A worker is async if they are not working at the same time as their team members. They might be working on a different schedule, working from a different location, or both. There are several benefits to async remote work: workers can collaborate across multiple time zones, and the increased flexibility can improve work-life balance along with employee retention. Shifting to async communication practices can specifically help teams overcome common work challenges.
Despite the benefits, async remote work adoption can be slow across teams. There are several reasons for this:
Deference to leadership or individual preferences for sync
In some cases, team members or employees understand the benefits of async remote work, but ultimately defer to the preferences of their leadership or colleagues for sync work. When one person is open to collaborating async and the other prefers a sync conversation, the individual with the most organizational power often wins out—and unfortunately, executives at the highest level often have the hardest time shifting to async-first. This leaves teams at a bit of a stand-still. And if colleagues are not on the same page about when and how to use async-first approaches, frustration quickly builds, calendars remain overscheduled, and professionals continue to be overworked.
Lack of awareness of collaboration strategies beyond meetings
Many professionals are not even aware of the different async communication and collaboration strategies that are available to them. Even during the rapid shift to remote work in 2020, many teams missed the opportunity to embrace async work. Instead, they tried to replicate traditional in-office meeting behaviors in a virtual way. This tendency is reflected in a Microsoft study showing a 252% increase in weekly time spent in meetings since February 2020. Fortunately, async-first approaches offer many ways to communicate and collaborate outside of calls and virtual meetings. Collaboration can occur via virtual brainstorming, shared documents, and recorded video technology. By eliminating and reducing the time spent in meetings, professionals have more time in their schedules to accomplish deep work.
Difficulty shifting work culture and mindset: old sync habits die hard
Changing the way we work is not easy. Our old habits die hard, and it can be difficult to change our mindset about how work should get done. When teams have relied on synchronous communication and collaboration as the default, it can feel daunting and confusing to adopt new processes to achieve the same results. While sync communication and collaboration can work, relying solely on sync work has negative implications for people’s time and productivity. Shifting to async-first work requires adopting a placeless mindset as a first step. Although it takes time and effort to adjust to async remote work, the benefits far outweigh the challenges.
Disbelief that async remote work will improve business outcomes
Some people do not believe that shifting to async remote work will benefit their team or business performance. They may still think that the best way to get work done is to be in the same room—either virtually or in person—as their team. However, this is not always the case. Async remote work can improve productivity, prevent burnout, and combat hybrid team inequity. Significantly, as employees continue to demand flexibility, companies must embrace and empower async remote work to attract and retain talent or risk being on the losing end of the Great Resignation.
Lack of experience in async remote work: teams don’t have good examples of how to make it work
The main barrier to async remote work adoption across teams is that most people have never worked in an async-first work environment, so they don’t know what to expect or how to be effective. Managers may be hesitant to try async remote work even if they are familiar with the strategies and tools available, because they lack the roadmap for how async remote work strategies can apply to their teams. There needs to be a clear vision for managers from knowledge of the strategies, through team application and practice, and to ultimately the specific positive business impacts.
Even teams that are highly experienced in async remote work, like our own at Workplaceless, can encounter blocks when shifting established processes from sync to async or blended. We recently reevaluated our client onboarding process, and while our Learning Experience team found an opportunity to optimize part of the process with an async workflow that would improve accuracy, the Sales team hesitated. They were concerned with losing relationship building and engagement with a fully async approach. To overcome this disconnect, we looked to an existing internal blended process as an example and examined what steps in this onboarding process could be shifted to async and what should be preserved as sync by outlining the benefits of each. The resulting blended meeting format met both teams’ goals, while alleviating concerns and hesitation.
Reading about async communication is a great place to start, but having specific examples of how to use and model async-first behavior within your own work environment is essential for widespread adoption.
It is important for everyone on the team to be on board with async remote work in order for it to be successful. Leaders need to build the skills to enable async, be aware of the different strategies and tools available, and be willing to experiment with async remote work in order to see how it benefits their team. Teams also need to be willing to make the culture and mindset shifts necessary for async remote work to take hold. With the right mindset, strategies, and tools, async remote work can be a successful way for teams to collaborate.