The ultimate guide to running asynchronous workplaces

This complete guide to asynchronous working covers how to work asynchronously in a remote work environment, the benefits of asynchronous communication, when to use synchronous communication and how to implement asynchronous working in your organization.

We've all been there. There's important work to do, but you also have to go to the dentist and pick up the kids after school. There's plenty of time in the day for all that, but it can't happen all at once – unless you have a very understanding dentist.

Companies have adapted to calls for a better work-life balance by promoting hybrid and remote work. Smart companies have taken the next logical step, fostering an asynchronous work environment. Put simply, workers don't need to all be working during the same hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Asynchronous employees collaborate and communicate on their own time, without expecting to respond immediately to communications. Companies allow employees to respond within a reasonable timeframe, typically a day or so. 

The results are impressive in myriad ways. Spotify found turnover was 15% lower with remote, asynchronous work. The company also found Black and Hispanic employee participation jumped up, and the number of women in the workforce shot up to 42%. The benefits work both ways. Employees get an improved work-life balance because they can choose what times are best for them to work. When done right, the collaboration will improve, and productivity will increase. Employers will enjoy a more stable workforce with lower turnover costs and an agile organization that is forward-thinking and innovative. 

Here is what asynchronous communication looks like, the benefits of running asynchronous meetings, and when you should stick to a synchronous schedule.

What is asynchronous communication?

Companies have always used some form of flexible, asynchronous communication—whether it was a note left on a desk or an email in an inbox. However, until recently, most business communication has been synchronous — reserved for in-person meetings, conference rooms, office walls, and a 9-to-5 schedule. That dynamic has been shifting for years, and accelerated by virtual collaboration technology and the necessities of a global pandemic. 

So what’s the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication? 

Synchronous communication 

Human beings exist in a synchronous world; we are bound by time moving forward one second at a time. However, how we do things (or put things together) has an insane amount of impact on the outcome of our pipeline. It's all about planning. 

Synchronous communication requires employees to be present at the same time. Whether on Zoom, a phone call, or an in-person meeting, employees get together and talk about the issue. Asynchronous communication frees up schedules so people can collaborate when it works best for them.

Asynchronous communication 

Asynchronous work isn't new. Even the most diehard, in-office companies are already using some form of asynchronous communication. Employees might take a few hours to respond to an email because they're wrapping up a project or in a meeting. Managers typically use text or direct messages on Slack to impart information to employees. And Google Docs has let everybody collaborate on a memo from the comfort of their own desk.

While the schedule is flexible, asynchronous communication requires just as much planning and effort as synchronous communication to be effective. Employees need to plan how they will communicate. Managers need to trust their employees to work autonomously with the tools they need to get it right. And while the style of work isn't new, there are still new directions to take the concept. Managers are finding it not only possible to have an asynchronous meeting with their staffers but also preferable. Meetings are more productive and collaborative, minus a PowerPoint presentation that everyone tries to stay awake through. 

In asynchronous work, employees have to break tasks into smaller tasks. Successful companies do this by releasing minimum viable changes as frequently as possible. Your employees will be focusing on smaller tasks but more frequently. This allows managers to identify problems and react as quickly as possible. Because the amount of work is smaller, more tasks will be performed as one catching point will not halt the entire process. People can simply switch from one task to another when they identify a problem.

Choosing an asynchronous communication method is important. While email has been the gold standard for decades, Slack has become the primary way companies communicate without expecting an immediate response. Employees can activate the "do not disturb" sign or an out-of-office designation to let coworkers know they won't be responding immediately. Google Docs has also become an important tool for people to communicate collaboratively, discuss changes they'd like to see, suggest edits to the document, or add sections of content. And video messages have become a popular way for employees to reach out and talk about issues the team faces, with the expectation that a reply could come in the form of a video.

