An RMIT researcher is helping Australian businesses thrive in the global innovation economy by looking at ways they can overcome the challenges of working across international time zones.
PhD candidate Steve Jasper is investigating how workers and businesses can better deal with the tyranny of distance to compete in the 24-hour economy.
Having worked in the biotech industry for many years - travelling to Europe one week, North America the next - Jasper knows from experience how the increasingly international nature of work can take its toll on individuals and teams.
Australia is a leading hub for international industries like biotechnology, but faces unique physical, cultural, and time zone challenges because of its location.
“For Australians, time zone differences offer a substantial challenge, given our relative isolation,” Jasper said.
“While technology has enabled us to communicate easily across multiple time zones, making new ways of working possible, human biology is still a barrier in terms of synchronising workload.”
Jasper’s work in the Graduate School of Business and Law aims to understand the role of time zones in connection to other barriers for business and provide deep insight into how organisations and individuals can innovate better.
The research will also offer guidance for managing teams that are spread across multiple time zones, and for those who have to travel or work across them.
This includes how the direction of travel can be affected by whether staff are morning or evening people, and how sunshine and other therapies can help them overcome daytime jet lag.
While many organisations and individuals are taking steps to improve the effects of working across time zones, the side effects of these differences are poorly understood and can even make the problem worse.
Previous studies on the effects of travel and jet lag have been done on athletes but Jasper has found those results are not so relevant for the business community.
“Business people respond very differently to the stresses and strains of long haul travel to athletes,” he said.
“Athletes have physical symptoms, but business people are more likely to grit their teeth and plough on through, then then fall in a heap for a week.”
This response to business travel has resulted in those with 9-5 working hours not taking time off in lieu to recover.
“We are interested in how that ends in burn-out,” Jasper said.
“I think we can aim to turn an existing weakness of time zone differences and to leverage that, work overnight to follow the sun.
“This is what countries like India are doing and we have the chance to follow that approach to collaborate more with emerging markets in Asia.
“For example, Western Australia is in the same time zone as China, and this is something I do not think we are leveraging enough.”
Jasper hopes his research will give Australian businesses a strong foundation for becoming more competitive in the 24-hour innovation economy.
“We need to embrace new ideas in innovation and science, and harness new sources of growth to deliver the next age of economic prosperity in Australia,” he said.
“The National Innovation and Science Agenda is an important step in the right direction.”
Story: Louise Handran