Asynchronous (async) work is an arrangement where employees can work individually whenever they like. Many companies have adopted this work system due to its ease of functioning and better employee satisfaction.
However, to get the maximum benefit out of working async, you need to understand how to implement it successfully.
In this article, we’ll discuss what asynchronous work is, its benefits, and its drawbacks. We’ll also explore five best practices you can use to implement asynchronous work and four tools your async team will need for easy functioning.
This article includes:
(Click on the link to go to a particular section)
- What is Asynchronous Work?
- 4 Key Benefits of Asynchronous Work
- 4 Prominent Drawbacks of Asynchronous Work
- 5 Best Practices to Implement Asynchronous Workflows
- 4 Types of Tools Your Asynchronous Team Needs
Let’s get started.
What is asynchronous work?
Asynchronous work is the system in which employees work at different times, without collaboration or real-time communication.
In this work practice, employees can work with better productivity or complete tasks without their colleagues. It also enables employees to plan their work tasks effectively along with their personal duties.
Asynchronous vs. synchronous work
Synchronous work is the opposite of the asynchronous method, where all team members work during the same hours.
Let’s look at three other significant differences between the two:
With asynchronous collaboration, a team member can complete a project or task while others aren’t working.
Whereas synchronous collaboration can delay project advancement when a team member is absent. Here, team members need each other to move forward with a project.
2. Virtual dependency
Asynchronous working teams rely heavily on virtual media. They use video messaging, audio messaging, instant messages, etc., to communicate.
On the other hand, sync work isn’t very dependent on virtual tools as it encourages real time interaction. Teams following the sync work model can share, discuss, and cooperate in person.
Asynchronous communication doesn’t require employees to give immediate replies.
Usually, employees connect via platforms, like LinkedIn or Slack, and not face-to-face in asynchronous communication.
In synchronous communication, the team mostly conducts a live meeting to brainstorm, examine issues, and make decisions. If any employee were to message, they would expect a quick reply in this system.
Now let’s dive into how your business will benefit from asynchronous work.
4 key benefits of asynchronous work
Here are four benefits of asynchronous communication and work:
1. Simplifies work for a hybrid and distributed team
Remote work is a working arrangement in which team members don’t commute to the office and, instead, work from home or a place of their choice. And hybrid work has a blended workforce — some working from the office, others from a remote location.
Adapting to hybrid or remote work is mostly easy in an asynchronous working environment where employees can work at their own time and pace.
Here, a remote worker who’s tending to children or elderly family members need not work simultaneously as another team member. Employees can accommodate their personal duties during working hours.
Similarly, a remote employee in New York or Tokyo can work during their local working hours in an async system. This helps them better manage their personal and work life.
Moreover, remote team communication is more convenient in an async model — largely because employees don’t have to respond immediately.
Learn more about asynchronous vs. synchronous communication for remote teams.
2. Reduces employee stress
Constant messaging and the expectation to reply quickly can increase stress in traditional or synchronous communication. A team member may think negatively of the receiver if they don’t get an immediate response.
In asynchronous communication, team members typically don’t work simultaneously or engage in instant messaging.
Here, an employee isn’t obliged to reply to a message that comes in after their working hours. They don’t have to stress about staying alert or carrying the phone around since the sender will mostly not expect an immediate reply.
Additionally, since team members don’t expect to be working simultaneously, they tend to plan way ahead of schedule. They may not have to make any last-minute communication for doubts or queries, potentially reducing stress and preventing burnout.
Moreover, asynchronous working lets employees engage in deep work without any interruptions. Since very few employees may work at the same time, they will probably send and receive fewer messages, reducing potential distractions.
Most importantly, some employees may work better when left on their own.
They may generate better ideas, take more initiative, and work productively when they aren’t in a huge group. Async work lets such employees become more productive.
3. Helps team members communicate 24/7
Today, most businesses function around the clock.
Asynchronous working teams are more likely to have at least one team member working during odd hours. This means two teams that are working on a project can solve doubts and collaborate even during odd working hours.
As a result, asynchronous work ensures smooth inter-team collaboration and business continuity.
Moreover, traditional or synchronous communication is usually limited to a specific number of hours. Such teams may hastily communicate with their colleagues during their working hours to cover as much ground as possible, which could lead to misinterpretations.
On the other hand, asynchronous communication can extend throughout the day. This can give employees time to think of a well-written reply that’s accurate and precise.
4. Increases employee autonomy
Team members working async can move forward with a project at their own pace.
They can work when they feel productive or when the time is suitable. Additionally, async work gives employees the flexibility to work according to their personal responsibilities.
For example, an employee can pick up their kids from school or visit a doctor during a workday in the async system. They can simply inform their manager of their absence and manage tasks to submit them before the deadline.
Additionally, a project’s progress need not be dependent on any single employee in the async work system. As a result, the project work can move forward even if an employee takes an unplanned leave.
Now that we know the benefits of asynchronous work, let’s look at its disadvantages.
4 prominent drawbacks of asynchronous work
Knowing the cons of asynchronous work can help you design the work environment and prepare your employees accordingly.
Here are a few of them:
1. Poor work-life balance
Due to arbitrary start and end times, employees may feel obliged to work even during non-working hours. They may frequently check their emails, attend work calls, or send messages even after completing their work.
