Remote work

The future of work is asynchronous

Workplace disruptions. They’re an office inevitability. The more distracting the environment, the less productive we tend to be. Though it might seem counterintuitive, meetings have been proven to be one of the biggest workplace distractions. In fact, research suggests that unnecessary meetings waste more than 37 billion dollars a year in lost time and productivity.

When you drill into the data, it makes a lot of sense. How many of your meetings are actually time well spent?

How many of your weekly meetings could you eliminate?

The general consensus is that most offices demand too many meetings. Meetings that distract us more than they help us. 

Luckily, there is a solution. 

Asynchronous work and communication. 

Since the Covid-19 pandemic shifted our workplace habits to a largely remote setup, asynchronous communication techniques have become more and more the norm. Working in this way has allowed employees to generate their own schedules and manage time in a manner most efficient for them. 

And even though remote workplaces still use traditional, synchronous, communication techniques (that means your live chats, calls, and Zoom meetings), the greater freedom and flexibility granted employees overall has sparked a discussion about the way we work. 

For decades now, the workplace has been a synchronous place, dictated by rigid schedules, meetings, events, training – the list goes on. 

But with more and more of us teetering on the edge of burnout, the cult of synchronicity is finally falling flat. Instead, asynchronous communication is fast becoming the name of the game. 

Today, mastering the asynchronous workflow promises to keep institutions running smoothly despite disparate teams across disparate time zones. Plus the promise of greater efficiency, productivity, and work-life balance only augments its appeal. 

So, what exactly is asynchronous work and when should we be using it? 

In this article we’re going to dissect this growing work culture and find out exactly why asynchronous work is more popular than ever before.

What is asynchronous work?

Asynchronous work (often termed async work) is based on the idea that effective work doesn’t look the same for everyone. People work best with different schedules, different workflows, and different routines. And since the growth of remote working, the importance of asynchronous work practices is more important than ever before. 

With people working under different conditions, time-zones, and with varying lifestyle commitments, it’s important that everybody has access to information from wherever they are, whenever they need it. Asynchronous work is waving goodbye to incessant live meetings and face-to-face collaboration, in favor of channels that remain open to all teammates all of the time. 

But how does this work exactly? 

Great question. 

To define asynchronous working, it’s important that we first understand its antithesis – synchronous workflows.

In other words, the workflows businesses and organizations have been employing for years. 

In its most basic form, synchronous communication is live communication. That means information exchanged face-to-face at the office, via live chat, telephone line, or videoconferencing technology. Synchronous communication is communication that occurs in real-time. 

And whilst synchronicity might be more direct, it risks prioritizing connectivity over genuine productivity. Failing to be always ‘connected’ risks important knowledge gaps and missed opportunities. As such, stress and collaborative burnout ensue, and work quality begins to suffer.

But, in reality, the content of most meetings can be easily communicated in a written or digitized document that involved parties can read at their convenience. Asynchronous communication fuels independence through improved documentation, written procedures, and – most importantly- an increased respect for employee time. 

Asynchronous communication is communication that does not expect immediate interaction or response. Instead of responding immediately, individuals can consume and respond to information in their own time. The individuals communicating with one another do not need to be “in-sync”. Instead, they can work effectively and on their own time. 

And this is proven to be highly effective at combating burnout by empowering employees to increase their focus – interruption free. 

The benefits of working asynchronously

Needless to say, there are many benefits associated with working asynchronously. Not only does asynchronous working empower employees working from home, and juggling complex personal commitments, but it also improves our ability to focus on tasks and engage in ‘deep work’. 

For example, instead of arranging daily video call briefings, an asynchronous alternative would be to upload a Loom video into a company Slack channel that employees can access at their convenience. The same information will be transmitted but in less time, and without causing annoying workflow interruptions. 

Even though we have the luxury of office videoconferencing software, it’s important that we use it sparingly. In fact, 38% of workers have admitted to experiencing video call fatigue since the start of the pandemic. And it’s not only this. All those less-than-critical meetings are actually stealing away our productivity. Researchers have now found that it takes, on average, 25 minutes to return our concentration fully back to an original task after disruption. 

No wonder 65% of workers say that meetings keep them from completing their own work. 

The benefits of switching to an asynchronous working model are many.

Increased individual control

A truly asynchronous working environment has no set working hours. Employees are free to manage their time in whatever way works best for them. And that means people can schedule their work around their own productivity preferences, lifestyles, and commitments. 

With this increased individual control comes added flexibility. It doesn’t really matter where you work or when you’re sitting at your desk during the day. All the information you need is documented so that you can get on with your day and complete your work without the stress of impractical meetings or schedule conflicts. 

Higher quality communication 

When employees aren’t rushed, stressed out, or juggling multiple tasks at once, communication improves ten-fold. 

Instead of offering up an unconsidered opinion during a Monday morning 8am meeting, employees can send considered responses when they have the mental clarity to make sound judgements. Eventually, as employees learn to communicate effectively, communication efficiency increases. That means less back and forth, fewer misunderstandings, and more decided action. 

