In this article, we will introduce a new team working paradigm called asynchronous work . We will also highlight its benefits and share steps to setting it up for your team.
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The acceleration in remote and hybrid work has led to many challenges. And the model we’ve used for so long in the office—synchronous work—is no longer effective.
Setting strict work hours, scheduling countless status meetings, and having an open-door policy for Slack has added hours to employees' work days.
On top of that, managers are struggling with productivity paranoia , where they assume their workers are slacking off. With growing suspicion, many organizations signed up for employee monitoring software that tracks keystrokes and mouse activities. But this is a reactionary solution from managers to regain omnipotent power and control. And making distributed work function like on-site work leaves workers frustrated, stressed, and burnt out.
In a recent Zippia study, 67% of remote workers reported feeling pressure to be available all the time. Another 48% felt that there was no emotional support from their employers.
The message is clear. Organizations can stick with the status quo and tiptoe around this broken way of managing remote workers. Or—ideally—they can future-proof their business, enable work to be done whenever and wherever, and establish a flexible way to collaborate.
What is asynchronous work?
Asynchronous work is when team members can work independently and set their own schedules. Here, there are no expectations to be online with the rest of their organization simultaneously.
Managers can focus less on when their employees are clocking in and out. Instead, they can pay attention to the company’s goals, project timelines, quality of the deliverables, and the overall health of their workers.
Asynchronous work empowers employees to organize their day according to their priorities—without needing prompt responses to affirm their work.
A caveat for asynchronous work
Communication is essential for asynchronous work. There should be no mystery about the job, even as every team member works at a different time and place. An asynchronous work environment should be more organized than a synchronous one.
Unlike CEOs, front-line workers cannot opt-out of messages and meetings . They need to collaborate regularly to accomplish their work. So, if they don’t know where to get information and there is no one around to respond, asynchronous work could cost more time and effort.
The responsibility falls on managers to set up a project properly. They must know how each employee works and what they need to be effective. This way, they will maintain awareness and won’t feel pressure to micromanage or conduct multiple status checks during the day (which could pull the employee out of their focus work ).
During focused work hours, there isn’t as much pressure to be available. Workers can concentrate on completing their tasks, thus increasing productivity over the long term.
Benefits of asynchronous work for remote workers
Switching to an asynchronous work model will be a liberating experience for your team. And if there are preconceived ideas of what flexibility can mean, know this: work does not have to be binary.
It doesn’t have to be all synchronous or all asynchronous. Find the balance for your team. Measure what is or isn’t working.
Your mileage may vary. With that said, here are some positives of asynchronous work that make it worth testing:
Advantage for early birds and night owls
Asynchronous work allows employees to choose when they’re operating at their peak and then schedule their day accordingly.
While your marketer may be most creative in the early morning, your developer may be sharpest at night. Scheduling them conventionally at 9 to 5 takes both out of their most productive time.
By testing out async work, you can see where your top performers choose to spend their time working and whether it’s optimal.
Access a wider talent pool
If you’re based in Toronto but have key roles in Vancouver, Melbourne, Dublin, or Tokyo, are you going to make all of them work on your hour all the time?
If you do, you may lose out on quality talent who aren’t keen on waking up early or staying up late to collaborate. Additionally, global employers should be aware of overtime laws, local legislation, and other business standards when working with international employees. This is especially true when time zones come into play and communication apps are accessible all day long.
Some countries have even introduced the “right to disconnect” for employees. This protects them from work and work-related communication outside of working hours. If your organization has rigid business hours, the law might not allow you to access talent in countries like France, Italy, and Spain.
By having an asynchronous work model, your international team members can perform their duties at their preferred time. They can use their few overlapping hours to collaborate, which will be more than enough time.
With spread-out work hours, your team won’t distract each other by messaging for a “quick question” or scheduling an impromptu call. Instead, they will only connect when there is a pressing matter.
By decreasing the number of distractions during your workday, your team will be able to stay focused. And they will avoid losing time context switching .
Intentional and thoughtful interactions
Asynchronous work requires strong communication channels that don’t funnel through a central bottleneck. Managers of effective async teams can step back and let their employees work out problems, break down tasks, and access resources without adding another layer of friction.
A byproduct of async work is the increase in documentation and goal setting with actionable steps. There are many ways your team can share facts, figures, and instructions that don’t require everyone sitting down together. Instead of focusing on presenting the information at a meeting—where the majority of participants are distracted—your teammates can dedicate their time to updating and refining the documentation. This makes information more easily accessible to the whole company when it’s needed.
Health and well-being
The freedom to set your schedule, turn off notifications during deep work, and make up for missed hours without feeling like a time thief can reduce stress.