For example, an employee may be anxious about leaving a message unattended. So, they may constantly check their notifications and emails for status updates.
This can prevent them from enjoying their personal life and negatively affect their mental and physical health.
2. Lack of connection with the organization
Asynchronous communication doesn’t require teammates to engage in in-person conversations. This can make them feel lonely and disconnected from their colleagues and the organization.
Not only can this negatively impact employee mental health, but also makes building a bond with the company or colleagues challenging.
Asynchronous work requires superiors to trust their employees to work sincerely.
But, since managers need to ensure meeting deadlines, they may micromanage.
Although micromanaging could ensure employees meet deadlines, it could decrease job satisfaction. This could make team members feel uncomfortable and negatively reflect the company culture.
4. Frequent unclear messages
Text messages and emails often fail to convey the sender’s intent accurately and can be misinterpreted.
Since async communication mainly involves written communication, employees who didn’t understand a message may have to wait till the sender comes online to clarify what they meant.
This could be worse if the employees are working in different time zones.
For example, an employee working from the USA may have to wait for hours to get an important reply from an employee in India due to time zone differences.
Adapting to asynchronous work can be difficult initially due to communication misunderstandings, confusing work timings, and more. But you can implement an asynchronous method in your office by following a few best practices.
5 best practices to implement asynchronous workflows
Let’s look at some of the best practices to implement an asynchronous working model in your office successfully:
1. Train employees to communicate effectively
You need to train your employees to improve their written communication skills so that it’s easy to understand. This can help save time that would otherwise be spent on back and forth communication.
For this, you can conduct asynchronous learning methods like video recording or enroll in business communication programs.
2. Conduct only necessary meetings
Carrying out fewer meetings is an important part of the asynchronous work method.
To do this effectively, you can create an inventory of all regular meetings and decide their purpose. You can easily change a synchronous meeting with an agenda to discuss schedules into an asynchronous one.
To do that, you can record and send videos or audio messages to your team members.
3. Provide specific guidance
Asynchronous team managers need to train employees about new collaboration and communication practices.
They might have to explain the importance of asynchronous work, the changes it will bring forth in the work environment, and how to overcome challenges.
4. Designate a specific channel or medium for urgent conversations
Since employees may not check their messages frequently in an asynchronous communication method, you need to have a way to notify them when a matter needs their urgent attention.
For this, you can simply create a dedicated channel in Slack. If it’s really time-sensitive, you could call them up on their personal phone numbers.
5. Use necessary asynchronous tool
Since team members don’t necessarily work simultaneously in async work, they need tools to communicate, document, and work effectively across distances.
An asynchronous tool can override issues, like sharing incorrect files and poor collaboration.
Let’s look at some tools your async team may require.
4 types of tools your asynchronous team needs
Here are a few tools to help an asynchronous team work effectively:
1. Time tracking tools
As async work doesn’t entail fixed work hours, you can use a time tracking tool, like Time Doctor, to track employee hours and tasks with ease.
Time Doctor is a powerful time tracking and employee performance management tool used by SMBs like ThriveMarket and large companies like Ericsson to boost employee productivity.
The software offers a silent and interactive timer to log employee check in and out times and track work done. To operate the interactive timer, all you have to do is manually start and pause the timer.
What if you prefer an automatic timer?
Time Doctor’s silent timer starts and stops tracking time automatically when you switch your system on and off, respectively.
In addition to a handy timer, the tool also provides in-depth productivity reports on each employee, giving insights into their performance.
Read more about Time Doctor’s features and benefits.
2. Communication tool
Many async communication tools have features to make VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls to a group video call.
The latest tools also offer asynchronous video messaging features using which an employee can record a video and send it to teammates. Such async communication functionalities empower employees to formulate messages quickly.
Moreover, since the receiving employee can view the sender’s expressions, they can easily understand the content of the message, reducing misinterpretation.
Additionally, some tools allow asynchronous collaboration using whiteboarding to plan strategies and brainstorm ideas.
Here are a few asynchronous communication tools:
- Video calling: Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Loom, etc.
- Messaging: Slack, Telegram, etc.
- Visual collaboration: Mira, Mural, etc.
3. Knowledge management tools
A knowledge management tool will identify, capture, retrieve, and share necessary company information. Basically, the tool helps employees find and distribute audio, video, text documents, etc., according to employee needs.
Using such a software, your employees can easily access files without scrolling through Slack messages or emails. Some examples of knowledge management tools are Guru, Google Docs, etc.
4. Task management tools
Task management tools enable team leaders and members to organize daily tasks and optimize workflow. It lets them create to-do lists, indicate the start and end dates of a project, separate individual tasks, and perform other activities.
An asynchronous team using a task management tool will have a better idea of their work schedule and be able to utilize employee time effectively. Some examples of task management tools are Trello, Asana, ClickUp, etc.
You can choose software with many integrations to operate all of them simultaneously.
Asynchronous systems can be the future of work due to remote working convenience and other benefits it offers employees.
However, you need to be conscious of the challenges you might face.
To counter its drawbacks, you need good tools for asynchronous communication, time tracking, task management, etc. You can also refer to the best practices mentioned in the article to ensure a successful implementation.
Liam Martin is a co-founder of Time Doctor which is software to improve productivity and help keep track and know what your team is working on, even when working from home.