The word workplace usually elicits images of a traditional, physical office space, where, if an employee needed inputs from a colleague, they would walk up to their colleagues’ desk and work in real-time. With the dawn of an increasingly future-ready attitude of business and the widespread adoption of technology in the workplace, the workplace has evolved to include contemporary ideas of work. Notable among these is the notion that people don’t have to be physically present in close proximity to get work done.
Companies have embraced remote, distributed, and hybrid forms of work that rely upon technology, tools, and processes to get work done – from communication, team whiteboarding, collaboration, information sharing, to more. These tools and processes form the foundation on which the modern workplace is being built upon and one such process that forms a core part of modern work is asynchronous work.
What is Asynchronous work?
Work that does not require two or more people to actively participate in real-time to complete a task can be considered asynchronous work.
Consider the scenario where the UX design team and the product team have to finalize the design for a new feature based on product specifications. A common practice today is, the UX team prepares the designs and invites the product team to a Zoom call where the product team is given a walkthrough and asked for feedback. Then the UX team incorporates the feedback and schedules another call and repeats the process all over again until the job is done.
The same process when done asynchronously can look a lot different – this is where the designs are prepared in a collaborative app like Figma, shared using a task on Asana, and communicated via a channel on Slack to the product team who are asked to leave comments on Figma. Once the comments are discussed and reviewed by the UX team, they then make appropriate updates and reiterate the asynchronous process.
The major advantage of the asynchronous approach is that it tends to avoid the pitfalls of groupthink theory (more on this explained below), lets team members work during their focus times enabling them to leave meaningful reviews and its time agnostic in nature meaning teams across the world can work on the same project without having to disturb each other at non work times. It also has the added advantage of not wasting productive hours of the day in coordinating communication logistics across teams.
What is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication is one of the aspects of asynchronous work; in fact it’s the most widely known aspect of async work. This is because most people have practiced asynchronous communication at some time or the other.
A simple example of asynchronous communication would be emails, where all the necessary information required for an informed reply are added in the email message and sent and an immediate response is expected not immediately rather within a reasonable timeline.
In the modern workplace that’s increasingly remote and hybrid in nature, asynchronous communication can take place via tools like Slack, MS Teams, Notion, or even Figma that facilitate long and segmented discussion threads that can facilitate picking up the topic at a later date.
What are the benefits of asynchronous work?
Better ideas from remote brainstorming
Groupthink theory suggests that the creativity of members of a group diverges when working alone whereas thought patterns of members working together converge. One of the core principles of groupthink theory is that when some ideas are already on the table, they tend to influence others’ thinking and hinder divergence in ideas.
One solution to avoid groupthink behavior is to adopt remote and asynchronous brainstorming methods that do not necessitate participants to be available at the same time to collaborate. This will enable teammates to think differently when outside of the group and when their individual perspectives come together, the products of diverse thinking amalgamate into brilliant and diverse ideas.
Deep work and Focus time
Asynchronous work can enable employees to practice focus time, where employees block portions of their days to focus on the core aspects of their job without being disturbed by notifications of chats, emails, comments, etc.
Work done in focus time is often referred to as Deep work where the task at hand gets 100% of the attention. Focus time eliminates the many pitfalls of context switching and promotes a concentrated ability to complete critical tasks.
A combination of focus time and asynchronous communication means people can give their full attention to the critical or cognitively demanding task at hand.
An inherent attribute of asynchronous work is that it lets people work at a time at which they feel most productive. Async work does not confine people to strict work hours, rather facilitates working at a suitable time in order to meet agreed-upon deadlines and goals.
In this work environment, success is not measured by how long an employee spends on a task or tool, but by how effectively they are able to meet goals, deadlines, and deliverables.
Time zone agnosticism
Asynchronous work enables companies to build a globally distributed team by tapping into a global talent pool without location or time-zone being a constraint.
Hiring a global workforce that brings in people from different socioeconomic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds, and with different perspectives. This helps companies avoid location bias which goes unnoticed in most companies. In addition, this helps companies support diversity, community, and family because the employees can work from anywhere.
Avoid Zoom fatigue
The Covid-19 pandemic established social distancing as a norm, pushing the global workforce to work from home. This meant it was no longer possible to meet in a co-located space, and so video conferencing tools like Zoom and Google Meet offered the best solution to ensure business continuity.
But unfortunately, this quickly became a bane rather than a boon because people often found themselves overusing these video conferencing platforms which resulted in anxiety, exhaustion, and burnout.
Asynchronous work can mitigate this problem significantly by shining light on what are necessary synchronous video calls and what communication can be done asynchronously via text messaging and emails. It can also help in organizing the day in a way that the video calls are scheduled at times convenient to all parties involved without disturbing team members’ focus time and concentration.
How to work asynchronously?
Clear, thorough, and accessible communication
Successful async work demands complete transparency in communication, wherein all parties involved are kept informed of developments as well as the status quo. Leaders must create a culture of transparent and thorough communication and encourage over-communication when relevant.
Leaving clear and complete messages that reach only the intended recipients is key to ensuring successful asynchronous communication. Providing adequate contextual information regarding tasks, deadlines and any information needed ensures that relevant information is provided and basic follow-up questions are avoided. Care must be taken to not overload the recipient with irrelevant data, rather focus on providing a complete picture of the topic under discussion.
This will ensure that all team members are equipped with pertinent and sufficient information to make decisions leading to seamless teamwork.