A study by Skynova found that nearly half of employees valued a flexible work schedule more than a higher salary.
As you can see, workers are ready to put a price on work-life balance. But each organization and team will have different experiences and expectations when operating in this new model.
It’s also worth repeating that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can blend asynchronous work with synchronous work.
And with remote work, every person will have their own opinions and biases. That’s why data is essential when making decisions—it clears the fog of emotions and preconceptions. Continue reading to learn how to set up an asynchronous work environment that can be measured and optimized.
How to set up asynchronous work
Like any major change, you don’t want to throw your entire company into the deep end and leave them floundering. This only leads to the team resorting back to an old and broken way of doing things.
Moving to an asynchronous work style requires preparation, buy-in from top to bottom, and patience. This may mean testing the process with a leaner team (5-10 team members) before transitioning to a heavier one (10+ members).
Once you’ve selected a group to test out an asynchronous work environment with, here’s what you should do:
1. Acquire digital tools:
Odds are you already have an arsenal of business tools for your team. You can rely on those to fulfill your needs, but make sure you have a tech stack that will enable your team to work together more effectively at different times.
Here’s what a solid async tool stack looks like:
- Messaging: Slack and Microsoft Teams
- Project management: Notion, Atlassian, and Trello
- Cloud storage and collaboration: Google Drive and Microsoft 365
- Video sharing: Zoom and Loom
- Digital work pattern analytics: Produce8
Pro tip: Keep your technology stack as light as possible until communication is strong. At this early stage, avoiding information and materials being fragmented across too many apps is essential. Make sure there is a place for everything. And if a tool can perform double duty, rely on it for that.
Also, perform a tech stack audit annually to see which tools are doing the heavy lifting and which you can leave behind.
2. Set communication expectations:
As we mentioned earlier, communication is the foundation of asynchronous work. And to get the effective channels up and running, some level of synchronous work will be necessary So, set a time to check in regularly.
At Produce8, we do a 15-minute stand-up meeting in the morning to regroup, plan the day, and just say, “Hi!” I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but we truly believe in blending sync and async work styles. Doing so gives every team member a balanced level of flexibility, dependability, and accountability.
We recommend setting up a synchronized time—a few overlapping hours in the work day—where the team can be available should anything come up. And with a flexible work schedule, sync hours can be easily shifted around. It’s all about exploring what works best for everyone.
3. Set documentation standards:
Starting on the right foot means ensuring everything is in its right place and properly labeled.
Apply a standardized documentation procedure to avoid repetitive communication interrupting your team’s work time or forcing them to flip between tools to retrieve information. Every team member should know how and where to search for their work material. That way, they won’t waste time digging through multiple layers of folders and files.
Set up one central storage drive for all documents, such as Google Drive or a knowledge base that can house everything like Notion or Confluence.
4. Define road map, goals, and KPIs:
When working separately, everyone needs to be heading in the right direction. Otherwise, there will be chaos and backtracking.
Make sure everyone knows what tasks they are responsible for when an assignment is due. They should also know who they will block if they don’t finish and the key performance indicators used to measure their progress toward completion.
Clearly defined goals ensure that nobody steps over each other and that the work gets done in the correct order.
5. Encourage transparency:
What does trust look like in a workplace? In a healthy team, every worker—from executive to intern—will maintain accountability and feel comfortable sharing their perspectives. There are no mixed messages, no finger-pointing, or no passive-aggressive feedback. Teams should be honest and transparent.
If there’s a mistake or a missed deadline, the error should be acknowledged and addressed without it being held over someone. This transparent way of working starts from the top down. If a CEO can admit mistakes, be vulnerable, and show empathy, employees will learn to do the same.
This small bit of humility will make a big difference in building trust amongst remote teams, especially when communication is coming through technology like Slack and Zoom.
6. Test, validate, and improve:
After you’ve let your asynchronous work experiment run for a few weeks or months, it’s time to evaluate your team’s performance. At this point, you’ll rid yourself of all productivity paranoia and look at the facts and figures.
Check on your digital work analytics with Produce8 to see the work styles of each team member. This data will give the team insight into what is effective, how the organization spends its day, and what isn’t working asynchronously.
What’s great is that all the data is automated. This eliminates manual check-ins. And data can be personalized to share what each team member deems most relevant to their work.
Allowing your team to set their work schedule sounds like a risky endeavor. But with everything you learned in this article, you can build a solid safety net. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Blending asynchronous work with synchronous work may be the way to get started.
The old model of synchronous collaboration was barely effective in the office. And expecting it to function better in a distributed environment is unrealistic. It’s time we start exploring the future of work . Collaborating asynchronously could be your team’s first step toward a more productive and healthier way of working.