What Role Will “Asynchronous Work” Play in the Future?

It is evident that remote working is set to remain the predominant form of employment for most knowledge-based roles. Following an unprecedented trial of remote working globally, it has been confirmed that a multitude of duties can be accomplished from various locations.

It is evident that there is still a considerable amount of progress to be made in optimising remote work. Many of the processes and techniques that are employed are yet to be refined and improved. For example, there is a growing concern among remote employees who are struggling to cope with the excessive amount of video conferences they must attend throughout the course of the day.

When working across multiple time zones, this problem can become more complex. It is rare that the start or end of the working day coincides with the hours of contacts in other time zones, meaning those hours can be taken up by calls.

Burnout is increasingly being used as a justification for resigning or ceasing work altogether. With decreasing opportunities for private time, even mundane tasks may be met with resistance from staff.

Unpaid labor

Asynchronous work is becoming an increasingly popular solution to this issue. To put it simply, asynchronous work involves working on a task or assignment without the need for other people to be present or online at the same time.

Remote work has provided a more straightforward way for individuals to communicate, thanks to the availability of video conferencing. Whereas traditionally it could take weeks of planning or travel to meet with a colleague, remote work enables video calls to be easily scheduled, ensuring everyone is accessible.

If we were to collaborate on a presentation, I propose that we have a 30-minute call to discuss the topic and then I would create a storyboard while you gather the necessary technical information. The subsequent call could be used to review and consolidate our work, and then further calls, if required, could be scheduled to complete the presentation.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this approach, although we both likely have other projects competing for our attention alongside this presentation. This approach also limits us to working within our respective schedules. Let’s imagine that we are on different sides of the world. If this was the case, then one of us is likely having to work through meals or other social events, causing delays when our assistance is most needed and creating frustration during our calls.

For collaborative work outside of office hours, I can compose a comprehensive email or Teams message that outlines my proposed storyboard. If necessary, I can attach a draft copy. You are welcome to make any comments, provide technical details, and ask relevant questions while I am not available. This could be repeated multiple times in the upcoming days, and the last step would be a video call to review and refine the work.

Problems in Composing and Scheduling

If you come across a technical term such as “asynchronous functioning”, it may seem too simple to be of any real use. However, it is important to note that many companies already rely heavily on asynchronous communication through Instant Messaging and email.

Although the concept is straightforward, it does not necessarily mean it is easy to implement. The sheer volume of emails does not necessarily reflect efficient use, or the extent to which they are allowing for contemplation rather than being a further distraction.

One of the primary objectives of asynchronous working is to reduce the need for real-time communication and collaboration. Teams can assist by furnishing their colleagues with organised packages of outcomes, summaries and queries that can be quickly absorbed and acted upon.

Upon initial inspection, this may appear to be superfluous ‘administration’. Investing 15 minutes in preparation for a handover could result in an hour being saved during a meeting, with some practice. This may not seem like much, however, when multiplied across several projects, it could have a substantial impact in reducing the ‘always-on’ culture that can be cultivated due to the abundance of video conferencing options.

Trying Out Asynchronous Methods of Collaboration

The benefits of asynchronous working can be realised with minimal upfront time and energy investment, in addition to the usual challenges associated with introducing new working practices.

To ensure efficient progress on a task that would typically take several calls and meetings over the course of a week or two, we should begin with an email or chat to notify all involved that the only time everyone needs to be on the same call is at the end for a review. The remaining work should be completed via asynchronous sessions, and our team’s collaboration tools should be utilised to keep things progressing. To illustrate proper procedure, I will clearly outline when I require another team member’s contribution on the project.

If your initial foray into asynchronous working proves successful, you may wish to consider rolling it out to other teams and projects, with a view to making it a key element of your organisation’s culture. Formal metrics and incentives may help to drive the transition, as with other changes. It may be beneficial to encourage team managers to limit the number of meetings involving more than two individuals.

Starting the change by avoiding scheduling meetings outside of standard working hours and suggesting instead to “work asynchronously” can be beneficial for all. Investing extra effort into ensuring a smooth transition could also help to develop communication and leadership abilities, ultimately leading to more efficient teams.

It is recommended that formal incentives be provided to leaders to reduce the amount of time spent in meetings and to provide examples of how to implement asynchronous working. This would help the company maintain productivity, provide employees with more time for work rather than long video calls and improve morale.

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