Remote working enables people in various time zones to work on common projects at different times. It also makes it more likely that even those in the same zone will not work together in a strict 9-to-5 schedule. Asynchronous working is where teamwork and communication do not occur at the same time. When you send a message, you do not expect an immediate reply.
‘Synchronous’ or ‘real-time’ working happens is what happens in daily conversation, conference calls, phone calls and traditional in-person meetings. Communication platforms and smartphone apps have made synchronous communication so easy, yet this convenience can feel inescapable, leading to the phenomenon of ‘collaborative overload’ and the ‘presence prison’. Negative results include a lack of mental focus, constant interruptions, stress, and lower quality responses.
Asynchronous working and communication offers an unexpected solution to these problems. As well as the obvious advantages – more control over your workday, greater productivity, higher-quality communication, more time to plan – asynchronicity allows for what Cal Newport calls “deep work” to become the default. This is like what psychologists call the mental state of ‘flow’ or ‘optimal’ experience.
Deep work requires that you have the opportunity to block off large chunks uninterrupted time. This is possible when you acknowledge that most things aren’t in fact urgent, but a few key things are important. You can use this time to get into the work that creates the most value. This includes drafting project plans, researching solutions, and preparing for presentations.
One of the prerequisites for successful asynchronous work is documentation. In this context, most communication takes place in written form. It is essential to regularly share and reference internal documentation among teams. Keep checking those sharing settings!
But it’s more than this. In a sense, documentation is asynchronous communication. A message is delivered in a way that doesn’t require recipients to be available, online or even awake at the same time. Here are a few key tips:
- If you don’t have standardized documentation processes, establish them first. Otherwise, every worker will create their own methods for communicating asynchronously, and chaos will ensue.
- If mavericks diverge from the path, keep redirecting them to the carefully crafted processes. And, process owners, don’t be precious. Take feedback on processes that are vague or have too many steps; you’ll have more buy in, if you make it work for everyone.
- Promote writing and documenting as core skills to master. An asynchronous workplace requires that everyone is a strong writer. Writing, rather than talking, gives people time to reflect rather than react immediately.
- Ensure that key discussions and important information are documented automatically, so it easier to find, reference and share later.
All work is not equal. There are still types of work that require synchronous communication. So, it’s a matter of being able to mix and match with communication types. But these synchronous communication types are the exception, not the rule.
- Emergency or crisis meetings
- Company retreats and conferences
- Periodic 1:1s or team meetings
- Discussing sensitive or complex topics
- Creative brainstorming
- Meetings that require rapport and relationship-building
- Casual hangouts, catch-ups and socialising
Add to this diversity the fact that asynchronous working is specially designed to cater for different working styles. Some are A-people (early birds) while others are B-people (night owls), introverts and extroverts, fast (‘system 1’) thinkers and slow (’system 2’) thinkers… Asynchronous communication facilitates better collaboration across cultures, time zones and personality types.
To read more on remote working, see our remote working tag and my latest LinkedIn article, 50 Ways to Recreate Your Company Culture in a Thousand Different Homes.