Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 45 seconds
Jamar is in the flow of work when a notification pops up that he’s received a new email from his manager. Even though he’s extremely focused, he steps out of his workflow to respond. His manager has asked him to connect with finance to confirm a budget number, but doesn’t specify a timeline. Jamar wants to prove his worth so he picks up the phone to call his finance colleague, Chantel. When Chantel answers, Jamar expresses an urgency to his request and he waits on the line while Chantel stops her work to dig through reports to find what he needs. After finishing the call and sending his manager a response, Jamar realizes he needs to head to a meeting, and won’t be able to finish up his original project work like he intended.
This scenario of regular demands on synchronous time plague many workforces today. Employees experience non-stop phone calls, messages from coworkers expecting a speedy response, and back-to-back meetings simply because synchronous communication is a habit by default—not because it's good for workers or for work. Employees need time to connect, time to process, time to reflect, and time to deliver.
While synchronous connection serves a purpose on every team, if you want to be effective in remote and hybrid teams, you must learn to leverage asynchronous communication and collaboration. Yet, leaders and individual contributors alike cite asynchronous communication as one of the biggest hurdles to widespread remote effectiveness in their organizations.
Asynchronous communication and collaboration can positively impact your team in the following ways:
According to the Future of Meetings Report, the average manager and director spend at least 16 hours per week in meetings, and the average individual contributor spends 8 hours per week in meetings.
Think about your recent sync meetings. How much time was spent:
Meetings without a specifically synchronous purpose are inherently inefficient. You can get this inefficient time back by shifting towards async information flow.
It can take 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption. With a shift to asynchronous messaging, the individual is in control of when to receive notifications, when and how to respond, and how much time to dedicate to the response. Synchronous meetings and conversations have more than one person influencing the length and timing.
Focused “deep work” means you’re completing tasks that will have value and impact. You’re working towards your goals. Deep work is focused work that you accomplish in a distraction-free environment. When teams shift to async communication and are able to reduce interruptions, individuals can work more efficiently and effectively, and have time for creative ideas and complex problem solving.
Asynchronous communication enables autonomous work, meaning employees can get work done at different times, across time zones, with flexible schedules.
A hallmark of asynchronous communication is documentation. Accessible, transparent information means that you don't have to be reliant on other people's time to get the information you need, and vice versa. Think of a world where you’re not waiting around for responses and information, but rather information is organized and at your fingertips to complete your goal.
Since remote and hybrid teams members often work flexible schedules and on different days or time zones, they establish and communicate boundaries.
When teams shift to async work, each professional learns the skills needed to effectively self-manage and takes control of their schedule and timing of work tasks. Employees manage their own reactivity to problems by researching solutions independently before contacting a colleague. The focus is placed on output and results, as long as there is transparent communication and trust with employees. Teams rely on task ownership and self-management, not tracking people’s time to ensure work is completed.
Ineffective remote and hybrid teams suffer from high levels of burnout, primarily due to overworking and not practicing async communication. Beyond the hours workers save by not attending meetings, shifting to asynchronous work processes helps professionals manage reactivity at work. When workers are not drained from hours of meetings and interruptions, they have more energy to focus on projects and work tasks, and more free time to balance personal pursuits. And because asynchronous work gives you more space, you won’t feel the need to always be “on.”
Decision-making is a significant obstacle to companies wanting to adopt remote work—they think that you can only make decisions in synchronous meetings. Teams who prioritize async communication and collaboration are proactive, not reactive. Meetings have pre-work, agendas, and are summarized via shared documents or videos, and available for team members to easily access. Messages are thoughtfully responded to with full context. Decisions are made with thoughtful input from relevant parties and are further documented and referenced for access across the team.
When team members document and share updates proactively in team channels or project management tools, managers spend less time checking in on the details of the work. Managers know how projects or tasks are progressing via async channels, which frees up time for managers to foster connections, remove blocks, provide support, and address emotional or mental states of team members.
Differences among team members, ranging from cultural backgrounds, comfort with language, neurodiversity impacting processing and sensory issues, or preferences like introversion can all directly affect an individual’s ability to perform well in a synchronous context. Shifting to async can offer more time, flexibility, and space for individuals to think through and communicate their thoughts.
Hybrid teams have an increased risk of inequitable experiences between in-office and remote team members. Shifting to async-first communication sets a level playing field for all employees regardless of work location.
Additionally, Some team members may struggle with access to quality internet due to sharing bandwidth with family members or roommates, or due to a rural location. Internet access disparity especially impacts people of color and lower-income communities. Async work minimizes the need for higher bandwidth, and instead relies on lower bandwidth tasks, which increase inclusion.
Shifting work to asynchronous processes saves time and increases productivity, thereby saving your company money. Our Workplaceless team can help you calculate just how much your organization will save by switching to and integrating asynchronous communication practices.
Professionals understand they need to work asynchronously, but don’t know how, and don’t know how to get others to embrace it.