We have always been governed by our schedules, and our calendars. This carries through from our personal lives, right through to the way we work. We are so used to working synchronously. This means being present in the same place – physically or virtually – at the same time with the rest of our team. The perfect example for purely synchronous communication? Our meetings.
On the flip side, we have asynchronous communication. To put it simply, it’s communication that doesn’t happen in real-time. Async communication allows people to stay in-sync without coordinated schedules, which eliminates the need for synchronous work and meetings. For distributed teams, mastering the art of async workflows is vital. If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it’s that organisations need to remain flexible and agile to succeed. Async communication provides this level of flexibility, autonomy and agility that synchronous communication often doesn’t.
Asynchronous tools are a significant differentiator in a world where remote and hybrid are the new normal. The ability to collaborate on projects across different timezones no doubt gives distributed teams the competitive edge. However, to minimise disconnects, feelings of isolation and awkward meeting times, teams require a more intentional and deliberate approach. Asynchronous work may not be the ultimate goal, but, by being mindful and adopting async workflows when feasible, it creates more opportunities for synchronous moments. By embracing async communication, you are embracing operational efficiency and effectiveness.
To build a solid foundation of asynchronous work, organisations should first establish a standardised method of documentation. GitLab, one of the world’s largest all-remote companies with over 1,300 employees across 65+ countries, emphasised the importance of creating strong documentation.
“At its core, asynchronous communication is documentation”. – Darren Murph, GitLab's Head of Remote
This is especially important for leaders who are trying to replicate the in-office experience remotely. As Betsy Bula, all-remote evangelist at GitLab puts it - “it just doesn’t work”. If you aren’t quite sure where to start, we recommend taking a look at GitLab’s complete Remote Playbook. Betsy also emphasised that it takes both the leaders and their teams to be understanding of each other and embrace the fact that documentation is a process on its own.
By establishing a standardised method of documentation, you are able to collaborate with teammates effectively in a way that doesn’t require both parties to be available – or even awake – at the same time. Otherwise, team members are left to figure out their own methods for communicating asynchronously, creating dissonance and disorganisation.
To enter into the right mindset, we should always ask ourselves: “If no one else is awake, what’s the best way to deliver this message or move this project forward?”. This forces us into a habit of being more mindful and intentional in communicating, rather than giving in to shortcuts and disrupting everyone’s workflows for a “quick meeting” to gather input.
When an atmosphere of working async is enforced, a culture of collaboration and progress is fostered. Removing the bias for synchronicity will lead to teams feeling more motivated to move a project forward as best as they can - given the resources available online. It also means that you are relieved of that pressure to immediately respond if, for example, a colleague (or even your boss) emails you at 2 in the morning. Through the combination of documentation and clear handoffs, we can ensure that the next person is able to pick up right where we left off with minimal difficulty.
Give your team members the agency to move projects forward on a schedule that suits them. This allows them to work at times that suit their schedules, lifestyles and timezones. By championing results, not hours worked, employees naturally eliminate unnecessary back and forth exchanges and feel freer to block off chunks of the day to dedicate to their most meaningful work.
When there's no clock to punch and no one watching you work, you're incentivised to be highly efficient. As Betsy aptly pointed out, “that is the beauty of remote work”. You have the autonomy to figure out what works best for you, when your peak productivity hours are and how you manage your work-life balance.
With everything documented, it leads to far fewer questions, less confusion, and fewer interruptions to enjoy longer, uninterrupted periods of work. Providing employees with this autonomy also leads to incredible commitment and quality of work.
We do recognise that working async sometimes doesn’t convey intentions or ideas very well, or it may take too long to come to a consensus. To achieve maximum efficiency, there needs to be a strategic balance between asynchronous and synchronous work.
Generally, here at Remote Social we use synchronous communication for:
It will no doubt be an uphill battle for organisations to find that calm, asynchronous communication style that works successfully for the entire team. We can, however, pave the way by establishing a standardised method of documentation, reminding the team to prioritise async communication as much as possible, and creating a safe space for employees to allow deeper, more meaningful work.
As a company, Remote Social has always prioritised async communication. Not only did we start the company and product with it in mind, we have also fully embraced it on our hybrid team.
We have recently launched Remote Social Connect – a tool that provides multiple and varied ways for your team to interact and build stronger bonds via Slack. Asynchronously.
Remote Social Connect helps you create opportunities for serendipitous moments with thoughtful prompts and conversation starters. These carefully curated questions were purposefully created to de-stress and recharge individuals quickly and asynchronously.
These conversations will spark connection – making a positive impact on the team!
…and what exactly should you be investing in?
New ways of work require new approaches to help leaders connect with their team.