For organizations that have pivoted to remote work because of the pandemic, following initial challenges, many now see the benefits. A greater pool of talent to recruit from, increased productivity, and cost reduction are only a few of the big items that make fluency in remote work such a large value add for many companies.
Working remotely, however, requires companies to change how they work together. Perhaps one of the biggest transformations is the transition to asynchronous communication.
What is asynchronous communication?
To put it simply, asynchronous communication is communication that doesn’t require an immediate response. It’s communication that doesn’t happen in real-time. Async communication allows people to stay in-sync without coordinated schedules.
If the pandemic has shown us one thing in the world of business, it’s that organizations need to remain flexible to succeed. Async communication provides a level of flexibility that synchronous communication often doesn’t.
Getting async communication right requires its own strategy. We asked a panel of managers and executives in varying industries to tell us about the ways they used asynchronous communication before the pandemic, how the pandemic has changed their approach to it, the specific practices they developed around async communication to help their teams work together, and how they think managers can leverage async communication to promote team effectiveness.
Asynchronous communication before the pandemic
Although the topic of async communication isn’t new, the pandemic has increased the discourse around the subject. As a company, Range has always prioritized async communication. We built the company and product with it in mind, have embraced it on our team, and work to empower our users and customers to do the same. Although we had our fair share of customers who were early advocates of async work, we’ve seen an increase in the number of teams ready to explore the value it offers while working remotely.
This uptick in teams of varying types and from varying industries inspired us to want to learn about the ways organizations approached async communication prior to the pandemic. We asked business leaders to share their experiences.
1. Defaulted to async over constant meetings and calls
Marc Boscher, CEO of Unito, says they’ve “always strived to make work asynchronous where possible. Even before the pandemic, every employee at our company would post a daily asynchronous scrum on Slack, sharing what they were working on for everybody in the company to see. We also organize our projects in Slack, and try to default to interactions within the project management tool (versus email or chat) whenever possible. Plus, Unito itself is an integration platform that connects disparate tools, so you can build workflows across them. This means you can interact with collaborators from your preferred tool asynchronously, instead of relying on constant meetings or calls.”
2. Enabled Async through Policy
Fraser Wilson, Head of Marketing at AnswerConnect, says “prior to lockdown, our team worked three days a week from home (or anywhere) and two days from our respective co-working Hubs. Because we have teams working from three continents, our policies are designed to enable asynchronous communication, collaboration, and transparency. We have also discovered that the right use of technology, embedded within fair and inclusive policies, helps drive employee engagement and retention.”
3. Employed async for practicality
Jon M Quigley, Head of Value Transformation, says that their, “approach to asynchronous communication has not appreciably changed, the volume has greatly increased. If you work in teams across the globe, you likely have been employing asynchronous communication. 12-hour time zones and competing demands on us have made this practical long before the pandemic. Still, being sequestered at home due to Covid has indeed extended.”
Approach to asynchronous communication since the pandemic
The pandemic has impacted organizations already using async communication. We were curious about the impact it’s had on these organizations. Thus, we sought out our panel of experts to hear about their experiences. Here’s what they have to say about how they’ve approached async since the pandemic:
1. Focus on more team activities
Ronak Ganatra, VP of Marketing at GraphCMS, says “the impact has been minimal since everyone was accustomed to working on their own time (team spread across 8 time zones). We did consciously try to bring in more "team" activities to not let anyone feel a disconnect. This would include things like Friday casual sessions on Mibo/Borrel, more all hands frequency, more virtual drinks, etc.”
2. Introduced new async practices
Marc notes that their “approach to work has evolved quite a bit since the pandemic started. In addition to continuing our existing asynchronous practices, we've introduced new ones.
Brainstorms, which used to take place in a meeting with all parties involved, are now started asynchronously in a Miro board. People shared their thoughts and ideas ahead of time, and review those of others. Then we'll meet for a shorter meeting to prioritize.
We've introduced more schedule flexibility, allowing our employees to work at times suited to their new realities (ie. when kids are asleep, starting earlier since they no longer commute, etc). As a result of this flexibility, we've had to rely more on asynchronous communication, primarily through Asana and Slack.
At the beginning of the pandemic, we tried to replace most of our in-person meetings with virtual meetings, but quickly realizing this was unsustainable. We've pushed hard in the past few months to reduce the number of remote meetings in favor of asynchronous interactions.”
