April 5 2022

What’s so great about asynchronous working?

Asynchronous working. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, does it? But even so, there’s a good chance that you’ve experienced it at some point at work. So what’s all the fuss about asynchronous working? Read on to find out what to expect and what you can gain from this way of working. 

Working practices in focus

The pandemic brought huge attention to remote and flexible working. With workforces suddenly spread far and wide, organisations everywhere had to find new ways of working that suited a remote workforce. This led to explosive growth of a method called asynchronous working.

But asynchronous working was around long before the pandemic. In fact, most companies will have had a degree of experience of it without even realising. Especially those working on different time zones. 

Asynchronous working isn’t new

What’s new is that there are now an abundance of tools that facilitate asynchronous working. Not just that, but asynchronous working supports the principle of flexibility. The demand for greater flexibility among workers was one of the key outcomes of the pandemic.

For these reasons, it would appear that now is the time to embrace asynchronous working. 

What is asynchronous working?

When looking at an asynchronous definition, it may seem a little different to what many workplaces are used to. We work in an age where the expectation has been that we’re always reachable. 

With smartphone apps and emails directly pinging through to our phones, we’ve grown to expect instant responses. Asynchronous working flies in the face of this. 

How does it work?

Asynchronous principles are centred around the fact that two people can work together without being present at the same time. With this in mind, you no longer have to be in a meeting room together at the same time to discuss a project. You could do this via message, email, or using project management tools. 

This way of working isn’t new. In fact, companies that work with those based overseas have long been used to finding clever ways to collaborate despite different time zones. 

The meaning of asynchronous working

Let’s delve deeper into what asynchronous working really means and how it works. 

It’s easy to class asynchronous working as a form of remote working. The reality is that an asynchronous working model has distinct differences from remote working.

A remote workforce isn’t necessarily asynchronous

In fact, it can often be quite the opposite. Organisations may have embraced remote working, but they have, at times, clung to the rigour of the 9-5.

There has been the expectation that employees will be available between the usual office hours and take part in ‘live meetings’. Asynchronous working looks different to this.

During office hours, those working will complete their part of a task. Requests for information and updates will be sent to colleagues, but a response will only come when those colleagues are within their working hours. Meaning they don’t respond immediately. 

Asynchronous working enabled employees to work at the best times for them. They could handle their personal commitments and still achieve their work goals. As restrictions were lifted, many found that they actually quite liked this way of working. 

Asynchronous working supports flexibility, autonomy, and an increasingly diverse workforce

If you look at the meaning of asynchronous working, the purpose of this approach is abundantly clear. 

Asynchronous working allows for flexibility, autonomy, and an increasingly diverse workforce. Those who may, in some way, have been excluded from the typical approach to working for a company now have new opportunities.

Flexibility became key in the pandemic

If we take the pandemic as a starting point, many of those who had been forced to work from home just wouldn’t have been able to stick to a typical 9-5 schedule. Many employees had to juggle commitments such as home schooling, as 87% of parents did. Or fulfilling caring responsibilities while also trying to work. 

So for many, typical working hours became almost impossible to hold down. Without embracing asynchronous working, both employees and businesses would have suffered. 

For employees, they could never have stayed on top of their workloads. The direct impact on organisations would have been severe too. It would have effectively meant a workforce that was unable to work. 

Asynchronous working provided the solution and has led to ongoing benefits, besides solving the initial problem. 

How can organisations benefit?

Your instinct may tell you that asynchronous working might be great for employees, but not great for the business as a whole. A workforce that isn’t present at the same moment surely leads to misunderstandings, lack of productivity, and frustration. Or does it?

A more productive workforce 

While you may think that having a workforce under a watchful eye will boost their productivity, the truth is that the asynchronous working model does. This is because it allows your team to plan working hours that suit them best, free from distractions. 

Many distractions come from work itself. Synchronous working can result in constant interruptions from emails, messages, and meetings. In contrast, allowing employees to work when it suits them allows them to get their heads down and work uninterrupted.

Increased transparency across operations

To work asynchronously, your employees need tools that leave a paper trail. Whether communication takes place via email or a specific platform, everything is going to be in writing. 

This is ideal for keeping records of key decisions or actions. And it means that anyone can jump into the conversation and look back at what’s happened to date. 

A way to widen your talent pool

Without the absolute need to adhere to a 9 to 5 schedule, organisations can hire employees who can’t or don’t want to work traditional hours. This opens up opportunities to seek out and employ the most talented individuals. Individuals who may have previously been excluded. 

How do employees benefit?

When it comes to your employees, asynchronous working can:

  • Reduce stress: This is because working in this way removes the expectation to be available instantly and constantly by colleagues. 
  • Increase engagement: Employees are empowered to make the decisions that benefit them in terms of when, and where, they work. This can boost their engagement levels.
  • Support work-life balance: By allowing your team the flexibility to work in the way they choose, it can help them achieve a positive work-life balance.

Best practices for asynchronous working

Asynchronous working has some clear benefits, but that doesn’t mean that adapting this way of working will be an overnight success. 

Workforces have to adapt while embracing asynchronous working to realise their full potential. The learning curve doesn’t have to be slow, but it does take time for a business to get it right. 

Here are some of the factors that you should consider before implementing a more sustained asynchronous working model:

1. The tools for the job 

Asynchronous communication must be organised in order to work. And to organisse your communications, you need the right tools. 

Project management tools – Here at Openwage, we like ClickUp. Asana and BaseCamp are just a couple of many alternatives available. Find what suits your team.  

Collaboration tools – platforms like the design tool Figma and feedback tool Markup.io allow you to comment on digital content without having to leave the platform. 

Presentations – We like Loom, the video messaging tool. It’s great for recording presentations to share with the team or for explaining something that is simply too complex for an email or message.

2. Help your team to become effective communicators

With responses being delayed, it’s important that employees working asynchronously can get the right message across, the first time. This avoids the need for constant back and forth that can slow productivity. 

3. Synchronous working still has its place

Not everything can or should be done via asynchronous working. Performance issues are just one example where asynchronous communication wouldn’t be appropriate.  

4. Set clear deadlines

Just because your teams aren’t working at the same time, it doesn’t mean they can finish tasks whenever they like. Being clear with deadlines can help ensure projects maintain momentum. 

5. Create guidance 

Ensure that employees have guidance and somewhere to turn for troubleshooting. Not everyone is comfortable using new tech tools or working in this way. Offer support to employees to keep the process running smoothly.

Adapting to a model of asynchronous working may take some time but once your employees begin to see the benefits of it, they’ll be more likely to embrace it.