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October 31, 2014

How Do Indians Manage Time at Work?

Hrithik Roshan
I'm always intrigued when I see the watch commercial shown in this post. It's not only because I like Hrithik Roshan in this ad, but I often wonder how many Indians chase time like he does in this ad. 

Letting time dictate one's actions seems to be to be more of an American approach than Indian approach. Pointing out someone is late so directly also seems to be more of an American than Indian approach. Based on my vastly different experiences managing time in the US and in India, this commercial intrigues, fascinates and mystifies me. I always wonder how many Indians relate to the rush feeling in this ad triggered by being a slave to the clock. Or, has this ad just been put on tv by some Western ad writers? 

What is IST? 

Unlike in the US where people carefully measure their time, treat the clock as God, and most schedules run like clockwork, India is a bit different. We can affectionately refer to this as IST. While IST is the abbreviation for the Indian time zone (Indian Standard Time), it also doubles affectionally as Indian Stretchable Time.

As a foreigner in India, be prepared for so many things to change your schedule. If things run exactly on your watch, you should question if you are really in India! While there is an element of truth to that, of course there are places in India things do run on time. The lesson here is to prepare yourself to be flexible with the time frames and schedules.

(Note: This information is provided based on my experience working with over 30 countries in more than 7 cities in India and over 30 companies. It can vary from area to area and company to company.)

How Does this Impact Setting Agendas?

When setting your agenda for a training, seminar, workshop, or meeting, include time for buffer. In the US, we tend to be in the room ten minutes ahead of the hour for any meeting, ending it ten minutes before the next hour.

USA: Meeting Invite says 9am-10am
You are in the room by 8:50, meeting starts exactly at 9, ends at 9:50 so you have time to get to your 10am meeting.

India: Meeting Invite says 9am-10am
You are in the room at 9, start the meeting by 9:10 - 9:15, end it by 10:15 or later. All following meetings will either start late or you will enter late. The only meeting that will happen on time in most cases after this in any given day is lunch.

Because of this view of time, and use of time, be ready to be very flexible. This flexibility is different than the flexibility that would be touted in the US. Be ready to change your activities at a glance, or abbreviate your presentation without leaving out points. Additionally, be ready for any of the other following "events" to evade your training programs:

  • Power outages (but, in many cases you can keep presenting...)
  • Company activities that were planned between the time your training was set and it occurring
  • A big manager or client visiting onsite the same day as your training
  • Last minute client calls or work commitments that prevent people from attending part or all of the session
  • Cultural events (assure your training is not planned near a major Indian holiday)
  • Onboarding detail (for new employee training, sometimes the banks will come in to talk about direct deposit to the new employees, at a moment's notice)
  • Birthday parties for the managers or team staff
  • Other team or company competitions (One of the most interesting I encountered was a t-shirt competition. That day all the participants came dressed in a t-shirt with a phrase or image on it. There as a judge that came in to judge the best shirt!) 
  • The big boss has invited you to lunch with him, and the lunch time gets extended for various reasons, so you arrive late back into the training or meeting room.   
The best bet is if you can do corporate trainings at retreat centers or five star hotels. That way the participants are out of the office and can't be tempted to come back to their desks! Due to this some of the corporate trainings may happen on US holidays like Thanksgiving (especially if the team is an India-based team working with clients or colleagues in the US) or on Saturdays. 

To summarize, be prepared to be flexible with your time frames. Do not get offended as you would in the US if people are late. It also depends on the company culture. Some companies instill a culture of a more Western approach to timeliness. Also, keep in mind that how participants view their time in relation to training programs could be different than their approach to keeping time for client meetings. Attending a client meeting would take priority over attending a training, for instance. So if you are the US client, your meeting would be more likely to be attended than if you were a trainer delivering a training session, even if you were an external trainer. 

Previous articles in this series: 
Connecting with Indians in the Training Room 
Building Relationships - Do's and Don'ts 
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Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.