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GuidesEmployee experienceWhat is asynchronous work?

What is asynchronous work?

Last updated

17 January 2024

Author

Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Shawnna Johnson

Working “async”—cringe start-up lingo or viable operating technique worth exploring?

As more businesses migrate to a hybrid or fully remote working environment, asynchronous work (AKA communicating and working with your team at different times from your peers) has become a mainstay of modern business.

We all understand the powerful benefits that async communication like email and DM messages can offer. For companies looking to offer increased flexibility to their employees, it’s time to invest in more comprehensive asynchronous working tools and strategies to reap the full benefits of this operating mode.

Improve your employees’ experience at work and tap into the multitude of benefits by exploring async work strategies in 2024, using this helpful guide as your kicking-off point.

What is async work?

Asynchronous work is when employees independently do their work, send messages, and complete assigned tasks on their own schedule. Teams are not necessarily collaborating at the same time or even in the same time zone.

This type of operating mode aims to increase working flexibility and focus, allowing your teammates to communicate and address tasks when it suits them. While asynchronous communication has been around for decades (for example, email and voice messages), the recent increase in hybrid and fully remote working opportunities has massively increased the global need for investment in asynchronous work.

In a traditional in-office workplace, synchronous work (AKA attending meetings, collaborating in real-time with your team on projects) is often viewed as the preferred method of work and communication, especially during significant project launches and concentrated periods of work.

But, with Forbes reporting in 2023 that 12.7% of full-time employees work from home and another 28.2% work with a hybrid in-office and at-home model, it is clear the need for asynchronous work tools and resources has never been higher.

A decade ago, if someone had said, “Should we go offline and connect on this topic async later today?” they would have been met with vacant stares and confusion.

But now, with well-identified communication channels, clear work expectations, and asynchronous supported tools, asynchronous work has completely transformed how teams approach their work–life balance and productivity (impacting employee experience and engagement over time.)

Async vs. in-sync work

We all know transparent, clear communication is essential for any team. Thankfully, with the help of modern technology and tools, your business can effectively work synchronously and asynchronously, depending on the best approach in certain circumstances.

Examples of when to use asynchronous work:

  • Weekly or monthly team updates (sent as a message or newsletter)

  • Asking questions of individuals during crunch working sessions

  • Sending out instructions for an upcoming project or meeting

  • Collaborating with contractors or off-location employees

  • Connecting with stakeholders for feedback on an upcoming project

  • Working on routine projects or tasks

Examples of when to use synchronous work:

  • Hiring a new team member

  • Communicating a significant shift in team expectations or workflow

  • Sharing sensitive or personal information

  • Conducting exit interviews with an employee who is leaving

  • Hosting a virtual or in-person team celebration

Common pros of asynchronous work

Investing in new asynchronous communication tools and strategies comes with plenty of benefits.

Improved working flexibility

A big reason the remote and hybrid working model has become so popular is because it offers employees more flexibility in their workday. Asynchronous work allows employees to prioritize their workday based on their own schedule. They can address concerns and messages when they are free and able, rather than the moment these appear on their radar (or in their inbox).

It also allows for more personal life flexibility, helping people make medical appointments and pick up their kids from school. This increase in flexibility can encourage improved productivity and a better work–life balance.

Increased access to uninterrupted work blocks

During a particularly stressful crunch or sprint, it can be draining for your employees to leave their workflow to attend meetings or collaborate in person.

Ideally, you don’t want your team to be under this amount of stress regularly. However, when these situations do occur, async work strategies give your team members space to block off time for concentrated sessions of work without distractions.

Reduced burden of time-zone differences

The globalization of work has made the physical location of your team members less important than ever.

Whether your team decides to hire talent from different areas of the world or you have employees who want to work while traveling, asynchronous working strategies can help reduce the impact of different time zones. No one wants to wake up at 3 AM to take a Zoom call unless this is essential.

Asynchronous communication tools help to keep everyone connected, no matter where they are in the world.

Common drawbacks of asynchronous work

Working asynchronously can also present challenges your team will need to overcome.

Increased risk of communication errors

When communicating through email or direct message, communication errors (missing or inaccurate information sharing, incorrect tone-of-voice assumptions, or missing context) can quickly cause significant issues for your team. Without being physically or virtually connected, it can be challenging for people to fully understand the situation through asynchronous workflows. 

To combat this, your team needs to intentionally invest in communication training and create clear communication channels and expectations to reduce the potential for confusion and frustration.

Reduced ability to directly collaborate with teammates

Sometimes we all need help to get our best work done, and there are some situations that an email or DM cannot replace. For teams that work on creative endeavors, synchronous collaboration is foundational to exploring innovative and unique ideas.

Not everything can be done alone or in isolation from active human participation. As your team implements more async work strategies, you will quickly learn which types of projects require more in-person collaboration to be successful and fulfilling.

5 tips for improving your asynchronous work experience

If your team wants to expand and improve upon their existing asynchronous workflows, here are some of the best ways to manage your async communication and collaboration.

Standardize your company’s communication expectations

First, it’s important to acknowledge that when your team transitions to new asynchronous working strategies, some growing pains will arise from differences in individual communication skills and habits.

Not everyone will be used to communicating in this way. For those used to getting their work done with live feedback and collaboration, project details, assigned tasks, and expectations might be missed as your team settles into the new operating mode.

To reduce the impact of this change, your team must set clear expectations for when, where, and how your team will communicate their work capacity and needs.

Consider the following questions to help you put some systems in place:

  • How are you going to document completed work?

  • How are new assignments going to be assigned to your team members?

  • Where can your team members send project feedback?

  • When is the best time to communicate project updates?

  • How quickly can your team expect a response to a communication?

  • What communication types must be escalated or responded to within a defined period?

