Work 10x Smarter With One Magic Word: Asynchronicity
What most companies call "remote work" is actually just a new name for all the bad stuff that used to happen in offices. Back-to-back meetings, constant availability, and endless interruptions. Fortunately, there is a simple solution to that—it's called asynchronicity.
Chances are you've heard of asynchronous work. But what exactly is it? What are the benefits? How can you use it to be more productive and get more done? How exactly does one "sync" anyway?
We'll answer all those questions below so that you can bring your (remote) work to the next level.
What is asynchronous work?
Asynchronous work means that you collaborate with others without the need to be in the same place at the same time. It is not dependent on real-time collaboration and communication.
Asynchronous work allows team members to maximize their own productivity without waiting for others to be available. It relies heavily on documentation, transparency, trust, and autonomy.
By contrast, synchronous work requires everyone to work on the same thing simultaneously (think meetings or calls). Synchronous work takes up more space in people's days because they're always keeping track of what everyone else is doing. Most of you reading this have likely had to do this type of work environment remotely at some point in the last few years.
Having a lot of synchronous communication between team members—whether through meetings or during calls—can slow down progress and make everyone feel like they're constantly being interrupted.
Employees in an asynchronous setup can decide for themselves when they work on what. They can easily decide to do some focused work in the morning, enjoy a kite surf session after lunch (availability may vary), and then get back to some more work tasks.
In a synchronous work environment, employees can't decide how to organize their own workday because they are expected to be available and in touch with their colleagues at certain times.
I certainly know what I prefer.
What are the benefits of asynchronous work?
As it turns out, asynchronous work has quite a few benefits. For example:
- Better time management: Since team members can decide for themselves when they work on certain activities, it allows them to optimize their time much better rather than being dependent on other people's calendars.
- Better focus: In an asynchronous work environment, there are fewer (or no) interruptions. This environment allows for better concentration and more opportunities for deep work.
- Better communication and collaboration: This might sound contradictory, but many teams actually see improved communication and collaboration by not being in meetings and calls all day. Asynchronous work depends heavily on written forms of communication, and many teams say they benefit from writing down their thoughts and ideas. Plus, knowing that someone won't respond immediately will force you to write a more compelling email than if you are chatting in real-time.
- More flexibility: When you're not dependent on real-time communication, you automatically have more flexibility and control over when you do things. This allows for a better balance between work and other aspects of life (i.e., literally everything else that is not work).
How to work asynchronously
Figuring out how to move from synchronous work to asynchronous work is one of the most important things you can do to boost productivity and motivation in your team. Let's explore some tips on how to get there.
Focus on results
Focusing on results and goals is vitally important to making asynchronous work a success. It's important to have clarity around who's working on what by when. This allows team members who are dependent on other's inputs to organize their own work when it best suits them.
Tools such as Basecamp, Asana or Trello come in very handy here.
Focus on writing
Since meetings are mostly avoided in an asynchronous work environment, writing becomes more important. It's the primary way to update others on your progress or to invite them to pick up your work and move it to the next phase. Writing with clarity becomes an important skill as you want to avoid too much back and forth communication (as much as we all love it, right?).
Focus on documentation
To make it possible for people to work independently of time, it's an absolute must to ensure proper documentation. Make sure that you document important processes, work flows, decisions and goals. On top of that, make sure that everyone can easily track progress.
Tools that can support this are Notion, Google Drive or OneDrive.
Focus on transparency
It's impossible for people to collaborate with others asynchronously if there's no information sharing. Therefore, make sure people can find whatever it is they need to do their job. Create transparency around goals, tasks, performance, progress, communication, documents and financials.
Think of introducing shared documents, open communication and an open-by-default philosophy.
However, the one thing you want to avoid transparency on is availability status. Tracking when someone is available ignores all the good stuff of asynchronous work. Turn it off! It's better to remain a mystery. You are merely an invisible digital entity who swoops in at random times of the day to turn things in or respond to a message. Or send a timely GIF.
Control your urge(s)
This one is probably the hardest of all. Try to control your urge to work synchronously. Don't interrupt others. Stop bringing people together in meetings. Avoid constantly checking your email. Prioritize messaging over calls. Steer clear of real-time chat. Respect interruption-free work slots.
No, it's not easy, but it's certainly worth your while. And everyone else's.
Asynchronous work is a great way to improve your productivity, motivation and the quality of your work. But it's not easy—it requires a completely different philosophy to work.
Still, if you truly want to leverage the opportunity of work that the 21st century offers us, give it a solid try. You won't be disappointed.