What is asynchronous collaboration? (best practices & tools)

by Liam Martin
Asynchronous Collaboration

Remote work has been the norm since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

As a result, employees experience burnout symptoms more often with the constant meetings and notifications that come with synchronous work. 

Fortunately, asynchronous collaboration makes it very easy to regulate your office hours and work according to employees’ capacity. You can practice effective asynchronous communication with your team to overcome time zone and distance barriers. 

But what exactly is async collaboration?

How does it work?

In this article, we’ll look at asynchronous collaboration and four tools for it in detail. We’ll also understand its benefits, drawbacks and discuss useful tips to optimize your company’s async workflows. 

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Let’s begin!

What is asynchronous collaboration? 

Asynchronous collaboration is when people collaborate on a project or idea at different times, according to the convenience of their schedules. 

In contrast to synchronous collaboration (where people collaborate in real-time), asynchronous collaboration happens over a period of time. This means that all parties do not have to be present at the same moment to work together in an asynchronous work environment. 

So, how does it work?

The key to successful asynchronous collaboration is effective communication. 

As a manager, you should communicate your expectations from the team. Discuss your end goals and how much work it’ll take to achieve those.  

When to use asynchronous instead of synchronous workflows?

Asynchronous collaboration is better for distributed teams working in separate time zones. 

It enables you to plan and develop a deep focus approach with fewer distractions. It also clears more space for synchronous collaboration during important business decisions. 

In contrast, a synchronous conversation is best for projects that require instantaneous feedback and face-to-face communication for complex decision-making.  

Ideally, a hybrid work approach with asynchronous and synchronous collaboration will ensure maximum efficiency. For instance, use async for basic workflows, creating more space for important meetings to happen in real-time (synchronous collaboration).

So what are the benefits of asynchronous collaboration?

Let’s find out. 

3 key benefits of asynchronous collaboration

Here’s how you can benefit from asynchronous collaboration:

1. Greater work flexibility and productivity 

Asynchronous communication can boost productivity and work efficiency

It can offer more flexibility and fewer workspace distractions when used effectively. 

For example, you don’t have to depend on your colleagues’ availability to complete your work. 

When you can work on projects and tasks at your own pace and bandwidth, you can concentrate well and apply deep work strategies. Additionally, by focussing on one task at a time, you can pay detailed attention to each task and produce better results. 

2. More inclusive workforce

Async collaboration opens up doors for people around the world who wouldn’t otherwise be able to work a 9-to-5 job. Parents, people with disabilities, the elderly, or part-time students – everyone gets a chance to be a part of a dynamic workforce. 

By adapting various asynchronous communication models, your company can hire a diverse workforce from a wider talent pool. 

Employees can collaborate effectively from various time zones, locations, or offices. As a result, business decisions happen around the clock, and everyone plays an active role in them. People can also work according to their personal efficiency instead of being tied down to a 9-to-5 job. 

3. Encourages autonomy and alleviates stress

With async collaboration, employees are no longer tied down to constant meetings, notifications, and the need for immediate responses. They can focus on their daily tasks in their own time and adapt their workflows. 

A 2021 Harvard study found that when employees are asked to work a 9-to-5 remote job, it increases their stress levels due to excessive workloads that need to be completed within a specific timeline. 

In contrast, a flexible workday with fewer back-to-back Zoom meetings or phone calls can substantially reduce your employees’ stress levels and improve overall well-being. 

For example, an employee can start their work early, quickly attend to a personal errand, and then continue working.

Sure, asynchronous collaboration has its benefits, but let’s also understand some of its challenges.

3 major drawbacks of asynchronous collaboration

Asynchronous collaboration comes with its own set of drawbacks, such as: 

1. Problems with time zones and client calls

A major challenge of the asynchronous method is that employees communicate across different time zones. As a result, some roles may not qualify for asynchronous work than others. 

For example, if you’re in a client-facing role (co-founders, CEOs, etc.), you’d have to be online during the client’s office hours (irrespective of your time zone). It would inevitably result in longer working hours and a poor work-life balance.

However, managers can hire employees from specific time zones for client-facing roles, or schedule shifts accordingly. 

2. Inadequate communication

Although asynchronous communication is pretty effective, it does come with its problems. 

While working in your own time can reduce distractions, it can create more space for miscommunication. As opposed to synchronous communication, managers may not be in real-time contact with you, and you may not get prompt feedback. 

For example, if you have a project doubt and have to wait until your co-worker is online to ask them, it may delay your work. 

So, it’s important to diligently keep track of the work being done and communicate your doubts or issues with your managers promptly. Remote working tools and productivity management apps can be helpful in this situation. 

3. Difficulty logging out from work

In a 2020 Buffer survey, over 18% of remote working individuals claim that they had trouble disconnecting from work after work hours. 

In addition to that, asynchronous remote collaboration makes it virtually impossible to unplug at a reasonable hour. 

Why is that? 

A lack of office routine and structure leaves more room for poor time management and other distractions. It may result in people extending their work hours to complete a project, which can be a dangerous practice over time. 

Successful asynchronous collaboration should involve daily goals for each project that are achievable and reasonable. Employees need to block their time for each task and conclude the day’s work after meeting their goals. 

However, insufficient planning can lead to stress and burnout symptoms. 

Here are some tools to help you with effective planning

4 types of tools for asynchronous collaboration

Asynchronous collaboration is increasingly seen as the future of work. To keep up with your industry standards, an asynchronous collaborative tool may be useful for your remote team. 

