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Could ‘asynchronous work’ be the secret to remote working success?

25 Aug 2020

Ariel Camus, CEO of Microverse, explains what asynchronous work is and how it will help dispersed teams flourish.

A recent EY report concluded that working remotely will be the ‘new normal’ even after the danger of Covid-19 has subsided. Operational flexibility, agility and other benefits are too valuable to pass up, the report says.

The shift is promising as it should make us more capable of solving the most pressing problems of the 21st century. But while we may consider the prospect of curbing climate change or ending a global pandemic through remote work, it’s important to confront a hard truth: not every business is thriving in the new normal.

In Slack’s survey of more than 2,800 knowledge economy workers in the US, nearly 45pc of people who are working remotely for the first time because of the pandemic said their sense of belonging with their teams has suffered. In addition, 23pc said working remotely is worse for their overall job satisfaction and 31pc said their productivity is lower.

For the many newly remote teams that feel disconnected and inefficient, there’s a good chance they haven’t put the right amount of attention into a key detail: asynchronous work. If done well, ‘asynchronous’ is what allows remote teams to work more effectively than they otherwise would in an office. If it’s not approached correctly, however, people could end up feeling even more disconnected.

What does asynchronous look like?

I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with many businesses making the transition to working remotely as well as building and managing their remote personnel. Remote-based companies that operate the smoothest always seem to understand the importance of asynchronous work.

So, what exactly does that mean? Traditionally, building things or making decisions requires having people together, whether that’s in a boardroom or an assembly line. But technology has made it possible for teams to operate cohesively without all being in the same place or even at the same time.

Big decisions, nuanced communication and complex projects can all be handled through strategic asynchronous collaboration. When teams prioritise asynchronous work in the right way, it gives everyone more flexibility, more dedicated time for long stretches of focused work and more autonomy to create their optimal work-life balance.

Almost everyone works in some asynchronous capacity without even thinking about it. Take email, for example. It gives us the power to reflect, do research and even revise our thoughts during a conversation. Communicating in this asynchronous fashion can be incredibly useful.

While, remote working however, there’s a common pitfall: getting into the habit of using email or a chat messenger almost exclusively, even for conversations that most office-based teams would handle face to face.

Without the nuance of facial expressions, tone and other physical cues, the message can be misconstrued. Over time, it erodes the quality of working relationships.

A headshot of Ariel Camus staring off to the side and smiling.

Image: Ariel Camus

Creating an asynchronous infrastructure

Fortunately, there are ways for remote teams to mitigate the drawbacks of not working physically together at the same time. In fact, smart asynchronous work can even create advantages that are not possible for in-office teams. Here are a few ways teams can make that happen.

  • Use video applications such as Loom to record video messages for complex discussions. It’s easy to send a video that colleagues can view at any time.
  • Have a sincere discussion about whether the objectives of a recurring meeting can be met by maintaining a Google Doc or a spreadsheet.
  • Don’t try to eliminate every meeting. Certain meetings such as regular one-to-ones with a manager and quarterly reviews should always happen in a live conversation.
  • Make space for live conversations that don’t have anything to do with work. If there is no structure for spontaneous conversations to happen, team members are far less likely to feel like they’re part of the team. Our company uses Donut, a Slack integration, to randomly pair team members for a one-on-one call every other week. It also suggests talking points and we encourage people to use these meetings to not talk about work
  • Think about how you make your hiring and interview process more asynchronous. For example, with Hireflix, candidates answer pre-recorded questions that get sent to the hiring manager as a video response. It makes the early parts of the interview process more flexible for both parties

It’s inevitable to keep some meetings on the calendar and some parts of your business will have to keep happening while people are working together in real time. But if you pay careful attention to the ways your remote team can effectively work asynchronously, chances are people will be more connected and productive, helping them feel happier and more successful in the long term.

By Ariel Camus

Ariel Camus is the CEO of Microverse, an online school that trains students from 100 countries around the world for careers as remote software developers.

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