I’ve long been a fan and proponent of asynchronous working environments. I believe there are several benefits on a daily basis that outweigh synchronous working environments.
I’ve been reflecting on this quite a bit the last few weeks. I’ve recently taken my asynchronous work to another level- not out of necessity, but of force. My new team is based 19 hours ahead of me, or a day ahead but 5 hours behind. This means when I begin work in the morning I have 5 hours of work where all my colleagues are sleeping or not yet at work. It also means that I have no one to collaborate with on Fridays.
5 hours where I can’t be interrupted even if I tried.
5 hours of time for me to just work.
I’ve gained some perspective, and sharing my thoughts.
When I have large blocks of time uninterrupted on my calendar I can focus on my task or tasks at hand. I can spend large amounts of time working through a problem, thinking, going deep, and uncovering rabbit holes. I can write documents, and edit them, and condense them and refine my thinking. I can do some fat-marker sketching, and work out user flows.
I can then share anything and am then forced to wait for feedback. I’ve worked in the feedback loop into my async workflow, too. If I don’t get a response or feedback until the next day-totally fine. If I’m blocked- totally fine, I work on something else.
This is the only time I can really spend on important, high-level strategic work I’ve been doing more and more lately. To really get into strategy and long-term business planning you can’t be multi-tasking or getting interrupted every 10min. You need to concentrate and think about all aspects of a business and problem or opportunity.
Remote work naturally lends itself to asynchronous working environments. However, early in the pandemic the term “Zoom fatigue” was coined and seemingly too many people were stuck replicating their previous work lifestyle but in their own home. They would keep the same meetings, meeting schedule, and do most things synched with others.
This was probably the worst thing to do. I get that some meetings must take place in real-time, but when everyone is not together in the same building it should be an opportunity to rethink workflows, process, and communication.
If you have to do a few of these, group them together. Back to back if possible, but not for too long.
When you have the chance to work interrupted for long periods of time productivity increases exponentially.
I can go through a large list of to-dos for my colleagues. I can knock out task after task, then get to my emails, then leave comments in a Figma file, and so forth.
I can simply get shit done. I can work, and be really productive.
Because the nature of being forced to work asynchronously I think the quality of my work output has improved. When you have to write something clearly, and concisely, you have the chance to re-read a document before sending it off. And, after you’ve authored enough docs that have been misinterpreted you learn how to edit, and rewrite to avoid these mistakes. (Note: This takes a ton of practice, and mistakes will be made, no way around that. Just keep improving and you’ll get there.)
In the end, the quality of work will improve and I believe async work will become a benefit for those who practice it.
When I’m blocked on a task I have to ask myself am I really blocked. I used to be a crutch to wait for someone’s availability, but now I realize that was a luxury to myself, and most likely a burden to them.
I now unblock myself. I work around the issue, or move onto another one. Or, I write up how I am feeling and wait to send a message to someone on my team. Perhaps in the meantime I learn something else that helps with the previous blocker.
I’m also at an early stage startup where time is luxury. Being blocked simply isn’t an option. I have to make decisions and move forward.
I’m also much happier. I no longer put stress on myself to be at or nearby my keyboard for 10-12 hours a day. If I need to take the dog on a walk for 20 min no problem. If I need to get fresh air, vitamin D, and exercise (such as going surfing), again, no problem. I can mold my day around these activities and make them both work.
Once I feel good about a set of deliverables I will send them out in at once to each recipient.
When realtime is required
Some events do require meeting in real-time, and part of working async means getting out of the 9-5 headspace. With some openness and flexibility you should be able to connect with your colleagues enough in real time.
For example, I am a morning person and start to struggle later in the evenings- I’m just too tire to be at 100%. Others have opposite schedules, and we make it work.
There are also plenty of tools to help bridge this gap. Loom is a great one, and Slack has audio huddles and video “clips” where you can still operate async but in more human, natural mediums other than writing.
With these tools you also don’t have respond immediately like you in a real-time environment. You can think about a response for a few minutes, a few hours, or maybe a couple of days. I’m always delighted when I have an immediate response but wait to reply, only to think of a better response before replying. It’s like forcing yourself to really see though a problem.
The part about working async is that you have to rethink how work is done. If you try to simply work in the same methodology but in separate locations you’re likely going to be exhausted. But if you can alter the way you work you’ll be far better situated for success.