Guru is far from the only company switching to a hybrid environment once we reopen offices. A lot of businesses are choosing to embrace hybrid work or even switch to a fully remote environment, and it’s easy to see why they’re doing so.
Employees enjoy the flexibility and freedom hybrid environments create. Employers benefit from having happier employees and can even consider saving money on commercial rent by downsizing their space. It seems like it’s the best of both worlds, but some people are less than thrilled about the brave new working world we’re about to enter.
Plenty of companies were able to survive in a remote environment, but they certainly haven’t been thriving. A part of this has to do with adapting to working a less rigid schedule and not being able to contact people at the very moment you need them.
This change may seem like the end of the world for some, but if anything, it opens up companies to a world of possibilities. It’s time to talk about practicing asynchronous communication at work.
What is asynchronous communication?
The typical 9-5 office is dictated by synchronicity. You and your coworkers arrive at work together, you handle tasks throughout the day together, and you end work at the same time. Since everything is dictated by everyone being on the same schedule, work is expected to happen in a pretty rigid way.
Essentially, asynchronous communication is a fancy way of describing communication that happens on your own schedule instead of a collective one. When you embrace an asynchronous model of communication at work, you’re still able to communicate, complete tasks, and move forward without the need for stakeholders to be available when you’re working.
We don’t assume that life screeches to a halt just because it’s a workday.
The dog may need to go to the vet, Aidan could use a little help answering a math problem, or maybe you just need to take a moment to breathe and realign. Asynchronous work and communication gives us all a little bit of our time back and allows us to manage our days in a way that’s most efficient for us.
On top of consideration for coworkers, this form of asynchronous work can make it easier for companies to expand. You’re no longer constrained to a 9-5 schedule where everyone needs to be in the office. You can bring on talent located almost anywhere around the world and no longer have to limit yourself to local applicants.
The end of synchronous work?
We know what you’re thinking. “Oh, I guess since we’re all communicating asynchronously on a hybrid schedule, we’re never going to work together again. We can’t hold meetings or collaborate in real-time now!”
First of all, that’s kind of dramatic. Second of all, we’re not saying that at all. Believe it or not, both forms of communication can (and should) exist in the modern workplace.
There will be times when you’re going to need to meet in person (or just at the same time). The trick to mastering both is to realize that there are some things that need to be done in person (or in sync over a video call) and others that can be done at a different time.
If anything, adapting to an asynchronous model of work can make the time you spend with your co-workers even more impactful. After working independently and on your own time you’ll be able to come together refreshed and ready to work together with new ideas.
How to embrace asynchronous communication at work
Plenty of people are used to working remotely, but not asynchronously. In order for true asynchronous communication to work, you need to set yourself and your team up the right way. If you’re ready to truly embrace an asynchronous way of communicating, here are some tips that can make things much easier.
A broken public feature on a website or app is an urgent work problem. A question about which color post-it notes your team prefers is not. If you don’t find a way to differentiate between the two, every incoming email or Slack is going to feel like it’s an emergency.
In order for asynchronous communication to work, employees will need to know the difference between urgent matters and what can wait.
Set up guidelines around what truly constitutes an urgent matter and the best way to flag that. Have a set plan of action around whom to contact, the right steps to take, and how to document the problem.
Want to take a deeper dive into the best way to handle communication issues at work? Check out our post on our approach to internal communication at Guru.
Have clear communication processes in place
One of the biggest reasons asynchronous communication ends up failing is because people don’t have rules around communication in place. This is why it’s important to establish very clear expectations around how people talk to one another. When you do it correctly, you reduce the chances of misunderstanding or miscommunicating information.
Consider having employees create designated working hours where they know they’ll be by their computer and available to work. Utilize different labels, names, and topic settings in your Slack channels so employees know what conversations they should be having in them. Actually, this is a perfect lead-in to our next tip...
Create stellar documentation
It would be great if everyone in your company had superhuman recall abilities and only had to be told things once. Unfortunately, unless you’re working in a really cool top-secret program we probably shouldn’t know about, people are going to need plenty of reminders about rules for work and communication.
Focus on creating informative documentation that can easily explain tasks and answer basic questions that are likely to pop up throughout the day. You can create documentation around communication processes, specific guidelines around project work, and anything you think your people will find particularly useful.
It’s important to not limit yourself to written documents when you’re thinking about the best way to communicate certain things. Instructional videos, infographics, and audio files can be a great way to keep people informed.
Having the right documentation gives people much more flexibility and helps ensure that information is accessible and easy to understand. This can help reduce endless back-and-forth messages (so long shoulder taps) and lets everyone work more autonomously and efficiently.
Protip: Make sure you know how to use the tech you choose
Utilize (and revamp) your tech stack
We’ve talked about the importance of having an efficient tech stack before on this blog, but it’s critical to recognize the role technology plays in asynchronous communication Your tools for communication, project management, and day-to-day work are going to largely determine how well your team can work asynchronously.
You’ll also want to consider collaborative tools that make it easy to give feedback and do collective work. Some people can give feedback by simply taking a screenshot and marking it up with comments. Others will want a tool that can allow people to work and comment in real-time. It’s up to you to decide what would be best for your team.
Use your meeting time well
We said before that embracing an asynchronous communication model doesn’t mean that you’re rejecting synchronous work. When you’re part of a distributed workforce, every meeting counts. The pandemic forced us to take a hard look at how we were using our meeting times and really think about the best ways to utilize everyone’s time.
Take time to think about a meeting’s purpose and main objectives before you pull up your scheduling tool. Ask yourself if this is something that needs to be discussed live, or if you could get the same result after sending an email or Slack.
Pre-meeting work can be a valuable tool for people that are working asynchronously. Having people review documents, watch videos, or come prepared with questions or ideas before you officially meet can cut down on meeting time and make the time you spend together even more impactful.
And don’t forget about the value of recorded meetings. Despite your best efforts, there will be times where some people won’t be able to meet. Recorded meetings can give people the information they need to continue working.
Trust your peers
Let’s cut people some slack. Up until very recently, it was nearly impossible for asynchronous work to well...work. Thanks to innovations in modern technology, working remotely is easier than ever, but it’s important to keep in mind that the work environment we’re enjoying now wouldn’t have been possible 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago in some cases.
Remember, you and your colleagues are working together for a reason. You’ve all been deemed efficient, talented, and capable employees. Unless someone has given you a reason to believe that they can’t handle the responsibility that comes with asynchronous work, trust that they can handle the next step in your work environment.
We're with you Michael
Working together, separately
Regardless of your office’s chosen work schedule, embracing an asynchronous way of working can benefit you. Overall, asynchronous work models are made to set people up for success. When you work with an asynchronous mindset, you’re doing what you can to communicate and work in the best way possible.
We have one more tip before we close. We mentioned that you need to define urgency, have clear communication processes, awesome documentation, and an eye for determining meetings. Did you know that there’s a tool out there you can use to help you keep your thoughts organized, your employees informed, and serve as you all in one knowledge base? See how Guru can improve your asynchronous communications setup.