A survey conducted by Adobe suggests that employees spend as much as 3 hours a day just checking and responding to email. Communicating in real time, whether it is in the form of a meeting, a quick phone call or even an ongoing email conversation, can be a huge drain on employees’ time and effort, leading to lower productivity.
And that’s just if you count the actual time spent on emails. A constantly buzzing inbox or Slack conversation can be extremely distracting and lead to more time wasted as you try and remember what you were doing before you stopped to answer an email.
An increasing number of remote and hybrid organizations, particularly in the software industry, now find themselves working “asynchronously,” often across different time zones and continents. Asynchronous or “async” work means that employees aren’t expected to be available at the same time, or during set hours, and have separate, non-overlapping work schedules. Without the expectation to respond immediately, async teams tend to favor email or chat over phone and video calls, and respond to colleagues’ queries within an agreed upon timeframe, such as 24 hours, rather than instantly.
“Because everyone is always effectively ‘blocked’, everyone plans ahead,” Sahil Lavingia, the founder of async company and digital marketplace Gumroad, tweeted about async work. “It also means anyone can disappear for an hour, a day, or a week and not feel like they are holding the company back. Even me!”
Async work offers many benefits, including the ability to focus on deep work, free of the distractions that meetings and phone calls can be, increased work-life balance and flexibility and better documentation of work processes. In addition, async work is the only way teams scattered across different time zones can work, without anyone sacrificing sleep.
The prospect of async work can seem daunting to those who are used to working traditionally, reaching out to colleagues with queries and instructions during the work day, but the right tools can make working asynchronously as seamless and productive as traditional work. These async work tools come highly recommended.
Syncing up, or being on the same page about the work being done, is an important part of teamwork, and traditionally, takes the form of a daily, weekly or monthly meeting. But with workers in different time zones, scheduling meeting times that work for everyone can be tricky — and not to mention an unwelcome interruption to the work day.
Additionally, meetings tend to be an inefficient way to share and store information. Unless someone is taking extensive notes, it can be difficult to recall what was discussed a few weeks or months ago. Attention spans can waver during long meetings, meaning that participants miss things. Only one person can share their thoughts at a time.
Tools such as Threads allow organizations to replace recurring meetings with a forum-like shared space, where different topics can be discussed.
SaaS company Buffer slowly transitioned to async work, and swears by Threads.
“We started off with a format, where each topic had its own ‘thread’. Each thread was a place to discuss a particular topic, rather than a weekly gathering place,” said Victoria Gonda, in a Buffer blog post.
“We’re able to divide topics by headers, add our own comments, and comment on others’ comments. We’re able to easily see if there’s anything new to catch up on without too many notifications. We’re even able to mark something to follow up on later if we saw it and don’t want to forget!” she added.
The best part of tools like Threads is that important conversations don’t get lost, as they do in messaging tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams. Everything is searchable, and employees can read, ponder and reply to threads at their own pace.
With work no longer being confined within fixed hours, it can be easy to lose track of how much or how little work you or your employees are actually getting done. Tools like DeskTime let workers measure how many hours they are putting into work, and even narrow down the time each specific task takes.
Working without hard start and stop times can mean some employees slack off, while others end up working unsustainable hours and burning out, or being stressed out being in “work mode” all the time.
“There is a lot of value in tracking time spent on tasks! It helps teams identify inefficiencies and it gives visibility into workloads,” Tammy Bjelland, CEO and Founder of Workplaceless, a 100% distributed company that provides training and resources to remote and hybrid teams, told The Org.
But while time tracking apps are great productivity tools, it is important that they remain a way for employees to self-monitor, and do not turn into an unhealthy competition to see who works the most.
Notion is a project management and note-taking software that remote and async teams can use to store and share documents, work collaboratively and treat as a central, company-wide source of information.
“We use Shortcut and Github, supported by tools like Notion, Slack, Loom, Figma, and Miro,” said Baz Hand, Head of Marketing at async workplace, Mibo. “Personally, I'm trying to improve my Notion ability as I’ve come from different tools and I feel it has some really nice integrations and capabilities.” Google Workspace also has a really useful array of tools that can allow a team to store and seamlessly share documents, worksheets, and files; sync up calendars and communicate through email and chat, and comes highly recommended by async team leaders.
Sometimes there is no replacement for good old face-time. Whether it is delivering bad (or just important) news, explaining how a system or tool works to a new employee, or simply taking someone through an idea using a whiteboard or a screen; often a video does the job best.
Tools like Loom let users record a video, with the option to record while sharing your screen, letting you talk through an idea as you would on a video call. It’s a great way to organize and share thoughts for those who prefer verbal communication to textual.
Although many remote teams use Slack as the primary mode of communication for quick chats, Twist offers features that allow for a more asynchronous approach to communicating. Designed like email, it lets you mark messages as ‘read’, organize and sort through conversations, and reply at your own convenience. It eliminates distracting notifications and status indicators, so no one feels the need to ‘be online’ all the time.
Regular email is a great replacement for instant messaging tools as well; the nature of email allows for slower, more thoughtful responses, in stark contrast to the urgent nature of messaging apps.
Async work allows for more thoughtful, measured communication, higher productivity and greater employee satisfaction, owing to the flexibility that comes with working at your own pace. But being highly organized and having clear processes in place is crucial to effective async work.
“Documentation is one of the foundations of any async-first practice—when information is easily accessible to every team member, they don’t have to rely on access to other people to get the information they need when they need it,” Bjelland said.
Although technology is an important facilitator, having too many tools to keep track of can backfire and decrease productivity.
“One of the major downsides of having so many similar tools is that you can find yourself searching for the right piece of information; is it on Slack? Was it an Email? Did someone comment somewhere?” Hand said.
“That’s when async falls apart. So having clear guidelines of what information is stored where, and most importantly having a source of truth of where decisions are made,” he added.