What does asynchronous collaboration mean?
Before we dive in, let’s start by talking about what asynchronous collaboration is, because it sounds a bit like an oxymoron.
Asynchronous collaboration is when people work together to produce something at different times without the expectation of an immediate response. This could look like teams brainstorming about new project ideas, sending questions back and forth on an existing project or tasks, sharing status updates, giving feedback, problem-solving, and more.
Dropping the expectation of being in the same room or receiving an immediate response is huge, as the biggest struggle that people have with working remotely is feeling like they can’t unplug.
We all know what this feels like: a notification comes in, and we feel we have to respond to it, no matter the time of day or night. (Hint: asynchronous remote collaboration can solve this!)
Naturally, the opposite of asynchronous collaboration is synchronous collaboration, which is real-time communication that takes place during a video call, in-person meeting, or via a messaging platform during overlapping hours.
To make this super clear, here’s a handy chart:
To expand on that point about messaging and communication tools, as outlined above, most communication that’s considered asynchronous still has the stigma that a response should be instantaneous. This is terrible for team morale and productivity.
One major component of async collaboration is empowering your employees to turn off notifications and respond when their schedule allows. We’ll explain how exactly to do this in our strategy section below.
Meanwhile, let’s look at an example of a project where asynchronous collaboration is leveraged every step of the way. Say you're working on a long-form white paper, and you're working with designers, writers, and subject matter experts (SMEs):
- The project manager (PM) can kick off the project with a voice messaging tool like Yac. In this message, they’d share details about expectations and what they are trying to accomplish. PMs can also share their screen to present slides or, for example, how to access the project’s task management tool.
- The experts use a documentation tool like Notion to compile research, quotes, data, images, and anything else they source in the early stages of the project. Everything is organized in a wiki so that it’s easy to find, comment on, and update.
- Once done, the SMEs ping the writers directly in Notion, or via another messaging tool like Slack, and the writers start turning that research into a draft in Google Docs. Here, further commenting and editing can take place, all the while updating the project status either in Notion or another project management tool.
- Any daily or weekly status updates and standing meetings you’d normally schedule can be replaced by asynchronous voice meetings, such as with a tool like Yac.
- After sign-off, the design team is notified that it’s time to brand it up. They get to work in whatever tool they specialize in (like Photoshop), brainstorm back and forth with a voice or video tool like Yac, and then upload the designs back into Notion for review. In fact, Yac can be used at every stage of the project to communicate with your voice instead of text. This helps the listener detect nuance and gives participants the opportunity to add more context. Using voice messaging to collaborate decreases miscommunication and back and forth questions like, “what exactly do you mean by this?”
- For sign-off, the team can come together in a quick synchronous meeting to ensure everybody is happy with the final result and iron out any last-minute changes need be. Debriefs or retrospectives are essential to guarantee great teamwork, so do them synchronously at first. As you get more comfortable with async collaboration, running them in this manner can be just as productive.
Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s dive into the benefits of asynchronous communication and how you can lead your team to maximize productivity without needing to be in constant communication.
How asynchronous collaboration makes for happier and more productive teams
A study conducted by the University of California Irvine showed that when workers are distracted from a task, whether due to a meeting, email, or Slack notification, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get refocused.
This tells us that requiring your team to always be on the alert for communication from supervisors and colleagues can actually hinder performance and morale.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are several other ways that asynchronous collaboration can help improve culture and communication.
Asynchronous collaboration gives flexibility across time zones
One of the biggest advantages of building a remote team is the fact that you no longer have to hire employees that are location-specific, widening the talent pool that your company has to choose from.
But you need to keep in mind that when you build a distributed team, you’ll have employees working across different time zones—maybe even employees who work closely on the same team.
Asynchronous work allows remote workers to jump into tasks and respond to emails, Yac messages, and updates on their project management tools during their preferred working hours, rather than when the rest of the team is “online.”
We’ve put “online” in quotes because we don’t believe people need to be “online” in order to prove they’re being productive. That green dot next to your name on whatever tool you use should not automatically equate to “available.” All that does is create a culture of “I’m ready to be distracted!” as opposed to “I’m busy getting deep work done.”
To avoid this, you can create a culture that fosters deep work by:
- Creating boundaries around work hours: Set a clear working schedule so your team knows how long a project will take to complete, and is empowered to set aside X amount of deep work time to get it done.
- Encouraging your team to only be reachable at certain times: Once you schedule real-time collaboration, nobody will need to worry about being ‘always on’ every again).
- Taking stock of useless tasks: Have your team categorize their tasks by ‘shallow’ and ‘deep’ so that they understand which tasks will require more concentration and which ones can be completed at speed. Perhaps if they have a day full of shallow tasks, they can schedule synchronous availability given that being distracted during shallow tasks activities is much less detrimental to productivity.
One caveat to keep in mind is due dates. While the flexibility of hiring across time zones can be a beautiful thing for your company, deadlines may need to be adjusted based on where in the world each collaborator is located.
Let’s look at a real-world example.
Mike is in Europe and has a task due for a project today. However, he's waiting on Sally to wrap a task up before he can do so.
Sally is on the West Coast of the US and completes the task in the late morning. However, Mike has already "downed the tools" for the day, and so the task or deliverable will now be a day late.
This can be avoided by accounting for time zones when assigning due dates.
