Asynchronous work isn’t new, but the pandemic made it a reality for many workers who relocated or changed jobs during the last 16 months. Many companies weren’t quite prepared to embrace this type of labor in all its complexity, and as a result have missed out on the benefits. However it happened, it can be disorienting when your organization shifts to asynchronous work.
We may be biased, but our gorgeous furnished apartments in 13 cities make it much easier to be productive outside of a traditional office environment. Our guests enjoy fully equipped kitchens, fast Wi-Fi, and individually designed spaces that reflect the character of the local neighborhood.Of course, having the perfect workspace is only half the battle. Here’s how employees and managers can streamline communications and reap the maximum benefits of asynchronous work.
Just what is asynchronous work? It’s not quite as simple as having different workers in different time zones. BBC Worklife recently explored asychronous work in some detail, and came up with this useful framework:
“In asynchronous work, workers complete tasks on their own timetable, which may be very different to that of their colleagues. That means communication is not expected to be immediate – people respond when it’s convenient, and within the hours of their own workdays. Online hubs, like Google Docs or Dropbox, help facilitate this way of working; people can access the resources they need on their own, and then send completed tasks to other colleagues, who can pick them up whenever their workday begins.”
In a useful article from Forbes, Laurel Ferrer, a remote work strategist who collaborates with organizations around the world, stresses the importance of avoiding a “vicious cycle” of always-on communication between colleagues.
“One pitfall many teams face is using asynchronous channels in real-time. Classic examples are dropping everything to respond to non-urgent messages or emails, creating a vicious cycle of reactive work and unproductivity. The challenge for organizations is both in setting standardized rules and expectations for communication and enforcing them.”
One pitfall organizations embracing asynchronous work face is trying to shoehorn in-person collaborative processes into a Zoom call or Slack thread. Ferrer sets out three different frameworks that all require different modes of communication and collaboration:
You’ve probably seen memes about meetings that could have been emails — maybe you’ve even shared them with your coworkers. The reality is, many meetings were unnecessary in person and are just as nonessential now that they have been moved onto Teams or Zoom. But some tasks like group brainstorming, strategic planning, and performance reviews require synchronous work, even if it’s a video call instead of an in-person meeting.
This type of communication is when a two-way exchange of information is necessary, but not at the same time. Ferrer sees transparency as the key to successful asynchronous collaboration:
“Messages are made accessible to all by sharing openly across tools, channels, tasks and projects. For organizations that see the value transparency has on overall success, the vast majority of asynchronous communication often falls into this category.”
Any message that doesn’t necessarily require a response, like a status update or an FYI, falls into the category of independent asynchronous communication. Rather than having a status update meeting, team members can simply share their accomplishments during an established time window. This is especially helpful for teams working across time zones. So think of this type of asynchronous work as shouting into the void, but in a good way.
It’s critical for your workforce to be able to quickly distinguish between messages they need to read and respond to ASAP and communications that can wait. Ferrer encourages the companies she works with to formalize their expectations:
“Organizations need to set and articulate clear expectations in employee handbooks and communication charters that give workers structure for response time on various types of messages, so they can better self-manage their time, tasks, and energy.”
It can take some time for an entire workforce to get up to speed on what’s expected of them in an asynchronous work environment. However, once teams and individual employees feel comfortable with asynchronous communication they’re able to be more productive — as well as happier.
Ferrer highlights the benefits that can be gained by moving away from real-time communication as the “default:”
“Teams that differentiate and navigate between using asynchronous and synchronous communication instead of defaulting to real-time connectivity, have success in increasing productivity, and wellbeing in a remote environment. With some creativity, intention, and dedication, organizations are often surprised at how much synchronous work can effectively be replaced with asynchronous communication and collaboration, leading to happier, more productive teams that experience higher quality synchronous time together than ever before, no matter where they are located.”
It’s not surprising that many of Ferrer’s clients find their employees are happier when a company embraces asynchronous work. Giving workers flexibility lets them prioritize their time, as well as experience greater freedom and better work-life balance. Many fully remote workers also benefit from the option to work from anywhere – something we’re quite fond of here at Blueground.
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