and Cambridge SfEP groups when she can. She likes time zones, and this article was written while she crossed five of them.


Proofread by Joanne Heath, Entry-Level Member.

Posted by Abi Saffrey, SfEP blog coordinator.

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the SfEP.

5 thoughts on “Editing across time zones

  1. Gráinne Treanor

    I have one client who requires daily late night or early morning edits from me. I now share that job with an editor in New Zealand, which gives me a break from the early morning edit a few days a week and allows her to edit during respectable afternoon/evening hours in her time zone. I love how easy it is to share a job with someone so far away and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having back-up. If a storm knocks me off schedule in Ireland, chances are the sun is shining in New Zealand!

  2. Ally Oakes

    Thanks for this, Janet. All very interesting and positive.
    When a client says ‘By lunchtime on Wed’, all we have to do is have that extra thought: whose lunchtime? And then just query it.

  3. Steve Garnsey

    And don’t forget the importance of the time-zone factor when sending out queries, as I did with three immediately before reading Janet’s post. I ensured two were sent before 3pm (my time in the UK) so they’d be received in Germany by 4pm Friday, ie before the end of the standard office working day there, and so ‘in the system’ for a reply on Monday. The other pre-3pm query went to the Chicago area, before 9am there. So plenty of time for a reply from that part of the world.

  4. Vanessa Wells, Reel Words

    Great article, Janet! I also find that working with clients in other time zones makes me remember they’re people with personal lives too, and the odd comment or query about timelines makes a connection more involving than chatting about the weather. Love it!

  5. Michael LaRocca

    I used to thrive on editing across time zones. I lived in China for 6 years, Thailand for 5 years, and Vietnam for 1 year. Roughly 12 hours ahead of EST, where my authors lived. So they could send me something at the end of their business day, and find an edited copy waiting in their email the next morning.

    I’ve had one customer for 12 years and counting. They always work on an almost impossible deadline, and I know that in the first two weeks of every odd-numbered month they’re taking over my life. When they were sending me rush edits at 3am, it didn’t bother me because in my time zone it was 3pm. But I returned to the US eight years ago, in EST, so now I have to stay awake with them.


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