3. Increased selectivity around online interactions
Fraser says they’ve “been a lot more selective about how we interact during the period when we’re all online. Those few hours are precious, so you have to use them wisely. Simultaneously, building a coherent company structure is essential. People need to know who to contact when they need information or resources.”
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Async practices to promote team collaboration
Async communication aims to help teams communicate better. Still, it usually requires leadership, planning, and practice to help teams see the value of working asynchronously. We asked our panel of B2B SaaS leaders how they’ve developed specific practices around using async comms to help with how their teams collaborate.
1. Provide additional details
“Working across time zones can be challenging,” says Frasier. “There’s a crossover period where everyone is working, and we use this to touch base through video calls. We’ve found clear timeframes are the most crucial aspect of asynchronous work. But it’s also about clarifying when the work was requested. We created ‘request sheets’ so people could share project requests with the date requested, the deadline and any additional details to help the recipient work without requiring any additional details. The last thing you want is to be working to a deadline, only to realise you need more information from someone who won’t be online until the deadline has passed.”
2. Asked team to default to async
“We've introduced a few best practices for our team to use in order to work effectively asynchronously,” explains Marc. “We've asked our teams to default to asynchronous and think extremely hard before scheduling any meetings. We've built a ton of new templates for Asana which are intended to capture all of the information required for projects that we tackle. These templates help common questions get answered asynchronously, reducing the need for synchronous communication. We've adopted several new tools to help us work effectively asynchronously. One stand-out is Figma, which allows us to do design review and feedback independently”
3. Have fewer synchronous meetings
Josh Little, CEO of Volley, says they “now only have one synchronous meeting per week. Turns out there are still a few things that are better done synchronously. For everything else, we use Volley. We’ve even used it for hiring and I’ve never felt like I knew a candidate better before they started because we chat a bit every day.”
How managers can leverage async communication to promote team effectiveness
Finally, we wanted to learn how these executives and team leaders think remote managers can leverage asynchronous communication to promote team effectiveness:
1. See conversations as culture
“Your conversations are your culture,” says John. “Leaders lead in conversation with their team (meetings, calls, popping in, etc). We’ve embraced the idea we’re calling “continuous leadership” where conversations, such as a 1-on-1 (typically scheduled) are ongoing and on-demand. Asynchronous also solves the individualized instruction challenge. Leaders in meeting with their teams often can’t give specific direction or coaching to an individual because it would cost group time. Volley allows leaders to give continuous feedback and unblock their time while going for a lunch walk.”
2. Balance trust, transparency, and tools
Fraser says “it’s about striking the balance between collaboration and independence, and that involves trust, transparency and (robust digital) tools. If you don’t trust that your team will be able to complete their side of the project, you won’t get far. Likewise, if you don’t communicate with clear guidelines, timeframes and deadlines, you’ll never be able to cohesively manage your projects.”
3. Democratize decision-making
“I think managers can wield asynchronous work to drive productivity,” says Marc. “Research suggests that most people don't actually contribute in meetings, and that meetings interrupt their focus time, making it more difficult for them to complete tasks day-to-day. By defaulting to asynchronous work, you can reduce the number of meetings to eliminate those blockers to productivity.
In general, asynchronous work lends itself better to many of the new realities of work, including flexible schedules and remote work environments. By giving people the ability to access the information they need when and where they need it, you democratize decision-making and empower your team to excel independently.”
4. Trust your team
“I think a lot has to do with trusting your team,” explains Ronak. “In an office, it's easy to have an overview and "manage" teams, but this gets quite suffocating for teams that work on their own terms and time. When going remote/async managers may feel like their team would be lazing away without constantly checking in and micromanaging tasks, but that is very counterproductive."
"I think it's important for managers to set periodic goals (weekly, monthly, quarterly) and incorporate a sprint mentality (even in commercial teams) to encourage the team to understand their goals. With clearly defined executables and team trust, it's invigorating to see teams want to execute on them. But always have constant check-ins so teams aren't siloed out, just make sure those check-ins have different purposes and are structured to keep managers and teams on the same page.”
Asynchronous communication in the age of remote work
Organizations that embrace asynchronous communication are better poised to meet the requirements of the new world of work. If you’d like to move toward async work or make your async communication more effective, try using Range Check-ins to run async standups.
And for more on gettng remote work right, check out 5 Ways to Improve Remote Collaboration on Your Team.