Guide to Async Working: Everything You Should Know in 2022
Within the past couple of years or so, there has been a buzzword that has been growing in popularity — ”asynchronous working”. An increasing number of companies, especially in tech, have been offering their employees the opportunity for asynchronous working, or “async” working for short. However, unlike remote working, async working opportunities have yet to become mainstream, despite many workers seeking out opportunities that offer such an environment.
But what exactly is asynchronous working? Does it actually carry any benefits to the companies who offer the option? We will take you through everything you need to know about asynchronous working in this article — from what it means to its benefits as well as how you can implement it effectively within your own company.
What is asynchronous working?
Asynchronous working is the practice of working in a team that doesn’t require everyone to be available (or online) simultaneously. There is no expectation of immediately responding to others — they do so when it’s convenient for them. If there were to be one expectation, most companies would add a caveat that colleagues should reply to messages within a reasonable timeframe, usually 24 hours.
Although the onset of the pandemic had forced a majority of businesses to work remotely, asynchronous working is still yet to catch on completely, despite its many proven benefits to the employee and the employer — those of which we’ll get to in a moment. It’s important to note that although a company may be “100% remote”, they might not allow their employees to work asynchronously. Companies like Airbnb, Unsplash and GumRoad are great examples of businesses that allow their employees the amazing benefits of working both remotely and asynchronously.
Difference between asynchronous and synchronous work
We’ve just spoken about what async work means, but what is synchronous working, then? Well, as you may expect, it’s the complete opposite of asynchronous work. In a nutshell, the main difference between async and synchronous working is that with sync work, everyone is expected to work at the same time and, therefore, would need to be online at the same time. With asynchronous work, this expectation simply doesn’t exist.
Think of synchronous work as the more traditional 9–to–5 style of working. But, regardless of where in the world an employee may be working from within a synchronous company, they would still need to keep to the agreed “office hours”. So, if a company is based in London with an employee working remotely from Singapore, that’s a whopping 7 or 8 hours time difference between the two, depending on what time of year it is.
For the sake of clarity and comparison, let’s discuss the different examples of what asynchronous and synchronous working entails:
Examples of synchronous work
Although a majority of us would be familiar with what “synchronous working” is, since it relates to the traditional way that working has been done in most companies around the world over decades, if not the better part of a century, we’ll discuss the most common points so that you can clearly see the difference between the two types of working.
- It is common practice to have employees report to the office between the hours of 9 and 10 a.m. in a single time zone — regardless of whether in-person or online.
- The standard response time for employees to chats and emails is within one hour of receiving the message.
- Each employee will be required to join their team at a predetermined time for either a virtual or in-person meeting.
Examples of asynchronous work
On the other side of the fence, there’s asynchronous working. Here are a few examples of what to expect when working for a company that champions asynchronous working:
- The employees of a company are free to pursue their assignments and tasks in their own time, subject to deadlines.
- A company’s employees can respond to direct messages and emails whenever it's most practical for them.
- In most cases, employees won't need to join Zoom meetings or show up in person for training or other types of live events — unless informed and agreed to beforehand.
Benefits of asynchronous working
There seems to be a misconception that asynchronous working only benefits those who are able to enjoy the benefit. But that idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Earlier in this article, we mentioned that there are actually a ton of benefits that companies that offer asynchronous working can enjoy. For the most part, these benefits aren’t only one-sided, meaning that companies that function asynchronously are able to enjoy them as much as their employees can.
All the benefits offered by async work are only possible thanks to the core value of asynchronous working being flexibility and with the emphasis being on clear communication. With that being said, let’s go through some of the many benefits that asynchronous working can offer both the employee and the employer:
1. Gain access to global talent
Possibly the biggest benefit that employers can enjoy when they own an async-friendly company is the ability to gain access to a global workforce. When the world opens up, your company will be able to hire from many different countries, allowing the company the opportunity to scout out the best talents to serve your company’s needs. Offering asynchronous working also completely removes the need to fuss over relocating, visas or whether your potential candidates are in “the right time zone”, since your employees are able to do their work on their own time.
