Shifting to Async Work: Which Roles Are the Hardest?

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Contents

Incorporating async work is a critical component of successfully adapting to the future of work. Asynchronous communication helps teams save time, increase productivity, reduce burnout, and empower autonomy—just to name a few important benefits. However, the ease of shifting to async-first best practices can vary based on an individual’s role within an organization. The Placeless Taxonomy provides a framework for selecting synchronous and asynchronous communication channels depending on the goal of the work tasks. However, this communication hierarchy can also address how async communication affects various professional roles.

Below we outline the types of roles that can be harder to shift to async-first work.

What roles are hardest for async work?

 

Executives

Executive-level professionals may find it more challenging to shift to async work practices for a combination of reasons. First, in many cases executives have been working in corporate or professional fields since well before the rapid rise of remote work. Therefore, attitudes and behaviors about getting work done in an office and during meetings may be more ingrained and more challenging to change. Second, building and fostering connections are critical to the strategic roles of executives. Turning ideas into action plans  involves building upon multiple perspectives and viewpoints, often via dialogue and conversations. It can be challenging to build the levels of trust that are needed to generate buy-in from stakeholders and influence change when working across distance. Negotiations include debates and active brainstorms on solutions. These are just a few examples of the executive role responsibilities that can best be solved via sync communication. 

New Hires

Job satisfaction and performance are heavily influenced by relationships at work. Additionally, social capital is a critical component in remote career development. When an individual first joins an organization, they’ve likely had initial conversations with a handful of colleagues via the interview process. However, to succeed in their role and career growth, these professionals need to invest time in networking and building broader connections within the organization. This relationship-building doesn’t happen overnight, nor always through work tasks, but rather through 1:1 conversations, team-building activities, or casual moments of dialogue. Some of these activities can be done async, but some necessitate sync time. 

Client-Facing Roles

Sales, business development, customer experience, and partnership roles all involve cultivating relationships with stakeholders. Customer trust is built through the product or service you provide, but also through the people who guide and support clients in their experience. This often involves having personal, live, even if virtual, interactions within the client-vendor relationship. The client knows whom to turn to for honest answers and problem-solving when questions or issues arise. 

Culture-Building Roles

Professionals working in departments like Human Resources or People Operations need to be connected with the employees they support. It is much harder to understand an employee’s career path or to resolve conflicts via async communication. Often these situations necessitate having first established trust with employees, and then uncovering nuances of information via direct conversations. Fostering and transforming culture, both of which HR and People Ops professionals are champions, require a deep understanding and connection with employees.

The underlying theme for all of these roles is the challenge of building connectivity via async work. Doing so isn’t impossible, and there are a variety of practices and tools to get closer to achieving connections via async communication.

How can professionals in these roles effectively adopt async work practices?

 

1. Adopt and Promote a Placeless Mindset

A Placeless Mindset is a keen understanding that our lives, and therefore our work, are not rooted in a singular place, but rather require flexibility in location and communication in order to balance multiple goals and priorities.” 

Without accepting this foundational mentality, you will continue to experience roadblocks in your shift to async-first work.

2. Try Async For the Least Difficult Tasks First

Our Placeless Taxonomy organizes work tasks based on their difficulty to achieve asynchronously. Consider dipping your toes into async work by focusing on the “Informing” and “Collaborating” categories first. Try sharing updates or information via a video instead of hosting a meeting. Or experiment with collaborating asynchronously by conducting a online brainstorm via virtual whiteboard tools, like MURAL or Miro.

3. Build a Baseline of Connectivity via Sync Conversations

Start building relationships via sync channels. For example, when you first start at a company, set up 1:1 conversations to get to know your colleagues and teammates. Look for mentors and sponsors in your professional development. Attend sync team building events. Use that foundation of connection to add-on async moments of connectivity. For example, share a weekend experience in Slack, or follow-up with a colleague about something they mentioned during a 1:1 conversation.

4. Shift to Blended Meetings

Sync meetings will continue to play a role in how work gets done. However, there is a tremendous opportunity to be more respectful and effective with people’s sync time. Embracing a blended approach to meetings will help.

5. Learn and Build the Skills to Activate Async-First Moments

The shift to asynchronous work will not happen immediately. Learning to uncover the opportunities where async work could be most effective is a skill and practice that needs to be developed. 

Successfully shifting to and benefiting from async work doesn’t mean eliminating sync work all together. It’s about finding the right balance between sync and async communication that works for the task, the role, and the team.

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Jacqueline Zeller

Jacqueline Zeller

Motivated by her own career path working on flexible, hybrid, and fully remote teams since 2011, Zeller advocates for effective remote work that creates opportunities. She advances the Workplaceless mission by creating content and fostering connections that help professionals and companies make remote work productive, healthy, and sustainable. Follow her on LinkedIn.
Motivated by her own career path working on flexible, hybrid, and fully remote teams since 2011, Zeller advocates for effective remote work that creates opportunities. She advances the Workplaceless mission by creating content and fostering connections that help professionals and companies make remote work productive, healthy, and sustainable. Follow her on LinkedIn.
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