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, and 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?
Asynchronous work (commonly referred to as "async") means that employees work independently without being expected to respond to others instantly. Companies that operate asynchronously allow their employees to complete tasks and respond to colleagues when convenient for them and within a reasonable timeframe, such as 24 hours, rather than requesting or expecting employees to be online, available, and responsive during set work hours.
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 Differences Between Asynchronous and Synchronous Work?
Asynchronous work boosts productivity by separating work from synchronous communication. In contrast, synchronous work ties progress to communication, leading to project pauses when team members are unavailable due to varying work hours or time off.
Asynchronous work eliminates the need for employees to be online simultaneously. Its work relies more on documentation and transparency as key components, and also workplaces have greater trust in employees and their abilities.
Synchronous work creates obstacles that hinder project efficiency. Synchronous work is more commonly found in office environments compared to remote work setups, although it is still not ideal even there.
From a results perspective, asynchronous work offers significant advantages over synchronous work. Companies that embrace asynchronous practices can expedite project completion compared to their competitors. Moreover, businesses with asynchronous workflows tend to enjoy higher employee morale due to the trust, improved communication, and documentation practices inherent in the asynchronous approach.
What Are the Benefits of Asynchronous Work?
1. 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.