And, since your company functions through asynchronous working, you won’t have to worry too much about overly managing your international workforce in order to reduce employee burnout. But, of course, make sure to check in with your team every once in a while to make sure that they’re not overworking themselves.
2. Provide flexibility
Flexibility is often cited as the primary pillar of remote or hybrid work arrangements, and that’s no different when it comes to asynchronous working. However, employees who spend their days in countless meetings or who spend the majority of their work hours on Slack responding to requests from co-workers don't gain anything from this kind of freedom. Since async businesses don't rely on the availability of other workers to get their jobs done, they carry the added benefit of giving their workers more freedom in how and when they get things done.
Although asynchronous working places importance on communication, that doesn’t mean that communication needs to happen now. You’d be surprised to find out that a lot of the time, your “emergency” isn’t really an emergency, after all. Giving your employees the flexibility to decide when and how to work also has the added perk of giving you time to prioritise tasks and think about whether things are just as imperative as you first thought.
3. Fosters a thriving environment
There have been plenty of studies that confirm that the average 9 to 5 job isn’t a key to success. As we all know, even within our own personal circles, there are some people who do best early in the morning, but there are also those who thrive better later in the day. Asynchronous working allows employees to work on their own time — with no restrictions — giving them the opportunity to decide the best workflow and working times for them.
It has been claimed that asynchronous work improves corporate performance by encouraging employees to bring their unique perspectives to the table. There are people who can't think creatively under pressure. Some people just don't feel at home speaking up in large crowds. Async makes it easier to include the efforts of those who are more reserved or who need more time to think through their contributions. As a result, there is less of an emphasis on reflexive "quick thinking," making room for more thoughtful "slow thinking."
4. Enhance team productivity
Synchronous communication has the unfortunate drawback of inevitably leading to frequent interruptions, which in turn can impede an employee’s ability to engage in the sustained periods of concentration required for endeavours like coding, problem-solving, strategic planning and writing. When working in an async company, you aren't required to respond to messages immediately, giving employees more time to focus on the task and produce better quality work.
Because of the nature of asynchronous working, companies must be especially careful to record all relevant interactions and updates to processes while making these records readily available to all employees. As a result, employees could be able to get more done in less time since they won't need to wait for updates from other team members. A faster project cycle is one factor that can increase the overall productivity of asynchronous teams, which is even better for the company overall.
How to manage asynchronous workflow
Hopefully, the four main benefits of asynchronous working we’ve mentioned above have convinced you to consider converting your company to be more async-friendly. Now, the next step is talking through the various tried and proven ways a company can utilise to manage its asynchronous workflow.
The main pillars of asynchronous working are “communication”, “flexibility” and “organisation”, and you should always keep them in mind when planning out how your company should write out its standard operating procedures (SOPs).
1. Leverage technology
When it comes down to it, asynchronous work is just another form of remote work — although, as we’ve mentioned before, most company benefits don’t normally include the both of them together. As with remote teams, asynchronous employees rely heavily on modern technology to accomplish their goals. Remote teams can nevertheless be able to effectively collaborate because of technological advancements in areas such as documentation, messaging, project management and information accessibility.
We’ve all heard of Slack, Trello and Zoom — in fact, some of us may still utilise them despite not working remotely. It’s extremely important to leverage these technologies when working asynchronously so that communication remains at the forefront and everyone is able to keep up to date with their tasks.
2. Organise and optimise
Organisation is absolutely vital to the success of an async company. Even if your entire team isn't going to be online at the same time, they should all know where to look for the resources they need. Keeping your digital workspace organised and simple is essential. Make sure that all of your company resources, including those used for training and project management, are clearly labelled and easy to locate. This is another reason why leveraging technology is especially important for asynchronous working.
While optimising workflow processes is a crucial aspect of organisation, optimising also needs to happen at the recruitment stage. On the one hand, a training period is imperative for new employees to get the hang of how things may work in your company. On the other, it’s also important to pick the right talent from the get-go, as some people are more suited to asynchronous work environments than others.
3. Stay mindful of time zones
This tip is especially important when working with an international team. It’s one thing to be mindful of the time zone your employees are scattered across for communication’s sake, but it’s also extremely important to keep time zones in mind when you’re deciding on project or task deadlines. Again, organisation and clear communication are key.