To set this up more clearly, we recommend creating a few sample or template communication messages to show the team how to share the needed information. These can be used as a guide to help people craft more clear and effective async messages. This is super important for reducing confusion and frustration in the long run.

Cut back on unnecessary meetings

Next, as your team takes on more asynchronous work strategies, you need to change your existing synchronous practices. For example, reassess the number of meetings you have currently scheduled.

For many companies, weekly status or all-hands meetings are common to regroup about the progress of new projects. While there are times when these meetings can be helpful, in most cases, they can be replaced with well-created project dashboards and a channel update message.

To figure out which meetings are replaceable, consider the following:

  • Can the content of this meeting be easily communicated via email or direct message?

  • Do we have any significant updates that need to be shared?

  • Do we often postpone or cancel this meeting due to a lack of availability or updates?

Another option is to consider recording meetings so that team members can watch them when it suits them. This allows continued focus and less interruption throughout the day.

We’re not saying you need to eliminate all your meetings. As a great way to do collaborative brainstorming and to allow your team to chat and catch up, there are many situations where hopping on a quick call or meeting is the better choice. There is a good chance, however, that there are a few meetings that can be turned into an asynchronous format.

Create clear messaging communication channels

To effectively benefit from asynchronous workflows, your team needs clear communication channels that access the right people (without burdening others with countless notifications).

Using the direct-messaging platform of your choice, take time to be intentional about how you set up project groupings. As general rules of thumb, here are some best practices for making clearer communication channels for your team:

  • When a new project begins, open a messaging channel for it

  • Encourage your team to only discuss information about the project in the associated channel

  • Ensure all required stakeholders are in a project channel to reduce confusion 

  • Create a water-cooler chat for casual chat and keep your project channels focused

  • Remove outdated project channels from your team’s dashboard to ensure the correct channels are used as new projects begin

Promote asynchronous collaboration

For some teams, collaboration is done almost exclusively in person through meetings, in-office work blocks, and real-time communication.

There are still many instances where these practices may be required to get the work done. However, your company should set your team up for success by encouraging and enabling high-quality asynchronous collaboration.

To help your team get the most out of async collaboration, you can:

  • Invest in high-quality digital collaborative tools (we list a few of our favs in this article.)

  • Set clear expectations for async feedback

  • Create company-wide etiquette practices when leaving virtual feedback

  • Encourage team members to ask for help

For teams that make creative products or services, collaboration is essential for success and growth. By offering resources to your team to get the feedback they need asynchronously, you can open up their schedule to more concentrated work blocks (which, in turn, can boost productivity.)

Seek regular feedback

To get the most out of your transition to more asynchronous work, regularly ask for and collect feedback about the experience from your team.

No transition is going to be seamless. Each of your team members comes from a different working background, so there will be significant growing pains as you make the push to do more async work.

Collecting feedback can be super casual, like sending a check-in message to see how everyone handles new software changes, or it can be formal through an employee survey. Either way, here are a few questions we recommend asking to get the most helpful insights:

  • How has your day-to-day workflow changed since we transitioned to more async work?

  • What are your biggest challenges with our new communication channels?

  • How can we help improve our async work practices to be more productive and effective?

By regularly asking these questions, you can constantly adjust and improve your existing workflows to better accommodate employee concerns and preferences. When done correctly, this can significantly impact employee experience and overall company productivity, which is always a win–win.

The top tools for improving asynchronous communication

There are various tools you can incorporate into your day-to-day routines to streamline your new asynchronous workflows.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Slack

A well-loved messaging platform, Slack has taken over the tech and start-up world as a must-use tool. It is great for communicating individually in DMs or for setting up large or small group channels per project need.

Slack can significantly improve your team’s async working capabilities by being the go-to place for direct communication and collaboration.

Loom

Need to explain something to a team member but don’t want to type out a lengthy set of instructions? Using Loom (a powerful video message tool), you can quickly and easily record instructional videos and demonstrations to send to your colleagues. They can watch and learn whenever they are free.

Loom has so many use cases, but it’s particularly great for helping new hires get up to speed on company workflows without having to come into the office for orientation.

Notion

As a catch-all for project management, brainstorming, organization, and general creativity, Notion is a workspace designed to help your team get things done.

Using pages for different teams and projects, you can assign work, track progress, brainstorm ideas, and leave feedback for your team to access on their own time, all within one platform.

Google Workspaces

Used by millions of people every day, one of the best features of Google Workspace is its wide variety of tools that are designed to be used asynchronously. Resources like Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides are all made to be accessible and editable by different users at different times.

This a great platform for teams that work remotely or across different time zones.

Figma

For designers and visual artists, Figma is a great resource that allows for async collaboration. Marketed with the slogan, “co-create in one space,” this platform enables real-time collaboration and design work across multiple accounts. It’s a great resource for bridging the gap between project managers and creative designers.

GitHub

Known as one of the largest collaborative developer platforms, GitHub is a valuable resource for start-ups and well-established global brands alike. It is a place to accelerate software development, so your team can use this platform to work on upcoming launches and bug fixes asynchronously.

Filled with plenty of other features like workflow automation and advanced security, this is a great resource for tech companies looking to expand their product without needing in-person workblocks.

Reap the benefits of asynchronous work by focusing on clear communication

Asynchronous work has already become a staple of modern business. Has your organization invested time and resources to maximize its benefits?

Async work and communication offer your team some much-appreciated flexibility in how they approach and manage their daily workload, making it a popular option for teams looking to improve work–life balance and employee experience.

With more companies transitioning to hybrid or fully remote working environments, the need for strategic asynchronous work planning has never been higher. There is no better time than the present to invest in tools and training to help your team effectively communicate, no matter where (or when) they decide to do it.

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