Successful Asynchronous Collaboration

Asynchronous Collaboration

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

The future of work is changing and with it the landscape of how we work. We are seeing remote and hybrid teams more often, and the way remote teams flourish might be different than we initially thought. The old way of collaborating required an immediacy that poses new issues for remote and hybrid work. Recreating the office remotely is not going to get you the results you are looking for. Asynchronous collaboration and management can truly unleash your team’s potential.

“There’s a different methodology for managing remote teams. And that’s actually the essence of what I looked at when I wrote this book over the last year and a half, which was saying to myself, no one really knows how to manage these remote teams. They simply just thought that it was just slapping Zoom and Slack and Microsoft Teams on top of what everyone does. And everyone goes home and works from their laptops. It’s completely different.”

Liam Martin, author of Running Remote

Remote teams have gone from 4% of the population, pre-covid, to 45% of the population today. This is a massive shift and assuming that the traditional in-person work practices of the past can translate into the remote environments of the present, is detrimental to both team health and company growth. There is a time for togetherness and connectedness, and there is a time for deep, focused work. Async communication is not the full story, with async collaboration we can communicate ‘in real time’ or synchronously, with more intention. This balance of asynchronous and synchronous work will unlock the potential for leaders looking to scale their enterprise and unleash their teams.

In order to understand asynchronous let’s start by defining synchronous, the old way of doing things.

What Is Synchronous

Synchronous communication happens in real-time; it is when at least two people are exchanging information at the same moment with each other. This can be in person or virtual; if you are a remote worker these moments are usually scheduled over Zoom. Synchronous communication is vital for keeping work human. When the balance of async and sync is off it becomes easier to forget that there is a living, breathing, person at the other end of your communication. Including moments of live interaction like storytelling, sharing fun facts, or even just casual check-in conversation allows us to connect with grace and build empathy for one another.

Examples of synchronous tools:

  • In-person meetings
  • Zoom or other video conferencing
  • Phone call
  • Coffee Break or water cooler conversations

Synchronous work should be a time to explore new ideas, a time when progressive moves can be discussed, and a time to develop relationships with your team. When we focus on trust and transparency in our asynchronous work, we allow space in our synchronous work for future planning and we are given the opportunity to be reminded that we are human, that connection, play, and psychological safety are critical to our wellbeing. The foundation of a healthy remote organizational culture is built on a balance of both sync and async work.

What Is Asynchronous

Asynchronous communication is any type of communication that has a lag between when information has been sent and when that information is received and processed by the recipient. This type of communication is not typically in person, and while it may sound a little disconnected from a human-centered mentality, the truth is, it can be an incredibly powerful tool for generative ideas and productivity.

Examples of Asynchronous tools:

With the proper tools in place, your team’s communication can be fast, accurate, and informative.  Asynchronous tools are also an excellent option for remote and hybrid groups dispersed over time zones because they provide both flexibility and a permanent record of ideas, decisions, and discussions. When teams are encouraged to prepare asynchronously before a synchronous meeting, you will find more time for deep exploration of topics, ideas, and discovery when you meet.

Async Collaboration

Slack, emails, and even text are asynchronous communication tools, but slack and texting have a high sense of immediacy. There is an expectation of short response times, and this can be habitual, or cultural. These tools are also not well suited for dynamic, adaptive, or shifting conversations. Take, for example, the email thread from hell. Someone sends an email with 5 points, the first person responds to the fifth point, but not the others. The second person responds, and it is unclear if they are responding to the first responder or one of the other five points, and so on….

Synchronous work happens in the moment meaning it is faster, more dynamic, and has active, present participation. Asynchronous communication happens over time, meaning work is produced at the pace of the individual and allows for uninterrupted deep focus.

Collaboration is key. Digital whiteboard tools like MURAL can be used in both synchronous and asynchronous work, allowing the full team to generate ideas, brainstorm, and collaborate on creative solutions in and out of meetings.

Asynchronous collaboration allows leaders and teams can stay connected and flourish without falling into predictability and rote communication. With asynchronous communication comes automation: higher velocity work with lower failures and improved productivity certainly sounds like the winning ticket for a successful business, but too much automation can begin to feel robotic. Studies show that human connection is key to employee engagement and retention, so organic thought processes and collaboration are as critical as improved efficiency to unleashing your team.

“Over 60% of leaders said that communicating values is a significant challenge within organizational culture, and 28% said misalignment in values is the challenge. Respondents also identified significant challenges in the areas of DEI initiatives, distributed teams (55%), and lack of company-wide cohesion (55%).”

Work Now Report

The world of work as we know it is at a tipping point. As a natural result of changes long-in-the-making and then expedited during the pandemic, the state of work now and work in the future is forever different.

Asynchronous collaboration rather than just communication in a remote setting allows for a new level of cohesion. With collaboration through tools like MURAL, we are able to interact in real-time, generate solutions to problems with immediacy, and when we do enter a meeting we do so with intention and ability to get the work done.

Our Asynchronous Collaboration Tools

  • MURAL – This digital whiteboard allows for asynchronous collaboration that is in no way lacking creativity or innovation. Our team uses MURAL to collectively share ideas, designs, and prototypes. We also use MURAL to guide our weekly meetings. With MURAL, we can collaborate with the full team in real-time.
  • Loom – Our team utilizes this screen recording tool to ask questions, give detailed answers, and share new features. As you record your screen, you can get explain issues thoroughly and be able to recall the videos at any time. This means you have a database of Q and A that can be accessed at any point.
  • Figma – When designing new assets this tool is key to remote collaboration between design, marketing, and engineering departments. With real-time messaging, stunning design tools, and the ability to share working boards, design work can get done between departments with efficiency and speed.

Facilitated Asynchronous Collaboration

Asynchronous Collaboration incorporates facilitation at every encounter, and it requires a deep understanding of how remote employees optimally work.  . Remote-first companies understand remote operations, and there are important lessons that companies new to remote, or hybrid, can pull from organizations that have been running remote long before the pandemic.

There are elements of facilitation in all of our remote interactions, and often teams who are new to the remote landscape struggle to implement best practices across their teams. Liam Martin, co-founder of Time Doctor and co-organizer of Running Remote, takes on this challenge daily. Coming from a small community of people that know how to work remotely effectively has forced them to reevaluate asynchronous management. According to Liam we need to be able to manage teams without necessarily interacting face-to-face with them.

“Whenever you require immediacy of response from an individual inside of your organization, you believe that you’re speeding things up, but in reality, you’re simply speeding yourself up, but you’re slowing down the organization because you’re creating a culture in which people have to disconnect from their deep work.”

Liam Martin, author of Running Remote

The fact is that if you allow your team these moments of deep focus, the results are going to be a lot of really great work completed in a much shorter amount of time.

If you are seeking efficient structures to change the way your remote team works, the facilitators at Voltage Control understand the intricacies of remote work, design thinking, and much more to help your team discover their potential. Contact us today for a custom fit growth strategy that will help your business, your team, and yourself reach new levels of productivity.

Article originally appeared at

Image credit: Pixabay

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