Some members of your team may be anywhere between 1 to 12 hours ahead of or behind your own time zone. In addition, given the unpredictability of business, it's imperative to leave some wiggle room in case an employee is delayed on a project for reasons they are unable to communicate. To avoid delays and ensure that projects continue to operate smoothly, add one or two extra days to the end of each timetable.
4. Schedule meetings only when necessary
It goes without saying that constant, spur-of-the-moment Zoom calls or Slack Huddles are not the best way for employees to spend their time. When you’re utilising various technologies within your company, there are countless ways to discuss and communicate on issues in a more time-efficient manner. Asynchronous companies thrive when their employees are doing the work they are hired to do, and unless it involves sales, your employees don’t need to sit through hours of meetings a day in order to “get the message”.
That brings us to our final point:
5. Communicate efficiently
This applies to both employers and employees. Since communication is absolutely essential to the success of a company that works asynchronously, the very essence of communication between people in the company always needs to be fast, clear and concise. Spamming channels with 5–10 messages in order to communicate a single issue is not only inefficient but can be quite stress-inducing, too.
Before you send the seven paragraphs of messages to your team’s Slack channel, give yourself a moment and see whether you can get our message across within one or two. If you really can’t, perhaps sending an audio message or a video would be more effective in explaining what your needs are.
How to communicate when working asynchronously
Being an async employee is not easy, especially when it comes to communication. Asynchronous communication means that a message that you’ve sent to your colleague may not be answered immediately. Sometimes, depending on the time difference between the two of you, you may only get a reply a day later! But, despite this challenge, plenty of companies around the world manage it — and they manage it well.
Thanks to the various technologies that exist in the modern age, such as those we’ve mentioned above, remote teams who work asynchronously can still communicate with each other and remain productive. In order to do that efficiently and effectively, there are two tips that you should always keep in mind:
1. Utilise the full potential of technology
In today’s world, there is more to communication than just email and text messaging — like there was over a decade ago. Nowadays, countless tools have been invented and developed to ease communication on a global scale, which has been an absolute gift for companies all over the world. And now, these technologies have become the skeleton of countless asynchronous companies everywhere.
Without apps like Slack, Trello or Google Meet, remote working would be nearly impossible, much less asynchronous working. However, within these apps are tons of features that usually go underutilised, such as Slack’s “Huddle” feature or the ability to assign people to specific items on a Trello Card’s checklist as well as add deadlines to them. Making the most out of the features available on these platforms and applications is key to seamless, timely and, most importantly, productive asynchronous working.
2. Leave a paper trail
In all honesty, regardless of whether you’re working synchronously or asynchronously, leaving a paper trail when it comes to communicating important information to your colleagues is always vital. But the importance of this is multiplied when it comes to asynchronous working. Without a paper trail, there is no source of truth, and there would definitely be room for misinterpretation or, worse, ignorance.
When it comes to discussing an issue with multiple people, either send an email to everyone involved or create a public thread on a Slack channel that everyone is a member of. If your company uses a project management tool like Asana or Trello, leave a comment on a card that involves everyone needed for the issue. Being able to refer back to a paper trail when discussions need to continue or clarifications need to be made is crucial for ensuring that communication stays open, honest and clear within asynchronous teams.
Although a majority of companies already feature these methodologies, especially those with remote-work options, converting into an asynchronous working company isn’t something that can be done overnight. There still needs to be quite a bit of organisation and, most importantly, some getting used to. Aside from all the benefits we’ve listed within this article, there are a lot of things that both employers and employees can learn from working within an asynchronous environment — the least of which being how important that small task you need to be done “ASAP” actually is in reality.
However, overall, asynchronous working environments are highly productive when planned and utilised correctly. Both employers and employees can enjoy the benefits that async work brings to the table and, perhaps more importantly, the humbling lessons that it can teach us.
If you’re considering starting a company that champions asynchronous working or would like to convert your current company environment towards async work, especially to enjoy the benefit of gaining access to global talent, be sure to partner with a reliable global outsourcing company so that your business will always maintain compliance, regardless of where in the world your employees may be working from.