Reduced stress and burnout

Asynchronous working requires robust planning. But this advanced planning pays off. Time management becomes more considered and times for collaboration less fraught with stress. Instead of hashing out meeting after meeting, daily or weekly announcements are equally, if not more, effective and help to reduce meeting burnout for senior staff and employees alike. 

Encourages deep-work 

Fewer distractions means more time for deep, concentrated working. Employees working under an asynchronous working model are relinquished of the pressure to be constantly accessible via call, video chat, or in-person. As such, they are less likely to abandon a task to check emails or check-in for a quick briefing with Steve from accounts. More time for focus means better quality work done more efficiently. 

Higher quality documentation

Because the number of live meetings conducted in an asynchronous working environment are significantly reduced, it means that the quality of written documentation has to improve. Now most communication takes the form of writing. Whether that be instructions, announcements, or data. And this is actually incredibly beneficial all-round. Quality documentation improves referencing, accuracy, and accountability. Plus, it eliminates the need for note taking. 

Time-zone equality

One of the most transformative effects of switching to asynchronous working is time-zone equality. Now, what is time-zone equality exactly? In a normal office environment everyone is working at roughly the same time. In order to collaborate you need (most of the time) to be in the same room. Even synchronous remote working is limited in this way.  Communication and collaboration is limited – if not by location, then by time zone. 

But under an asynchronous working model this just simply isn’t the case. With all the relevant information available all of the time, it really doesn’t matter where or at what time employees are working from. And that means hiring pools become internationalized. Organizations can start employing the best minds from all over the world to create diverse and expert teams. 

When asynchronous working works 

Asynchronous working is not suitable for every situation. But where it works, it really works. From announcements to asynchronous collaboration, let’s take a look at some top async use cases. 

Announcements

Asynchronous working is a perfect forum for announcements. Most announcements (bar perhaps emergencies) do not need to be made in real-time. By uploading announcements as a document or sending out an email notice, employees can absorb the information at a time that suits them, according to their particular schedule, homelife, or time zone.  

Periodic updates

Likewise, weekly, monthly, or quarterly updates can be documented in writing rather than live. That could be individual progress reports, team updates, or project milestones. 

Project planning 

Project planning usually requires some initial one-to-one communication; however this is not necessary for throughout every stage of a project’s development. Discussions related to the planning, marketing, development, and road mapping of company projects are perfectly suited to async working frameworks. 

Flexible collaboration 

Flexible collaboration is collaboration that doesn’t happen in real time. For example, most collaboration tools these days have in-app comments sections where team members can communicate with one another at their convenience. Here employees can leave feedback, ask questions, make notes, and communicate without disrupting their workflows. Plus, that means that no one will miss out on information- no matter where they are in the world. 

When meetings are actually better

There are, of course, some scenarios where meetings are just better. Asynchronous working boasts tremendous advantages, but it is not suited to every workplace situation. Async’s primary disadvantage is its lack of human interaction. And whilst that might be super-efficient for some, human connection is arguably an important aspect of any community – workplace or otherwise. 

Now, that doesn’t mean that we should do away with asynchronous working altogether. It’s just a reminder that we need to balance how we work to achieve a more holistic approach. 

When working primarily asynchronously, it’s important to prioritize time for human connection. That could be by organizing regular team retreats, socials, or one-to-one catch ups. Furthermore, we don’t have to cancel our Zoom meetings completely. 

The key to successful asynchronous working is balance. I say, aim for 25% synchronous 75% independent working. 

So, what situations should remain synchronous? 

In general it’s those that require complex ideas and immediate action. Let’s take a look. 

Complex discussions

When a problem or project is complex and requires brainstorming, a live meeting is usually best. Whether that’s in-person or over videoconferencing software is up to you. Just make sure you’re chatting with your teammates live and harnessing all of that collective brain power. 

Some team meetings 

Remember, we don’t want to do away with live team meetings for good. It’s important to schedule regular team meetings in order to retain the human element of your work-life. Aim to conduct 25% of your announcements and discussions live. 

Emergencies 

Emergency situations require immediate action. As such asynchronous methods will not be suitable in situations of immanent importance. 

Sensitive feedback 

Giving sensitive feedback, such as criticism, redundancy, or job loss, should be conducted live. It is insensitive and impersonal to do so via written documentation alone. 

Rapport building

It can be hard to build rapport with others without face-to-face contact. Make sure you’re scheduling some synchronous meeting time for this purpose. Especially if you are onboarding new recruits into your company.  

Social events 

Last but not least, prioritize those team social events. This will strengthen rapport building and company morale. We are all human after all. 

The future is async

More and more companies are embracing an asynchronous future. Especially since the pandemic, with more and more of us working flexibly from remote locations, asynchronous working is providing a forward-thinking model for effective, productive, and sustainable working.