Many employers with remote and distributed teams have begun looking for ways to empower their employees and promote collaboration amongst teams as they work in different physical spaces and, in some cases, in different time zones.
This phenomenon, known as asynchronous work, is often seen as the key to reaching this goal. But what exactly does “asynchronous” mean, and how can you achieve it?
Below we’ll look at what asynchronous work is and how you can implement it in your organization to create efficient and independent remote teams.
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What is asynchronous work?
Asynchronous work gives your employees the freedom to complete their tasks on their own schedule, instead of having to be on the same set schedule with their colleagues. In a remote setting, asynchronous work can mean that members of the same team aren’t required to be online at the same time.
Unlike synchronous work, where employees are expected to be in touch with their teammates and managers immediately throughout the work day, asynchronous workers have the flexibility to respond whenever is best for them. Communication isn’t expected to be instant, so your employees can reduce pressure on themselves to respond quickly and instead focus on their work.
The key to asynchronous work is implementing processes that allow your employees to work autonomously and providing them with the trust to do so. After all, you may have remote teams that live all over the globe. These individuals can maximize their productivity in whatever time zone they’re in without waiting for others to complete their tasks.
What are the benefits of asynchronous work?
Asynchronous working requires thoughtfulness and careful planning. But it creates a much more relaxed and inclusive workplace, particularly if you’re a fully remote company. Let’s highlight some key advantages of asynchronous working in the sections below.
Greater productivity and less stress
When you allow your employees and teams to set their own time and work routine, they can focus more on their work, creating a stress-free work environment.
According to studies1, the average employee has a maximum of 40 minutes of focused time-free from communication. Without the constant distractions of chats or video calls, they can have uninterrupted time throughout the day to finish their work without external stresses. Deep concentration on the quality of their work is better for your business outcomes.
Asynchronous working provides ample opportunity for people to work without unnecessary distraction—and minimized distractions mean greater overall productivity.
More ownership and individual responsibility
Working asynchronously gives your employees greater responsibility for their work and allows them to make more independent decisions. Taking ownership of their work also relieves your managers and team leaders, freeing up time for them to focus on their own work as well.
Ownership and responsibility are important aspects of working at any company, whether remote or not. It makes your employees feel like an important part of the company where they are heard and trusted, which improves employee engagement and satisfaction. They’ll also have more control over their day and can use their time more effectively to provide their best work.
Builds trust throughout your organization
If you’re doing asynchronous work and communication correctly, you’ll build trust between yourself and your employees. If you trust your employees to be thought leaders in their skillset, reliable in their abilities, and vulnerable enough to show weakness where they need help, your company will run much smoother in a remote setting.
Asynchronous work facilitates all three of these aspects. Your employees can focus on delivering their work in a timely fashion and thinking deeply about their tasks while empowering them to collaborate with their entire team.
This independent level of working creates trust from the top down because your employees will know that you believe in them to get the job done.
Promotes greater flexibility
The most significant benefit of working remotely and asynchronously is that your teams can set their own hours in a truly flexible work climate. If you have employees that are more productive during the day, they can opt for that. If you have other employees that work better at night, they can pick those hours.
Asynchronous working also means employees can work from anywhere they are most productive, whether that be from home, in a café, or even while traveling. Having the flexibility to make their own decisions allows them to build their ideal work environment with the best work-life balance.
Finally, if your company operates in multiple states or is international, you probably have employees in different time zones. With synchronous work, employees in different time zones usually struggle to make themselves available during non-work hours.
Asynchronous work solves this problem entirely. Employees can work according to their time zone without waiting for their teammates to log on and complete tasks, ultimately driving ownership, independence, and flexibility.
How you can facilitate asynchronous work in your organization
From adopting different processes to creating a more positive company culture, moving to an asynchronous work environment doesn’t happen overnight. Luckily, we’ve got some tips and tricks you can use to become an asynchronous company.
Here’s how you can facilitate asynchronous work at your organization:
- Focus on transparency amongst remote team members: Most discussions should happen publicly or on record, ensuring people do not miss crucial information.
- Encourage writing and detailed messages: Explain situations in detail to a point where there are no pressing questions. There should be as much written-down information as possible.
- Rely on documentation: This involves documenting your processes and best practices for everyone to read and refer back to in case they have questions, such as with a company handbook.
- Promote asynchronous communication: You should choose an asynchronous model that allows your teams to communicate at different times. This ensures your teams will have the necessary information they need when working.
- Avoid excessive back and forth: If a discussion takes a few back-and-forths via messaging, it’s no longer considered asynchronous communication. Save these conversations for a brief meeting or phone call.
- Limit the use of video calls: In an asynchronous setting, coordinating video calls may not be feasible. Use instant messages or quick phone calls to reduce the time spent on virtual meetings and enable employees to focus on work.
- Provide sufficient training: Tasks and projects should 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.
- Introduce the right tools and processes: Review what tools and processes your teams are currently using and choose the best ones that encourage a seamless asynchronous work environment.
How does asynchronous communication compare to synchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication is just one aspect of asynchronous work, but it’s the most widely known aspect because most people have practiced asynchronous communication at some point. Asynchronous communication describes all forms of communication that don’t require many different parties to be available simultaneously.
Async communication is typically not in-person, and it's usually unscheduled. It protects everyone’s time and promotes more meaningful work by reducing unnecessary distractions, especially if you have remote workers.
Examples of asynchronous communication channels include:
- Letters or other direct mail
- A project management platform
- Document sharing, like Google Docs
- Text messaging
- Direct messaging, like Slack messages
- Video messaging
On the other hand, synchronous communication is considered “real-time communication.” It’s when two or more people are exchanging information at the same moment without delay. It can be in-person or virtual, scheduled or impromptu.
While synchronous communication may be the norm within an office environment, if you’re transitioning to a remote environment, you’ll want to allow your teams to have a say on how they want to communicate.
Other examples of synchronous communication methods include:
- In-person meeting
- Phone call
- Video conferences, like Zoom meetings
- Synchronous group learning environments
- Water cooler conversations at the office
A major downside of synchronous communication is that it can distract your employees from what they’re working on and break their focus. Not being able to focus fully on their work means consistency isn’t achieved, leading to lower productivity.
Generally, asynchronous communication practices maximize productivity while synchronous work binds progress to communication and availability. But at the end of the day, asynchronous and synchronous communication methods must work together for modern companies.
When you should choose asynchronous or synchronous communication
As we learned above, asynchronous and synchronous communication is the difference between faster and more flexible communication. But there are specific situations where each communication method would work best.
Choosing synchronous communication may be best when:
- You need to build a personal connection with a client or customer
- You’re hosting a workplace retreat.
- Brainstorming ideas with leadership.
- Discussing a topic with a lot of variables
- Discussing sensitive issues, such as HR concerns
However, synchronous communication is ideal for you and your employees when a message isn’t urgent. People can receive the message and respond at their own pace without worrying about interrupting their current task.
It’s best to choose asynchronous communication when:
- Immediate feedback isn’t required
- You need to communicate with multiple people who aren’t available simultaneously
- You want to clarify context before a set meeting time
- You’re collaborating with someone in a different time zone
- You have documentation for employees that they can use for future reference
With remote work increasing in popularity in recent years, finding the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous methods for your remote environment is essential.
An asynchronous work model can bring a lot of value to your company if you know how to optimize it. The tips and tricks we highlighted above will enable your teams to function more efficiently in a virtual workspace as the first step in achieving your goal of running a successful and asynchronous remote business.