Best Practices for Successful Asynchronous Work

Remote work is only the first step to freedom. It’s only the first step because you can’t really work from anywhere, or in your own time, just by having a remote job.

Think about it. You can move to Australia and work remotely from there, but how sustainable is it to have to check in with your team at 3 am once a week?

Even if you’re in the same time zone as your team, how flexible is your remote job, really, if it requires you to be online from nine to five? (Or worse, all of the time?) 

Does a remote job that monitors your screen really make you feel freer? (We didn’t think so.)

The truth is that remote work alone can’t give us more freedom. To live up to its full potential, it needs an additional piece. That missing piece is asynchronicity.

In asynchronous work environments, team members get to decide not just where, but when they want to work. The focus is on deliverables and results, not hours logged in.

Best of all, it works. Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Auttomatic, believes that distributed teams that work asynchronously get three times more done than co-located teams working on a fixed schedule.

Why remote work should be asynchronous

Still, most distributed teams are currently working in sync. Forced to become remote during the pandemic, the companies they work for didn’t redesign work for the digital sphere. Instead, they recreated the office (and some of its problems) online.

“Instead of back-to-back meetings, people got back-to-back Zoom calls. Instead of physical interruptions, they got more interruptions via Slack or Teams,” Steve Glaveski, productivity expert, wrote.

The shift to remote work led employees to work more, not less, and become even more stressed.

Best practices for asynchronous work

A focus on real-time communication might be to blame, productivity experts say.

Companies can learn to work better remotely by moving away from hyper-responsiveness and embracing asynchronous communication. Here are the practices they need to incorporate to do that:

1. Cultivating transparency

Asynchronous work depends on team members being empowered to move forward with projects and make decisions when no one else is around.

That means being able to learn what any team member is working on at any given time and being able to find and access internal documents. It also means being aware of and understanding the context of workplace decisions.

All of this requires transparency. Here are some examples of what that looks like in a distributed team:

  • Communicating directly
  • Giving (and inviting) timely, constructive feedback
  • Telling the truth, even when it’s hard
  • Tracking issues and projects openly
  • Having conversations in public channels
  • Contextualizing projects and issues
  • Making internal documents findable and accessible
  • Sharing what you are working on
  • Being yourself

2. Creating and maintaining usable documentation

In a physical office, when you don’t know how to do something, you ask somebody. In a virtual, asynchronous work environment, “you must force yourself to not default to tapping on the virtual shoulder of someone,” a handbook by GitLab, a remote-first company, recommends.

Instead, you need to be able to find the answers on your own in existing internal documentation.

Because too much documentation is hard to use and maintain, companies need to set rules about what gets documented, how, and how it’s distributed. This is called an internal documentation process.

3. Using tools to work more efficiently

Without the right tools, remote work can lead to overwork and overwhelm. Luckily, companies can adopt tools to prevent that.

Task boards such as Asana, Trello, and Monday help teams move away from instant messaging toward asynchronous communication.

Email management apps, like SaneBox, help employees focus on the emails that matter so they don’t have to spend two hours a day processing irrelevant messages.

TextExpander is a knowledge activation tool workers can use to add content via keyboard shortcuts wherever they are typing. By saving frequently used phrases, URLs, and other content as shortcuts, they can save over 30 hours a month.

Work better remotely

Remote workers are happier and more productive when they have control and autonomy over where, when, and how they work.

To provide that, companies must embrace asynchronous communication and incorporate the technology to support it, including taskboards, email management apps, and productivity apps.

To learn more about TextExpander and how you can pair it with SaneBox to spend less time on email, visit the TextExpander website.