The traditional way of working requires the workers to be under the same roof at the same time. They worked in a synchronized process where meetings and other communications were in real-time. The growing trend of remote working and increasing flexibility for workers needs a different kind of approach.
What is asynchronous work?
Asynchronous work is a practice where it is not required for all the members of the team to be online simultaneously to communicate in real-time. The idea is that, by taking away the norm of doing synchronized work, one can increase productivity and flexibility.
Trust is the major factor for teams to work in an async model. When managed well, async teams can be more efficient and effective in using the resources and producing outputs. It gives the workers autonomy and reduces the friction caused by constantly relying on others to complete tasks.
Difference Between Asynchronous and Synchronous Work
Synchronous work requires all the team members to be available online simultaneously. So, if a team member is off or can’t work during the same timeline, it halts the team’s progress and delays deliveries. Asynchronous work removes this necessity of real-time communication which was considered essential for productive teams.
The preferred modes of communication for asynchronous work are email, collaborative documents, message boards, and project management tools. The synchronous team on the other hand relies on face-to-face communication, video conferencing, and phone call.
Synchronous work is more common and feasible in office environments and can be highly ineffective in a remote or distributed team setup. Asynchronous work is the better option for remote teams and it can remove the barrier of dependency.
Documenting and transparency are the pillars of asynchronous work as they help collaboration. It also removes any confusion with regards to expectations and details of the work as information can get lost in synchronous communication.
How to Manage Asynchronous Workflows
There are 3 elements that help manage asynchronous workflow effectively: Breaking down tasks, communication, and action.
Breaking down tasks
For async to be effective you need to break down tasks as much as possible and keep updating the changes and progress to the shared medium of work as much as possible. This way other members of the team get updated on the work happening without having to wait for too long and more tasks get done in the same time frame.
On the contrary, if you are working on a bulk of tasks that take around 4 hours and share it to the medium only at the end of it, the other members will have to wait for these 4 hours without any updates and sense of how the work is progressing.
Effective work heavily relies on effective communication in an asynchronous workflow. One needs to develop good documentation and written practices, choose messages over calls, and respect people’s deep work sessions.
Asynchronous communication can lead to waiting and delays if your work relies on clarification or updates. To counteract this, async teams should always default to action. Instead of idling around, workers should get started on a task themselves even if it means having to adapt or refactor it later.
Tips for Asynchronous Work
The main goal of the asynchronous work model is to enable people working from different locations to collaborate better and be more productive. To achieve that goal, an effective asynchronous system is required. Here are some tips for improving asynchronous work:
Improve writing skills of the workers
Asynchronous teams depend on written communication that doesn’t have an immediate back-and-forth. So, for this to work well, the workers need to be better writers and be able to communicate messages with clarity. There are many courses, videos, blogs, and ebooks on business writing that can be very effective. Encourage the workers to spend some time on these resources and improve their writing skills.
Start eliminating meetings
Reducing the number of meetings to a minimum is the first step to becoming an asynchronous team. Break down the purpose of the regular meetings and see if they can be moved to an asynchronous method. For example, if a meeting is for the explanation of a task by one person, it can be recorded and sent to people.
Move away from emails
While emails are a mode of asynchronous communication, it is not as accessible and easy for collaboration. Instead, move to focused conversion and decision apps like Slack to improve the collaboration among workers.
Better to over-communicate than under-communicate
In asynchronous communication, we have to reduce the need to clarify or explain. The first message itself should be as clear and whole as possible. If it is not, it will require back-and-forth and since it’s not synchronous communication, this will cost people more time.
So, while trying to be concise seems like a good thing, in async, it is better to over-communicate and send detailed messages to avoid unnecessary hassles.
Have a separate medium for emergencies
In an asynchronous system, the employees won’t be checking their usual channels of communication regularly for messages. However, emergencies are inevitable at least once in a while. If you can’t contact the workers in time to resolve the emergency, it can cause big problems.
It is recommended to have a separate channel that workers would check any time to contact for emergencies. It could be a phone call or even WhatsApp.
Why Adopt Asynchronous Working?
Have you worked on something with a great focus and then got distracted by a message from your teammate? Maybe they are having some doubts or facing an issue. So, you immediately pause what you were doing and quickly help them out. Then you get back to your work. But would you be able to jump back to that great focus in a second?
The answer is almost always ‘No’. Deep focus or the state of flow (in other words, being in the zone) is difficult to achieve and it takes a while. This is the state where you are fully involved in your work with an energized focus. At this stage, you work your best, you are more creative and you enjoy the work.