While asynchronous communication is a great way to stay connected in increasingly flexible work environments, it’s still important to be intentional about the way you communicate asynchronously. Consider the following when sending an asynchronous message:

  • Am I delivering this message in the best format or via the best channel? 
  • Am I providing all the necessary context and resources for this message? 
  • Am I communicating clearly, concisely, and quickly? 
  • Am I considering how my message will be received via an asynchronous channel and the tone of my message? 
  • Am I providing instructions or requests for follow-up? 

What are the benefits of asynchronous work for remote and hybrid workers?

Empowers flexible schedules

An asynchronous work environment supports flexible working hours. But moreover, it solves the problem of dealing with multiple time zones. Business happens around the clock, around the world, at all times. Companies trying to limit work to an 8-to-5 schedule live in a different era. 

Saves time and money

Some things need to be discussed urgently. But many times, it's not important that communication happens in real-time. Asynchronous communication is direct and to the point. Asynchronous work allows for a written record of everything discussed while technical glitches are removed. There's no wasted time waiting for meeting rooms, dealing with technical difficulties, or managing carryover conversations from previous meetings, which means more efficient communication around directly solving a problem. 

Promotes an inclusive culture 

For generations, a lot of top talent has sat on the bench due to the restrictions of 9-to-5 in-person work. Asynchronous communication encourages talent from all walks of life to join your teams and contribute to the success of your organization. It also empowers employees with unconventional schedules or competing obligations to communicate in ways that feel most organic and convenient to them. The result is a flexible, inclusive work environment that’s also able to benefit from a broader pool of talent. 

Encourages high-quality work

There's nothing quite like being in a good work groove. And to be pulled out of it by an arbitrary meeting time or a phone call can be frustrating. A meeting isn't an emergency; team members can check their messages when they feel like they need a break or they reach a stopping point on a project.

Getting more work done, more quickly

The default setting for asynchronous workers should be taking action. Because co-workers will not always be online, asynchronous employees must take the initiative to push ahead on projects. When work is broken into smaller segments, workers will have options for how to proceed on their own terms.

Lower stress and better work-life balance

By its nature, work can be stressful. Asynchronous work prioritizes mental health by letting workers set boundaries and minimizing the importance of notifications. When a company understands that team members are working asynchronously, workers won't stare at their inbox while waiting for a response. That lowered expectation of immediate response also reduces tension.

What are the best asynchronous communication practices?

Communicate your work preferences

Remote and hybrid work demands as much communication as in-office work. Workers want to know what's expected of them, and managers need to understand what employees can deliver.

Talk about capacity

It's easy to lose track of how many tasks are assigned to one worker. And sometimes, a single task will take over a worker's entire day. Discussions about workload and capacity should be a normal part of the work week, if not each work day.

Collaborate and bridge the gap of information

Those resistant to asynchronous communication may assume there’s nothing that can replace face-to-face interactions. However, too often, synchronous organizations move projects along and make decisions across multiple meetings without documenting enough of the discussion points, decisions, or next steps along the way. The nature of asynchronous communication requires the delivery of context and clear details in each communication. This documentation makes it easy for everyone to understand their role and to deliver project-long context to new team members. 

When should you use synchronous communication?

Complex conversations demand synchronous communication. If you have a new hire, if you are having a one-on-one meeting, or if there is a crisis, you will need to be on the same call or video chat at the same time. While different work schedules and time zones need to be respected, giving someone a warm welcome or nuanced feedback through Slack is impossible. 

Move to asynchronous work

Why have a meeting at all? Can the desired outcome be achieved through smaller tasks? Or are you trying to reach a consensus on an issue or brainstorm new ideas? 

Asynchronous work benefits both employers and employees. Companies get fast work production and better collaboration; workers get the flexibility and focus they crave. Asynchronous work lets companies bridge time-zone gaps and is the lynchpin to successful remote and hybrid workplaces.

If you need support in your transition, Clearword has many of the resources you need to move your team into asynchronous meetings to schedule meetings, host them on Google Meet and Zoom, and automate note-taking. You and your team will store records and meeting summaries in a central, searchable library — in a way that’s designed to complement how you meet.