The concept of asynchronous (async) work isn’t new, but it’s been popularized by the recent shift to home working. It’s a trend that’s helping businesses around the world break free from traditional, more prescriptive styles of work, resulting in boosted employee productivity and a sense of well-being.
Asynchronous work isn’t just for fully remote teams; hybrid and office-first teams can also learn a great deal from working asynchronously. In this article, we’ll show you why adopting async work practices is key to your business success, as well as how to tackle some of its main challenges.
Why Should Your Business Embrace Asynchronous Work?
Working asynchronously can deliver great results for your business. Here are the main reasons you should embrace it:
- Increase productivity by reducing distractions and meeting fatigue
- Create a culture of autonomy, so you can trust your colleagues to do great work independently
- Improve employee well-being and engagement
- Tap into top talent from across the world and expand your business internationally.
A recent study by Future Forum demonstrated the positive effects of flexible work arrangements. Their Remote Employee Experience Index shows that "workers who have the option of working a flexible schedule score higher across every element of the Index than those made to continue working 9-to-5."
For example, those with access to flexible hours scored nearly twice as high on productivity as their 9-to-5 counterparts. Work-life balance and managing work-related stress and anxiety also proved more achievable for those on a flexible schedule.
Off the back of its study, Future Forum recommends asynchronous work as the first step to enabling flexible schedules for employees.
What Is Asynchronous Work?
Asynchronous simply means “not occurring at the same time,” so asynchronous work involves one or multiple teams working and communicating on different schedules. Employees may be spread across numerous time zones or work flexible hours, so they won’t always be online at the same time.
While remote working is often associated with asynchronous work, the two aren’t one and the same. Remote teams can still work synchronously, particularly if everyone is based in the same time zone and is expected to be online during the same hours.
For example, during the pandemic, many companies were forced to close their offices and ask their employees to work from home full-time. Some of these businesses embraced flexible, asynchronous working, while others tried to replicate the office in a virtual setting. This involved traditional 9-to-5 hours and back-to-back Zoom meetings, which caused fatigue, loss of productivity, and low engagement.
As a result, these business leaders feared that remote work wasn’t right for their teams, so they ushered their employees back into the office at the earliest opportunity.
However, remote working can and does work incredibly well, especially if you adapt to asynchronous practices.
What’s the Difference Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Work?
The difference between synchronous and asynchronous work is how colleagues work together. Synchronous work relies on instantaneous communication, which is typically found in a traditional 9-to-5 office setting. On the other hand, asynchronous work allows colleagues on different schedules to work together more flexibly.
Tips for Effective Asynchronous Working
While asynchronous work isn’t always easy, there are plenty of actions you and your teams can take to make the process as smooth as possible. Here are our top tips and tricks for making asynchronous working effective for your business.
- Define your communication channels and etiquette. Make sure all team members understand which communication channels they should use and how to use them. For example, you may use Slack for most internal comms, while email is only reserved for conversations with external parties. You should also be more mindful of written communication and how others may interpret it. Pause before sending emails and Slack messages to ensure the tone is appropriate.
- Cut down on meetings. Asynchronous communication shouldn’t rely on back-to-back meetings. Before scheduling a meeting, always ask yourself: ‘Is this meeting really necessary? Could we collaborate in a more efficient way?’. Of course, there is still a place for purposeful meetings in asynchronous work, including brainstorming sessions and regular one-to-ones with managers. For those meetings, organizers should include a clear agenda ahead of time and only invite people that need to be there.
- Use asynchronous collaboration tools. There are loads of innovative collaboration tools that help reduce silos and bring team members together. For example:
- MIRO boards are great for brainstorming
- Monday helps streamline project management and personal to-dos
- Loom replaces the need for ‘a quick meeting’ by allowing you to share short screen recordings and videos with your colleagues
- Google Workspace is ideal for creating, reviewing, and sending documents internally.
- Document everything. Without the availability of instant communication, documentation is crucial. Storing information in a centralized hub like Notion or Google Drive makes asynchronous learning much more accessible, especially for new hires. Be sure to document your company and team values, as well as policies, processes, and guides. You should also record meetings and take notes so those who couldn’t attend can still participate and take action.
- Create personal bios. Everyone works differently, so it’s important to communicate how you work best. A personal bio or ‘user guide’ informs your colleagues about your unique working style. It can include your preferred working hours, communication methods, and how you like to receive feedback. This guide will help your colleagues communicate with you effectively, and they’re especially useful for people managers and their team members.
