As more companies implement flexible work arrangements for employees, teams are becoming more distributed, meaning a growing number of team members are working in different locations and following different schedules. The more distributed a team, the less its members can rely on synchronous communication methods like in-person or virtual meetings to accomplish their work. Yet adopting async-first practices can be overwhelming. To get started, teams can use the Placeless Taxonomy as a simple framework for adopting more asynchronous communication practices.
We first shared the Placeless Taxonomy in our post about balancing sync and async communication. In this post, we’ll do a deep dive into the Placeless Taxonomy and how teams can use it to understand the best starting point for adopting more asynchronous practices.
What is the Placeless Taxonomy?
The Placeless Taxonomy is a classification system for the different types of communication tasks, organized by how difficult they are to achieve asynchronously. Workplaceless developed the Placeless Taxonomy in order to drive awareness of the types of communication that take place in teams and the best methods to accomplish them.
What is the Purpose of the Placeless Taxonomy?
The primary purpose of the Placeless Taxonomy is to support the adoption of more asynchronous practices in teams by helping to categorize types of communication.
As preparation for adopting async-first practices, teams first need to identify how they currently spend their time. After doing so, they can use the Placeless Taxonomy to identify which tasks can be easily converted to async, such as sharing information, and then gradually work up the pyramid as they develop their async skills and habits.
As they eliminate any meetings that were spent on the lower levels of the Taxonomy, team members will have more time to focus on deep work while reserving synchronous time for higher order tasks such as innovating and connecting.
Using the Placeless Taxonomy: Matching Communication Goals with the Right Channels
One way to think about the levels of the Placeless Taxonomy is to ask: How concrete is the desired outcome? The more specific, concrete, and measurable the outcome, the easier a task is to complete asynchronously.
Here are the levels, in order from least difficult to most difficult to achieve asynchronously:
Outcome: Sharing information or a message
Communication to inform is the easiest type to achieve asynchronously. Instead of sharing updates in a synchronous meeting, information and updates can be shared in writing via email or a shared document, or using audio or video, such as a Loom recording.
Outcome: Completion of a task or project
For the purposes of this framework, collaborating means completing a predetermined task with at least one other person. This is the second easiest type of communication to achieve asynchronously because expectations for the result of this task completion already exist. For example, your team might be responsible for writing a proposal or report. While some parts of collaboration might benefit from synchronous communication, many parts could be completed asynchronously: assigning sections, generating input, writing portions or complete drafts, and providing feedback.
Outcome: Solution to a problem
Solving problems involves determining causes or contributors to a problem and then determining and implementing a solution. Problem-solving is best achieved asynchronously when there is clear ownership of the problem and there are resources available to solve it. For example, if documentation exists for recurring issues, anyone within an organization could follow the steps outlined.
Outcome: New idea(s)
While many believe that creativity is best achieved in synchronous meetings, that is not always the case. Many people need time and space alone to generate new ideas, which makes this part of the creation process ideal for async approaches. Sharing ideas and feedback can also be accomplished asynchronously with collaboration tools like Google Docs and Mural.
Outcome: A decision
Decision-making is a complex process that includes defining the decision to be made, identifying and prioritizing criteria, sourcing options, influencing stakeholders, gaining consensus, and taking action. Because of its complexity, decisions are often made in synchronous meetings, without much thought to the different components of making a decision—many of which can be accomplished asynchronously.
Outcome: Creation of something new based on a concept
Turning a brand new concept into reality is even more complex than decision-making.However, when broken into individual phases or parts, portions of the innovation process can be accomplished asynchronously.Creating new ideas, providing feedback, defining tasks or projects, and even collaborating to complete them can all be done async with a little preparation and structure.
Outcome: Building trust
Developing deep connections with other people is the hardest task to accomplish asynchronously. You can absolutely develop connections async using tools such as messaging and social media. But to build trust and psychological safety, resolve conflicts, and develop social capital within and outside of your team—these goals require synchronous events like phone calls, video meetings, or face-to-face time.
How Can You Use the Placeless Taxonomy?
Everyone (Individual Contributors and Leaders)
Everyone can use the Placeless Taxonomy to audit their own calendars and tasks to determine which of these can be converted to async.
Depending on your role within your organization, you might then suggest or implement changes that go beyond your own calendar.
When scheduling meetings, use the Placeless Taxonomy to help determine whether a meeting is actually necessary, or if another communication method could accomplish the same outcome. For example, if the purpose of a meeting is to share information, an asynchronous method of communication could easily accomplish that.
Share the Job Aid with your manager and colleagues to start a discussion about how you can adopt more asynchronous practices.
Create structured guidelines for teams showing which types of tasks should be completed synchronously and which should be completed asynchronously.
Adjust recurring update meetings or check-ins to asynchronous methods.
Get the job aid and share with your team.
Enroll in Async at Work
Want more guidance on how to use the Placeless Taxonomy and adopt async-first practices? Enroll in our Async at Work course to get step-by-step guidance on how to audit your calendar, convert tasks to async, and set boundaries for effective async-first communication.