Here are the different types of collaboration tools you can use:

1. Communication tools

Firstly, you’ll need to shortlist a few communication tools for asynchronous meetings, such as: 

A. Instant messaging

Instant messaging tools like Slack or Flock are reliable communication channels for your team members. These written communication tools instantly alert employees when they get a direct message, allowing them to respond to these messages as soon as possible. 

For example, you can share urgent notices with linked Google docs files so everyone can catch up quickly.

B. Video conferencing 

A great practice for asynchronous working teams is to schedule video calls once every week or so. Everyone can get on a video call before starting on a new project, and effectively discuss important KPIs and goals for each team member. 

You can use tools like Microsoft Teams, Loom, or Dropbox to send video messages during async meetings. 

2. Project management tools

Project management tools like Asana, Monday, etc., can help you keep track of each employee and the tasks they work on. This is helpful when you’re in a distributed team that doesn’t work in the same time zone. 

You can monitor workloads, track productivity, and even manage pipelines for each remote worker. 

3. Digital whiteboard tools

A digital whiteboard is a brainstorming and problem-solving asynchronous communication tool to take meeting notes, create flowcharts, and share information with co-workers. 

You can use an intuitive asynchronous tool like Microsoft Teams or Google’s Jamboard for your brainstorming sessions. 

4. Productivity management tools

In the absence of real time communication, employee productivity management tools like Time Doctor are your friend. 

In a remote work environment, it lets managers: 

  • Track how employees spend their time.
  • Manage workloads and avoid employee burnout.
  • Manage employee distractions.
  • Track progress on individual tasks and projects.

Time Doctor offers detailed productivity insights on how your employees spend their time. This data can be used to optimize your workflows and improve work efficiency. 

With Time Doctor, you can also: 

Take a free Time Doctor trial today to enjoy its various benefits!

All these tools can help you with effective asynchronous collaboration. 

You can also try implementing the following tips. 

5 no-nonsense tips for implementing asynchronous collaboration

Here are the top tips and best practices for effective async collaboration.

1. Standardize all communication processes 

Effective asynchronous collaboration is all about clear communication.

Standardize all your communication channels. Start by creating a communication etiquette guide for your team. Includes things like: 

  • Deadlines for each task or project.
  • Deadlines for communication responses, i.e., the latest each employee can respond to a message or video.
  • References for whom to contact in case of an emergency. 
  • The communication tool to use for every purpose (Slack channels for daily communication, video messaging tools for video notes, note-sharing tools to share quick updates or insights, etc.)  
  • Email and communication templates for weekly stand-ups or reports.

Additionally, emphasize the importance of transparent communication

For example, let your employees know that it’s okay to inform their coworkers when they should not be disturbed. 

They shouldn’t be afraid to snooze or shut down notifications periodically to spare a solid block of time for a particular task. But they should remember to re-connect afterward.

2. Document accurately

A very important aspect of async communication is proper, written documentation of every company decision and information. 

It’s very easy for important information to get lost when practicing async communication.
For example, if you post an important document or link to something during your workday, your message may get lost by the time others see it. 

You can start by creating a centralized knowledge base with dedicated channels for important project communication. Use management tools to assign important tickets or comments to employees, so they never miss them. 

You can also use an asynchronous team collaboration tool to document important notes and agendas discussed in meetings, and then share them via an email or instant message to everyone.

3. Take routine breaks  

Despite its benefits, asynchronous collaboration can be challenging to execute. 

A major challenge is often the inability to log out from work. Almost everyone in an async workflow has a flexible workday. As a result, the urge to reply to one last message or email is never ending. 

One way to avoid this is to create a mental space away from work when you feel overwhelmed. For example, employees and managers should be encouraged to take frequent breaks without any disturbances. 

You can also use Slack status updates to indicate when you’re taking time off work. Take frequent breaks and disconnect from your screen every few hours. Managers can also provide training and tips for a few meditation exercises to help with productivity and stress.  

4. Use the right tools

Asynchronous collaboration is only possible when there’s a general consensus about the company’s work processes. Everyone needs to be on board and aware of when and how to communicate with their colleagues. 

As your company grows, it becomes imperative to leverage the right tools to practice effective async collaboration. For example, you can use free video conferencing tools for your weekly catch-ups. 

Apart from this, you can also encourage a team channel on your company’s instant messaging platforms or browser-based channels (wikis) for any quick updates.

5. Set KPI targets to track improvements 

A major problem with asynchronous collaboration is that you can no longer have everyone in the same (real or virtual) space at the same time. As your company grows in size, it can get difficult to track what each employee is working on and how they’re progressing. 

So how do you ensure each employee’s work performs well when working in a different time zone than you?

This is where KPI targets can come in handy. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) measure employee performance over a period of time with set objectives like monthly sales quotas.

Modern management tools like Asana and Salesforce can generate automatic performance indicators on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. These offer insight into how your employees work, the areas they’re having trouble with, and how well they’re progressing in their roles. 

It can encourage employees to be consistent and productive and may prevent them from slacking off when you’re not supervising them.

Final thoughts

Asynchronous collaboration opens up your workspace to a larger talent pool and many other opportunities. Employees benefit from flexible working hours, more inclusivity, and lower stress levels by switching to asynchronous workflows.

So, it’s important to facilitate the use of the right tools and technologies for an easier transition. As managers, you need to remember to observe and reflect on the important KPIs and make the necessary adjustments. 

If you have any doubts or concerns, you can refer to this guide for everything you need to know about asynchronous collaboration!

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