- Show when you’re available. Letting your colleagues know when you usually work is not only important for logistical reasons, but also for communicating personal boundaries. Set your time zone across communication channels like Slack and email, and block out focus time within your calendar. You should also try to switch off notifications outside of working hours so you can rest properly. By making your availability clear to others, you set expectations and can enjoy a better work-life balance.
- Sync up to socialize. Working asynchronously can be lonely, so be sure to schedule regular social activities. If your teams are distributed, there are plenty of virtual activities and events you can take part in, such as online quizzes and games. While regular in-person social events may not be possible, you could organize a company-wide get-together once a year to meet, bond, and build stronger relationships. This worked really well for Omnipresent during our most recent OmniRetreat to Madeira!
Benefits of Asynchronous Work
Adopting an asynchronous work model can benefit your business in many ways. Not only does it increase employee productivity and engagement, but async work can also support your global expansion strategy.
Asynchronous working is largely free from the interruptions associated with traditional 9-to-5 synchronous work models. This creates more opportunities for focus and productivity.
Instead of back-to-back meetings, you can block out big chunks of your day dedicated to deep work. And without the expectation or pressure of instant communication, you can reply to emails and Slack messages at a time that suits your schedule.
By removing distractions and meeting fatigue, your team members regain headspace to do their best work.
Creates a Culture of Trust
Asynchronous work empowers your team to work independently and autonomously, which helps to create a culture of trust.
There’s no place for micromanagement in asynchronous work models, as every team member is responsible for managing their own workload and schedule. While relinquishing some of that control may seem daunting, trust is a vital component of a compelling company culture.
A culture of trust gives your team the freedom to carry out tasks in a way that suits them. Not only does trust help to keep employees engaged, but it also gives them permission to take risks and innovate, which will undoubtedly help your business in the long run.
Improves Employee Well-being & Engagement
Working asynchronously allows for a great deal of flexibility, which is crucial for employee well-being and engagement.
Since the pandemic began, many employees have expressed their desire for more flexible remote-friendly work. Well-managed asynchronous work is an effective way of listening to your teams’ needs and keeping them engaged.
Flexible working also promotes a better work-life balance and is more inclusive of different lifestyles and personal commitments. After all, not everyone works in the same way. Some feel most focused in the morning, while others prefer to work late at night. Giving your employees the option goes a long way to improve well-being and engagement.
Helps Global Teams Thrive
Globalization has made it much easier to tap into talent from around the globe. But when you start hiring remote talent in different time zones, synchronous communication becomes tricky. In fact, 58% of managers think working in multiple time zones makes collaboration hard.
Global expansion and international recruitment can help your company grow and thrive, but if you want your distributed teams to work better together, asynchronous work and communication is the answer.
Once you adapt to asynchronous work, expanding internationally becomes simpler. You can use async collaboration tools to discuss projects with teams based abroad, for example, or build strong relationships with suppliers in different time zones.
If international expansion or recruitment is on your agenda, be sure to prepare for asynchronous working using our top tips above.
Challenges of Asynchronous Work
While there are many benefits to asynchronous working, it can be challenging too. From delayed responses to unclear boundaries, here are some of the things you should consider when preparing your asynchronous work model.
Asynchronous Communication Takes Work
We live in a world where communication is instant, and the traditional workplace is no different. It’s no wonder that business leaders are apprehensive about asynchronous work.
Without careful planning and dedicated resources, async work can undoubtedly lead to poor communication. Whether it’s a misinterpreted Slack message or an unanswered urgent email, communicating remotely certainly brings challenges.
Decisions Can Take Longer
Asynchronous communication can be very frustrating, especially if you need an urgent response from a co-worker who’s not online and may not be for hours to come. As a result, decision-making and sign-off processes can become longer.
Delayed responses may lead to missed deadlines and opportunities, which is why planning ahead and removing bottlenecks are essential for asynchronous teams.
Unclear Boundaries Can Lead to Burnout
While flexible working is a great opportunity to reclaim work-life balance, some employees may struggle to switch off. This is especially true if they keep work-related notifications enabled on their cell phones.
Responding to messages at all times of the day and night can lead to burnout, stress, and disengagement. Async work requires clearly defined and respected boundaries between professional and personal life, so your colleagues can enjoy quality downtime.
Team Connection Can Suffer
One of the main arguments against remote working also applies to online asynchronous work. If team leaders don’t make an effort to create opportunities for socializing and virtual “water cooler moments,” interpersonal relationships can suffer. You may find that employees start to work in silos, and collaboration efforts may suffer too.
Some employees may also feel isolated and lonely without regular social interactions, leading to poor mental health and engagement.
While asynchronous working does have its challenges, our above tips will help you and your teams to overcome them and communicate effectively.