Is your organisation one of the thousands that have made the switch to remote work over the past few years? If so, you’ll know that this way of working has its challenges.
But you may be making things more difficult for yourself if you haven’t adapted your work practices for the remote or hybrid world.
The fact is, the way we communicate and collaborate with our colleagues when we’re all in the same room simply doesn’t work when we’re miles apart.
That doesn’t mean that effective communication isn’t possible in a remote organisation — just that you need the right tools, processes and systems in place to make it work.
Asynchronous work is a way of working that doesn’t require everyone to be at work at the same time. And when it’s done right, it can improve productivity, boost retention and lay the groundwork for successful, fruitful collaboration.
Interested? Read on for our full guide to asynchronous work — and why you should be doing it.
What is asynchronous work?
Asynchronous (async) work is a way of working that doesn’t require employees to be online at the same time as each other.
In async organisations, employees are not expected to respond to messages immediately or attend meetings in real time.
Instead, these companies develop systems and processes that allow everyone to work together at the time that best suits them.
This way of working is well-suited to global organisations where employees need to work together from different countries, and even across time zones.
4 benefits of asynchronous work
Thinking about implementing asynchronous work practices in your workplace? Here are some of the reasons it could be a good idea.
1. Allows for collaboration, even across borders
One of the biggest advantages of asynchronous communication is that it doesn’t matter where your employees are.
Because there’s no requirement for them to attend live meetings or respond to messages straight away, it’s easy for employees to collaborate — even from different time zones.
And this doesn’t just affect huge enterprises with offices around the world. It also opens the door for smaller remote-first companies to hire the best employees, regardless of their location.
2. Promotes autonomy and independence
Employees who work asynchronously can’t always ask their colleagues for help if they have a problem.
This means they need to develop skills like problem-solving and decision-making.
Ultimately, this can result in high-performing employees who are more able to work independently.
Plus, asynchronous work practices require managers to trust their employees to do their work. This helps employees to feel valued, and creates a general culture of trust in the workplace.
3. Enhances team productivity
When teams use synchronous (traditional) communication methods, this can result in a lot of interruptions — which can get in the way of productivity.
With asynchronous work, employees are free to engage in periods of deep work without being interrupted by a constant stream of Slack notifications, emails and phone calls. Naturally, this can have a huge effect on productivity.
Asynchronous work also involves creating more efficient processes. For example, employees are often prevented from completing tasks because they’re waiting for a colleague to finish their part.
When these bottlenecks are removed, teams can often complete projects more quickly.
4. Provides true flexibility (and helps with retention)
In traditional work environments, employees are usually expected to attend meetings at certain times and respond to messages promptly within standard working hours. This means that without asynchronous work, truly flexible scheduling is impossible.
But according to a survey from October 2022, 94% of employees want flexibility in their work schedule — even more than the 80% who said they wanted flexibility on location.
This means that adopting asynchronous work practices (and the flexibility this allows for) could be an important retention tool.
The challenges of asynchronous work (and how to overcome them)
Like any new way of working, asynchronous work takes time to get used to. It also comes with certain challenges, which you should be aware of before adopting any new practices in your organisation.
Increased pressure and blurred boundaries
According to a survey by Indeed in 2021, 61% of remote employees said they found it harder to “unplug” than they did before the pandemic.
This can be exacerbated by asynchronous working practices, which further blur the boundary between work and home time.
To combat this, organisations that are serious about asynchronous work should provide training for managers, stressing that employees are not expected to respond to messages immediately.
Leadership should also encourage employees to switch off all notifications outside of their working hours — and lead by example!
Risk of misunderstandings and disconnection
A survey of UK remote workers by L&D platform HowNow found that 67% felt disconnected from their organisation.
And this can be even more pronounced in asynchronous work environments because employees don’t even get the minimum level of interaction with their coworkers that many people get from online meetings.
At the same time, messages can easily be lost or misinterpreted when they’re sent through email or online chat. And with async work, there’s no opportunity to clarify what someone meant with a quick phone call or direct message.
To resolve both of these problems, you might want to consider using real-time meetings or communications in certain situations, even when your organisation is mostly asynchronous.
For example, tough conversations such as when firing or disciplining an employee should always be done in real-time.
Although it might sound strange to suggest using synchronous communication in an article about the benefits of async work, remember that it’s not an all-or-nothing situation.
A traditional organisation can’t be transformed into an asynchronous one overnight — and knowing which communications should be done in real time can help you to successfully implement async practices without alienating your employees.
Fewer opportunities for organic collaboration and connection
In a traditional organisation, “water cooler” conversations that take place naturally in the office often provide opportunities for collaboration between colleagues.
And even in remote or remote-first companies, internal communications platforms can be used to create a sort of virtual water cooler that serves the same purpose.
However, when you’re working asynchronously, these opportunities for collective brainstorming, collaboration and creativity can be few and far between.
To counter this, consider investing in tools that allow employees to collaborate at a distance without the need for real-time, instant communications.
For example, an employee intranet or communications platform with the functionality for polls and surveys can allow employees to share their ideas, wherever (and whenever) they’re working.
Our tips for getting started with asynchronous work
As we’ve discussed, asynchronous work can have some big benefits. If you’re thinking about implementing it where you work, here are a few tips to help you get started.
Set up strict systems and processes
If you’re serious about asynchronous work, you’ll need to totally transform your processes. To get started, think through your current workflows and determine whether any parts could be eliminated.
You should also evaluate which tasks could be done simultaneously. This avoids situations where employees are stuck waiting for a colleague to finish their part of a job.
You may also need to invest in tech tools that allow your team to collaborate effectively. A good example is Google Workspace, which colleagues can use to work together on documents and files without wasting time going back and forth by email or waiting for feedback.
Replace meetings with better solutions
If you want to transition towards asynchronous work, then getting rid of as many meetings as possible is a good place to start.
To begin with, make a list of all the meetings you regularly hold, and evaluate whether the same objectives could be achieved through asynchronous communications.
For example, meetings whose primary purpose is for management to share information could be replaced by an informational video or blog post that’s distributed for employees to consume in their own time.
You should also consider whether every attendee actually needs to attend any meetings you decide to keep.
If they could get the same benefits by watching a recording, there’s probably no point in requiring them to attend.
Decide on a method for urgent communications
Even in an organisation that uses asynchronous communication, there may be times when you need to get an urgent message out and know that it’s been received.
Before making the switch to async communications, make sure you determine the medium you’ll use for these urgent or crisis communications.
For example, some remote asynchronous companies have an “urgent” Slack channel. Employees keep notifications for this channel switched on, even when everything else is disabled.
Another option is to use calls to personal phones for urgent comms (and only when it’s urgent).
Compliantly manage your remote team
Asynchronous work practices open the door for any organisation to hire talent according to who’s best for the role, not where they’re located.
Since they won’t be expected to attend live meetings or respond to messages immediately, it doesn’t matter if your employees are in London, New York or Tokyo — they’ll be able to work together just as effectively.
But effective collaboration is not the only consideration when it comes to hiring international employees. You also need to think about how you’ll compliantly and legally hire and pay them — or you could find yourself in hot water.
To make this easier on yourself, consider partnering with a global hiring expert like CXC Global. We can help you to hire employees wherever you like — without worrying about the legal side of things.
Want to learn more? Get in touch to chat with a member of our team.
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