The concept of synchronous work is most simply represented by an automobile assembly line. The process is sequential and chronological, requiring each step to be completed in exactly the right order, with timing critical to each worker’s role.
For much of history, this has been the standard operating procedure for doing business. From electrical plants to legal offices to ad agencies, work was mostly completed in a systematic and orderly way. It is this convention that drives the familiar routine and structure of a job — traveling to a shared workplace from 9-to-5 so you can collaborate directly with your colleagues.
The development of technology over the past decade, and especially the past several years, has gradually disrupted this dynamic. And the onset of a global pandemic in 2020 threw it completely on its side. Teams everywhere are adapting to a new style of collaboration that brings its own set of unique benefits.
Enter: asynchronous work.
What Does Asynchronous Working Mean?
Asynchronous work means that team members are empowered to complete their tasks on their own time, without dependencies or sequential necessities that constrict them to a set order of operations.
This style of free-flowing collaboration is built on the foundation of asynchronous communication, which basically refers to two (or more) parties exchanging information without needing to be in the same place, at the same time.
The difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication is illustrated by this contrast: actively engaging someone in a live online chat (or a simple face-to-face conversation in the offline world), versus corresponding in an email chain. The chat response will likely arrive more quickly, maybe within moments, but the delayed email reply will likely be more thoughtful and substantive.
Asynchronous communication is naturally conducive to remote work settings, which have grown vastly more prominent in recent months, but its advantages are hardly confined to a distributed framework.
Doist CEO Amir Salihefendic is one who holds this viewpoint. “While I think remote work is the future, I believe that asynchronous communication (or async, for short) is an even more important factor in team productivity, whether your team is remote or not,” he writes on the Ambition & Balance blog. “Not only does async produce the best work results, but it also lets people do more meaningful work and live freer, more fulfilled lives.”
Count the team at Buffer as another satisfied subscriber to this approach. “Instead of relying on everyone being online at the same time,” writes Hailley Griffis, “we try our best to communicate in a way that keeps conversations and decision-making open to all teammates, no matter where they are.”
In tweeting his prediction that asynchronous work will be among the top emerging trends of the 2020s, Firstbase CEO Chris Herd went so far as to call traditional offices “instantaneous gratification distraction factories where synchronous work makes it impossible to get stuff done.”
While we enjoy the ‘spiciness’ of Chris’ assertion, not everyone has quite such a harsh view of synchronous in-office work, and that’s perfectly fine. There’s no reason to think of synchronous and asynchronous work as mutually exclusive. It is very likely that the predominant model of the future will be a hybrid of both. But taking steps now to enable and optimize asynchronous collaboration allows organizations to prepare for this future, while tapping the immediate advantages.
Benefits of Asynchronous Working
It’s aligned with the rapid emergence of work flexibility. This is one of the fastest-rising trends in the evolution of work, and that was true before the pandemic struck. Work flexibility isn’t entirely about working from home — it’s more about giving people the ability to structure their jobs around the rest of their lives, rather than vice versa. Right now this is especially important, with many people watching their kids at home during the day and so forth.
Lessens the barrier of differing time zones. Good news: the perfect person for your open remote position is ready to come aboard. Bad news: they live on the opposite side of the world. Except that’s only bad news if you’re relegated to a synchronous working style. It simply isn’t gonna work under those terms, unless your local employees are down with 2:00 AM jam sessions. Asynchronous working allows for true uninhibited global collaboration.
Enables focused and uninterrupted work. Many roles in business require intense concentration — “getting in the zone” if you will. Creative work and complex programming are two examples. Whether in the office or at home, it’s common for distractions to crop up throughout the day, be it a chatty coworker or contractors hammering away on your kitchen remodel. With an asynchronous format, workers are free to find a time pocket in the evening where they can tune out and zone in.
Proactivity becomes a prerogative. Running an asynchronous team does compel managers and leaders to plan ahead more vigorously. Flying by the seat of your pants isn’t really an option under this framework. But that’s a good habit to embrace, and one that will ultimately make your team more agile, nimble, and strategic.
Mitigating the Downsides of Asynchronous Work
While the benefits are easy enough to see, few would suggest that asynchronous working is ideal as an exclusive collaboration method. There is undeniable value in direct personal meetings and real-time working sessions. It’s difficult for a team to become greater than the sum of its parts if those parts are functioning in total independence.
When Yahoo pulled back on an employee telecommuting experiment several years back, a company memo explained part of the rationale: “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings.”
Any manager can probably agree with this. The key, as mentioned earlier, lies in striking a balance between synchronous and asynchronous cultures. Some recommendations:
- Set clear guidelines and expectations. You can have hours each day where people are expected to be available and responsive, but it doesn’t have to be 9-to-5.
- Find ways to recreate those impromptu meetings even in a hybrid or fully distributed work setting. We recently shared advice from an expert on channeling spontaneity into a remote dynamic. This included tips like creating a system to signal availability and laying groundwork for asynchronous idea generation.
- Implement software and solutions that create structure around asynchronicity. Our virtual office platform at Sococo is designed to do just this, helping teammates feel connected wherever they are and bringing a sense of synchronous alignment to flexible new-age workplaces.
As work gravitates back toward a sense of normalcy and employees start returning to the office, we all must grapple with the reality that things have changed permanently here in 2020. Creating a flexible work infrastructure is now more imperative than ever in most industries, and focusing on the principles of asynchronous working gives business leaders a concrete framework to build upon.
Doing so now is one of the most valuable things you can do to “future-proof” your business and maintain productivity through dramatically shifting conditions.
Want to give Sococo a try and experience how its virtual office seamlessly blends synchronous and asynchronous collaboration? Grab your free trial now.