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Dovile Miseviciute
Dovile Miseviciute

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Is Asynchronous the New Way to Go?

We have been through quite a few changes in recent years when it comes to organization and management of work. First, most had to find new ways to work from home, then others struggled when having to come back to the office.

With all this commotion going around, we have witnessed a rise in one term that has not been widely used before - asynchronous. Thus, I wanted to explore whether this new trend is here to stay or will it fade away as we sort out our working procedures once again.

What is asynchronous work?

To begin this discussion, let's have a brief refresher on what the term asynchronous means in the context of work or collaboration. In this context, there are two ways of working - synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous is when the whole team is working using the same schedule. A good example of this is a traditional office where everyone begins work at 9 and finishes at 6. In this type of scenario, it is easy to communicate with colleagues and collaborate as everyone is on at the same time.

Asynchronous talks about each team member being able to choose when they prefer to work. This means there is no predefined time for you to work instead you can do so depending on your schedule, time zone, and other factors. While this is great on a personal level, it can bring certain difficulties for collaboration, especially when there are limited processes in place to help regulate the team.

What are the benefits of asynchronous

So, as synchronous work seems to be much more preferable on the organizational side of things, why are we witnessing a rise in the asynchronous approach? Well, the biggest contributor to this has to be the shift to remote or hybrid work approaches that require a certain level of flexibility. Here, the asynchronous practices help set up a system in which the whole team can thrive.
Let's look at those practices in more detail.

In general, asynchronous says that the team is not coordinating in terms of the time each team member works. However, in most work environments this cannot be applied blindly. And in fact, the asynchronous approach tends to work best when there are certain guidelines in place. Here are some we practice in Teamhood to ensure we maintain the communication lines open.

  1. Weekly check-ins Our team is fully remote which means we could go without talking for days. Thus, to ensure the whole team is up to what is happening we hold a weekly check-in meeting to see what each department is working on and to report on progress.

While this may seem just like another progress meeting, it has a different purpose. Here we aim to briefly discuss what is the main focus of each team for the week so that others can stay in the loop. To make this as pain-free as possible, this meeting usually lasts just 15-20 minutes.

  1. Expected response times
    Another important factor in asynchronous work is ensuring there are certain spoken or unspoken rules about when are you expected to respond. These usually differ depending on the communication channel.
    For example:

  2. For a quick answer, I would go on and type up an instant message.

  3. For something more complex or in cases I could wait a full day for the answer, I would leave a comment in the task details (in the task management system).

  4. For a brainstorming session or a discussion, I would actually consider leaving asynchronous behind and holding a more productive session in person.

Defining the expected response times on the company or team level allows you to manage your expectations accordingly and use the correct communication channels depending on urgency.

  1. Live sessions Lastly, being asynchronous first does not mean you have to forgo meeting in person altogether. These meetings will be rare and far between, but having them is great for team morale and a sense of increased productivity.

In the case of our team, we chose to schedule such meetings for bigger brainstorming sessions and discussions. And in the case of anything longer than 2 hours, we meet in person instead of scheduling an online meeting. This gives us a space to not only complete the task at hand more efficiently, but also catch up with other team members we might not have spoken to in a while

What are the possible downfalls?

Asynchronous work surely brings quite a few benefits to those using the remote or hybrid working approach. At the same time, it requires some maturity from the team. Especially for those going from working together in the office to this approach.

You have to get used to the longer response times, get accustomed to planning your personal work accordingly, and get in a habit of reporting your progress in a way that allows other team members to stay in the loop. These are not difficult tasks, but you have to give your team some time to get used to the new processes and master them.

If you feel that the team is too set in the old ways or that management will not approve of this change, asynchronous might not be the right fit for you at the moment.

Example of asynchronous work tooling

Another thing to consider when switching to asynchronous work is tooling. If you are already working remotely, you most likely have everything needed. However, it is always a good idea to revisit what you main need before taking the plunge.

The basic list can be compiled out of an instant messaging solution, a visual Kanban board, and an online meetings app. Everything else will greatly depend on your process and work specifics.
Here are some free asynchronous work solutions you may like.

Final thoughts

So, is asynchronous the new way to go? It seems the answer is not definitive at this point.
For some, it will be a no-brainer, as a way to improve their remote or hybrid team communication and work practices. And for others, it will prove to be an additional thing to do that does not yield the desired results.

However, most of us would certainly benefit from including just a few simple asynchronous practices in the workday. Such as getting fewer notifications or not feeling the urge to answer every email as soon as it comes in would definitely improve the workflow and productivity. Thus, if I may say, asynchronous is here to stay. As it will most likely be applied in one form or another by quite a few professionals in the coming years.

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