Ideally, if you want to increase your productivity or quality of work, you need to work more in this state of deep focus. But synchronous communication with its distractions does not allow for that luxury. Asynchronous working, on the other hand, removes these distractions for you.
Why We Need Both Asynchronous and Synchronous Working
While asynchronous working is beneficial on many fronts, it is not advisable to completely replace synchronous communication with it. Many situations can be better dealt with using synchronous work with people and in these cases, it is better to have an in-person discussion, video call, or a phone call.
Emergencies: One cannot wait for asynchronous communication to happen at its own time when the company is facing an emergency. Especially for situations like the server being down in prime time, you need to fix it at the earliest. It is recommended that a company have a dedicated channel for emergency communications.
Socializing/Relationship Building: While a level of autonomy and flexibility is good, the absence of team interaction for an extended period of time might start feeling like isolation. So, socializing through synchronized communication is very much required for catch-ups, relationship building, and exchange of feedback.
Sensitive Conversations: Conversations on difficult topics like employee relations issues or underperformance is better when done one-on-one in a synchronized setup. Written communication can be misinterpreted and a real-time show of empathy or reciprocation based on a person’s reaction is not possible in asynchronized communication.
Limitations and Challenges of Asynchronous Communication
As discussed above, asynchronous communication cannot completely substitute synchronous communication and has its limitations.
- Lack of connection: Unlike video meetings or phone calls, written mode of communication used in asynchronous settings can leave people feeling isolated or lonely. Personal connection with team members might be missing.
- Brainstorming: When people bounce ideas off each other in real-time, there is a chance for creatively genius ideas to pop up. This might not be in asynchronous team communication.
- Takes time: While having a flow state is ideal, people do have many doubts and questions while working. Not being able to resolve them immediately can sometimes be saving one person’s productivity at the cost of another.
- Client-facing roles: Roles that require you to answer to clients will require you to be available at certain hours.
Types of Tools Every Asynchronous Team Needs
In an asynchronous team, how do you figure out when your teammates are available? How do you share updates? How to communicate in a way that doesn’t lead to confusion or difficulty accessing information needed?
There are many tools that you can use for different aspects of asynchronous work to improve its effectiveness.
Communication tools: The communication between the members needs to be sorted and easy to navigate whenever people are available to see them. In normal messaging threads, messages can get lost and it can be overwhelming to scroll through many messages. Tools like Slack can help resolve this issue.
Collaborative tools: There are platforms like Google Workspace that allow the work to happen at one place even if many people are working on it. Using such collaborative tools will let the work be visible to all the team members at all times.
Project management tools: To set targets, break down and assign tasks, and to follow the progress with ease, one can use project management tools like Trello, Wrike, ClickUp, etc.
Asynchronous commenting: Written communication may not be ideal in certain instances like communicating bigger ideas or explaining complicated tasks. In those cases, having a tool like Yac that allows for sending recorded audio and video messages comes in very handy.
Benefits of Async work
More thought out communication
In synchronous work, communication is immediate and often from the top of one’s mind. Since two-way communication is happening simultaneously, a lot of details can get lost in between or misunderstood. On the other hand, asynchronous working allows for well-thought-out communication as the person has time to think about what they want to communicate. This way there is increased clarity in what is being communicated.
Record of everything
As mentioned before, asynchronized workflow heavily relies on documentation. In other words, there is a record of every interaction. So the information doesn’t get lost in the conversion or because of interpretation. Seeking clarification on the message conveyed also becomes easier with async communication models.
Accommodates different personalities
Different people are more productive at different times. Some are night owls and some early risers. The asynchronous setup allows people to work whenever is the most convenient for them and hence, increases the productivity and effectiveness of a worker.
Synchronous communication demands one think on feet and act quickly to be an active part of the team. But an asynchronous workflow is more accommodative of introverted people or people who prefer having more time to think through their ideas to also contribute to the company.
Work in one’s own time
When workers are stuck in front of the systems because of back-to-back meetings, it can be tiring and unproductive. It effectively strips away the most priced benefit of remote or hybrid set up which is flexibility in work. In an asynchronized workflow, this flexibility is ensured and people can enjoy working in their own time.
Allows for deep work
Without the calendar dotted with meetings throughout the day, workers can have focused work hours for a longer time without distractions. Synchronized communication needs you to respond immediately and can be a constant distraction. With that out of the way, deep work for a longer time becomes possible leading to more quality and creative work being done.