Study after study after study into remote work has made one thing clear: Remote teams are more productive than their office-bound counterparts.
What’s not entirely clear is why. Yes, people gain back time (and sanity) by avoiding rush hour commutes. They avoid the distractions of the office. They regain a sense of control over their workdays. They have more time to dedicate to family, friends, and hobbies.
But apart from the commute, all of those benefits aren’t necessarily the result of location independence, but rather the byproduct of asynchronous communication — giving employees control over when they communicate with their teammates.
The most successful remote organizations can maneuver between asynchronous and synchronous communication and collaboration, optimizing for efficiency, inclusivity, and wellbeing.
Many company leaders are asking themselves if they should embrace remote work. Very few are asking themselves if they should embrace a more asynchronous work style. While remote work is the future, asynchronous communication is an even more important factor in team productivity, whether your team is remote or not. Not only does async produce the best work results, but it also lets people do more meaningful work and live freer, more fulfilled lives.
What is Asynchronous Communication?
Simply put, asynchronous communication is defined by messages that aren’t shared or received in real-time.
Common ways teams experience asynchronous communication and collaboration are through a string of threads in email, project management systems, customer relationship management, and content management systems, messaging tools, shared documents and digital whiteboards, and video recording tools.
Essentially, asynchronous communication lets remote workers reply when it’s best for them. They don’t have the time crunch or worry of keeping someone waiting for a response.
The benefits of a more asynchronous workplace
Most people accept distractions and interruptions as just a part of doing business, however, most companies are embracing a more asynchronous approach to collaboration. Building an organization-wide communication strategy that maximizes asynchronous methods brings lasting benefits to companies of all sizes. Here are some of the core benefits of giving employees more control over when they connect to communicate with their team:
Control over the workday = happier and more productive employees.
In an async environment, there are no set work hours. Employees have almost total control over how they structure their workdays to fit their lifestyles, biorhythms, and responsibilities.
High-quality communication versus knee-jerk responses.
Async communication is admittedly slower, but it also tends to be of higher quality. People learn to communicate more clearly and thoroughly to avoid unnecessary back-and-forths. They have the time to think through a particular problem or idea and provide more thoughtful responses. Instead of knee-jerk responses, people can reply when they’re ready. (As an added benefit, when people have the time to think through their responses, there tend to be fewer unthinking outbursts.)
Better planning leads to less stress.
When last-minute, ASAP requests aren’t an option, advanced planning is a must. People learn to plan their workloads and collaborations more carefully to give enough time for coworkers to see and respond to their requests. This leads to less stressful collaborations and ultimately higher quality work.
Deep work becomes the default:
Since employees don’t have to stay on top of each message as it comes in, they can block off large chunks of uninterrupted time to do the work that creates the most value for your organization. They can come back to process their messages in batches 1-3 times a day instead of bouncing back and forth between work and messages or meetings.
Automatic documentation and greater transparency:
Since most communication happens in writing, key discussions and important information are documented automatically, particularly if you use a more public tool than email. It’s easier to share and reference those conversations later.
Optimizing for Asynchronous Communication
Given the reliance asynchronous puts on tooling, organizations must be intentional in not overwhelming their workforce and infrastructure with a sea of apps, creating information and communication silos, and wasted expense.
Asynchronous tends to rely on written communication, so it’s important to screen for written communication skills and trains the workforce on improvement. Video recording tools like Zoom help the sender provide verbal and visual context, supplementing written communications with a high context, human-centered opportunity to collaborate and connect asynchronously.
Plenty of tasks and meetings can be moved to asynchronous channels, but should we be reliant on asynchronous only? No, there is still a time and place for synchronous.
Bottom line, asynchronous messages can wait… so let them. Organizations need to set and articulate clear expectations in employee handbooks and communication charters that give workers structure for response time on various types of messages, so they can better self-manage their time, tasks, and energy.
Also, teams that differentiate and navigate between using asynchronous and synchronous communication instead of defaulting to real-time connectivity, have success in increasing productivity, and wellbeing in a remote environment.
With some creativity, intention, and dedication, organizations are often surprised at how much synchronous work can effectively be replaced with asynchronous communication and collaboration, leading to happier, more productive teams that experience higher quality synchronous time together than ever before, no matter where they are located.