Limited use of video calls
Face-to-face meetings or synchronous virtual calls are very important in building rapport among the members of a team. However, these meetings have to be done at the right time with the right people, and for the right agenda. Unfortunately, work culture today hasn’t mastered the skill of synchronous meetings.
$37bn was wasted on unproductive meetings where over 92% of participants multitask and indicates lack of planning and structure as prime reasons for making meetings unproductive
In a truly asynchronous setting, teams have to proactively disengage from defaulting to video calls. Instead, using instant messaging services, simple phone calls, or even tools like Loom that help record and share video messages across the company should be used. This not only reduces the time spent organizing and conducting meetings but also enables employees to practice focus time routines.
Clearly defined tasks and adequate training
Asynchronous work promotes autonomy and individual responsibility. In order to enable this, tasks need to be clearly defined with all the necessary information like the expected outputs, timelines, owners, contributors and the steps involved, along with adequate training for individuals to succeed at the task. This not only helps the owner of the task to complete but also increases transparency and accountability.
It’s important to understand that not all employees know how to function effectively in an asynchronous environment. It becomes paramount that adequate training is provided to teams to empower them to not just use the tools better but understand and adopt the accepted processes in order to function effectively as a team.
Avoiding overwork and burnout
An always-on digital world within the remote workplace can lead to employees working more hours, leaving less time for breaks and downtimes. Companies across the world witnessed this trend when the pandemic forced people to work remotely. Several studies have shown that remote employees were, on average, working an extra two to three hours each day.
Leaders and managers must be vigilant to pre-empt their teams from working overtime and burning out. Creating balanced workloads, monitoring employee well-being, creating a culture of visibility, and encouraging social connectedness can all contribute towards successful asynchronous work.
Introduce the right tools
Given that technology tools are primary enablers of asynchronous work, it becomes imperative to choose the right tools and gauge their impact on the workforce. Leaders should take stock of what tools teams across the organization are currently using and choose the ones based on work processes and organizations’ goals. Staying cognizant of how teams adopt the tools and how efficiently they are being used will help avoid and navigate bottlenecks and elevate the employee experience.
Introduce the right processes
In addition to the right tooling resources, teams need a robust and thoughtfully designed workflow and process to ensure the success of async work.
Consider the stand-up meeting practice that is standard in most engineering and product teams. Traditional stand-ups happen in sync, where the team meets, either in-person or in virtual meetings, to talk about the status of their tasks and any blockers.
With the right tools and clearly communicated workflows, teams can adapt the stand-up meeting to an async work environment, promoting deep work, better visibility, and lesser meeting fatigue.
Here, the tools might prompt team members to submit their daily stand-up reports. Depending on the team members’ work schedule, activity load, and project status, each team member can choose to submit their well thought-out async stand-up report.
The process allows team leads to collate the team’s reports to get a unified view of what work is happening in their teams, what blockers are prevalent, and how best to support their teammates. When this process is bolstered by data and analytics, leaders can gain insights into the effort, roadblocks, and plans of the whole team, allowing better resource allocation and planning and managerial support.
When to do synchronous work?
The first step in building a successful workplace is to understand that a workplace is a dynamic environment that needs fluidity between sync and async work.
For example, activities like 1:1s to unblock bottlenecks, discuss roadmaps or put out fires as part of critical incidents are best done synchronously. Other activities like company celebrations, donut sessions, digital clubs, etc that form an integral part of building and maintaining the teams’ culture are more successful in synchrony.
Similarly, first-time meetings with members who have not worked together before, on-boarding new employees, or even first-time engagement calls with potential clients can be seamless through synchronous meetings.
As part of day to day work, identifying the processes that require synchronicity, and creating guides for synchronous workflows can avoid hours of back and forth messages. This was observed by Gitlab, a company that has been working remotely since its inception and an ardent supporter of asynchronous work. Gitlab sets a great precedent for success at async work through a thoughtful approach to using sync work when necessary while defaulting to async work at other times.
The right balance
The future of work relies upon finding the right balance between asynchronous and synchronous work
The Covid-19 pandemic forced companies to adapt to remote practices at an accelerated scale which showed them the benefits of remote work and asynchronous communication. These companies are now considering adopting a workplace that’s more hybrid in nature where employees have the option of working remotely when needed while still having access to office spaces.
This means adopting the right set of processes and tools that enable teams to function efficiently. A team handbook or a wiki that outlines when and how to get work done goes a long way. It can include not just the ways of work, but also how to communicate asynchronously and more importantly, how to demand immediate action when the situation requires it.
The next step would be to evaluate the tools that go well with these sets of processes and drive adoption of these tools across the organization. They form the core of how well an organization functions and thus become the best way to identify how teams function.
Though modern work tools like Zoom, Slack, Notion, Figma, Clickup, Jira, and more have made it easier to collaborate remotely, it’s become a challenge to work asynchronously without getting inundated with updates spread across dozens of tools. At the same time, it has become increasingly difficult for leaders, managers, and workers to be in the loop when the teams are dependent on so many tools to get their work done.
These are problems that cannot be successfully tackled with traditional processes of standup updates and conventional feedback forms. Instead, they require leaders to leverage data to identify problems and solve them creatively and this is where work analytics platforms like Hatica come into the picture.
Hatica’s work analytics platform enables async work by equipping engineering leaders with a centralized dashboard of team workload, effort allocations, engagement, and burnout. Discover how Hatica can help your engineering teams succeed at async work.