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.