September 2021 marked our 4th birthday at Workplaceless, and we hosted our final Networkplaceless event focused on async vs sync communication. While some news outlets represent remote work as a passing trend with an end in sight, savvy organizations are not only embracing remote and hybrid work, but empowering flexibility by shifting to async-first practices.
Since async-first work habits save time, reduce interruptions, increase autonomy, prevent burnout, reduce micromanagement, and combat inequity, we spent the majority of the session targeting attendee pain points and brainstorming solutions that leverage strategic use of synchronous communication and emphasize async. In fact, 100% of attendees expressed a desire to shift toward async-first communication to help solve some of their challenges.
Common struggles include:
Attending Too Many Video Meetings and Zoom Fatigue
Zoom fatigue first entered our work vocabulary over a year ago. Employees continue to express high levels of fatigue, though companies have yet to implement effective solutions.
- Rethink video meetings. Start small. Consider whether all of those recurring meetings need to be video conversations. We hear frequently from teams who rely on daily synchronous standups to stay connected. Do these truly need to be synchronous? Doist and our team at Workplaceless share examples of how to achieve the same objective via async tools. Reference our Placeless Taxonomy to start shifting away from meetings if your meeting goal sits at the bottom of the pyramid.
- Shorten video components. Leverage effective practices for blended meetings by including a structured agenda and asynchronous prework to keep the sync portion short.
- Limit the number of sync Zoom meetings in a day or per week, as well as the length of meetings. For example, a team may commit to no more than 3 hours of sync meeting time on a given day, and keep meetings to 25 minutes or 50 minutes.
- Turn off cameras. Give people the space to protect their mental health by permitting cameras off for particular meetings. Take breaks. Try tools like Spot that encourage walking meetings and getting away from the computer.
Wasting Time Trying to Find Information
Image Source: Microsoft The Work Trend Index
Information overload is real. Because there’s more information shared in more places than ever before, finding the information you need is often challenging. It’s a frustratingly common experience to know a decision has been made or that the information exists, but to have to spend time searching through multiple communication channels to find it. You may even pull in additional team members, taking up their time to find the answer.
- Consolidate all information related to a specific project in a “Single Source of Truth” (SSoT). This may be as simple as a doc or sheet containing all links and references to a specific topic, or a more complex series of summary documents, tasks, Standard Operating Procedures, or project details within a project management tool. Use a template or consistent structure for each type of SSoT, and assign owner(s) to routinely update to ensure they are organized and concise.
- Build a Communication Charter. A Communication Charter can help your team align on not only how to communicate with each other but where to communicate. Therefore, making it easier for everyone to find communications, information, and documentation.
Feeling the Need to Respond to Everything ASAP
A new study suggests that “receivers overestimate how quickly senders expect responses to non-urgent work emails.” The study goes on further to highlight the stress that this can cause the receiver, perhaps unknowingly by the sender. So how do you break free of urgency bias?
- Set expectations. Again, this can be a critical component of a team Communication Charter. However, you can also manage availability expectations via signaling in your communication tool that you are focused on deep work, have signed off for the day, etc.
- Clarify expectations. If timing for a response is unclear, ask. Or reply and clarify that you’ve received the message, but will get back to them on a timeline that works for you.
- Be intentionally slow. Ali Greene of Oyster HR shared this approach during our Networkplaceless conversation. She purposefully chooses not to respond immediately, if no expectations are set about response time. When she does respond—in a timeframe that works for her—she doesn’t apologize for the timing.
Getting Interrupted While in the Flow of Work
“Workers are interrupted every 11 minutes—and only resume their interrupted tasks after 25 minutes.“ Without boundaries for managing interruptions, this can add up to 2–4 hours per working day lost to interruptions.
- Assess the source of the interruptions. Different types of interruptions affect each employee. Some are distractions and some are requests from clients or colleagues. The solution will depend upon the source.
- Turn off notifications. The appearance of little red dots or bold lettering easily pull professionals out of their deep work flows. Turning these off or signing out of distracting platforms immediately minimizes those interruptions during those time blocks.
- Allocate time to respond. Networkplacelss attendees, in leadership and junior positions alike, expressed wanting to be available to colleagues. Instead of being always available, openly share the times when you plan to be available. Ensure this time aligns with the needs of your colleagues as well.
Feeling Disconnected from the Team
Isolation is a challenge for remote workers especially, and active steps need to be taken as an individual and a team to prevent it. However, the solution can be a viscous cycle for remote teams, because there’s a temptation to increase video meetings, which can circle back to the original challenge of Zoom fatigue challenge highlighted earlier.
- Personalize your approach. Ask your team how much sync time they individually prefer and need to feel supported and engaged. All parties can benefit from conversations that include self-disclosure, discussion of blockers or challenges, emotion or energy check-ins, storytelling, humor, and even venting. Be mindful to increase the types of interactions that energize colleagues.
- Build connectivity into async. Inspired by our async “Let’s Play” team retreat, we reinforce our value of playfulness at Workplaceless with a Slack channel that’s completely dedicated to playing games with one another. Other teams have dedicated channels for specific interest areas where team members can deepen relationships by connecting on topics of shared interest. Ideas could include a wide range of interests: books, sports, travel, sustainability, etc.
Async is not a one-size-fits all solution. It takes learning, balance, commitment, and practice.