Asynchronous collaboration avoids unnecessary meetings
According to Harvard Business Review, executives spend up to 23 hours a week in meetings—an especially shocking stat when you realize that in the 1960s, that number was less than 10. In addition, a study by Verizon showcased that the average professional attends over 60 meetings a month.
And the worst part of all? A 2019 Korn Ferry survey shows that 34% (nearly one-third!) of professionals say they waste 2-5 hours per week on calls or meetings that accomplish nothing. Furthermore, all of that time wasted costs the US economy between $70 billion and $283 billion each year.
Asynchronous collaboration can help you stop wasting valuable time and resources that cost your company money. Here are a few actionable tips for avoiding unnecessary meetings within your workweek:
- Define the purpose of meetings so your team has ground rules for when meetings are acceptable, or when communication should be async.
- Limit the number of meeting attendees to only those who really need to be in a meeting and have valuable input.
- Move towards asynchronous communication so your team can use their time more productively.
Learn more about how your team can cut down on meetings in our recent guide.
Asynchronous collaboration allows your team to work on their time
A team leader’s goal should always be to improve employee experiences, giving them more flexibility and time for deep work with fewer interruptions. But trying to create a culture of synchronous work does the exact opposite.
Instead, remove the video conferencing and real-time communication norms to get projects or work done.
Allow your team to get their work done on their own time, responding to messages and updating project management software without needing to provide constant status updates. This ties back to the deep work culture we described above.
This is all part of cultivating an asynchronous collaboration culture within your company. This must come from the top-down, and leading by example can supercharge adoption. Setting rules and then not following them yourself (like telling your team not to work on weekends and then sending emails on weekends), could send mixed messages.
Make sure to get all of your managers and team leaders on board so that you present a united front. Explain why you believe strongly in asynchronous collaboration and implement the change gradually. Changing the rules overnight doesn’t give you the chance to see how it’s working, gather feedback, and refine your strategy if necessary.
Building an asynchronous collaboration strategy
Now that we’ve gone over a few of the benefits that async can have on your team, let’s talk strategy. How can you create a seamless asynchronous collaboration plan that will empower your team to do their best work on their own time?
“Infusing asynchronous workflows into a team's operating rhythm requires two must-have elements: executive sponsorship and documented usage guidelines. Async is a pathway for greater efficiency and taking control of your time, but it functions best when every level of the organization is in support. Don't expect everyone to know how and when to use async. Leaders must document and upskill their team so they're confident in wielding one of the most powerful new tools in business.”
We’ve got three tried and true tips to help you transition your teams to an asynchronous collaboration workflow.
1. Be thoughtful on how you communicate
The key to async collaboration is changing the way your team leaders and their reports think about communication.
Many teams that turn to asynchronous communication err on the side of what they’re most used to, and they end up sending too many emails and text-based messages. This can lead to a lot of docs to read, miscommunication, and loneliness. That's why it is so important to have an added human layer of communication when going async, which is why we favor voice messaging.
Remove the expectation on your team to immediately respond to Slack messages. Allow them to turn off notifications throughout the day and come back to address messages on their own time.
Furthermore, start introducing new ways to communicate within your team.
Communication tools like Slack only allow you to go so far, but investing in voice messaging and screen recording software can be a great replacement when you’re trying to cut back on meetings.
Yac allows you to declutter your workday as you move to asynchronous collaboration with your team by dodging overcommunication and time-sucking meetings.
Here are some of the benefits of using a tool like Yac for async collaboration:
- Fewer back and forth, text-based messages
- Fewer scheduled meetings
- Bringing the team closer together with the power of voice
- Avoiding physically and mentally draining Zoom fatigue
- Increasing thoughtful, purposeful feedback through screen sharing with audio
As mentioned earlier, getting that nuance in tone across is sometimes necessary to send clear messages, decrease miscommunication, and simultaneously remove the need for a meeting to clarify.
If your team works remotely, remote communication is bound to look a little different from what you’ve been used to in the office, and that’s okay. Start looking into some new asynchronous collaboration tools that can help you reach your team’s new communication goals (revisit our earlier example for some great recommendations).
2. Map out the workflow
The most important part of implementing an async work culture is making sure there’s a process or flow that makes sense. We’re going to walk you through how you can map out the workflow of your new communication strategy so that it goes smoothly for your team.
Train your team on your collaborative tools
If you’ve invested in new tools, take the time to properly train your team on how to use them and the different use cases for each. Most async tools aren’t used to their full capacity, hindering progress and wasting time.
One gamechanger? Creating guides that walk team members through how best to utilize the asynchronous collaboration tools you’ve subscribed to.
For example, Yac has a variety of different use cases that your team could explore. You can send voice messages and video screen shares. During a video, you can draw over your screen with annotation to make a point super clear.
You can also use threads to keep your conversations organized, reply to messages with emojis, segment conversations by channels or direct messages, and much more.
If you only show your team one of the features, they’re missing out on all of the powerful aspects of the tools they’re using.
To ensure you maximize use, share the tool’s demos or help center articles for them to peruse on their own time. On top of that, put together your own guides and, importantly, use the tool itself to explain how it works and how it connects to your other tools. This is leading by example in action.
Stay ready and available to answer questions, and there will likely be many in the early days.
Establish clear expectations and processes
It’s vitally important to define what communication should be handled asynchronously and what should remain synchronous.
There’s no better example of this than meetings. Not all meetings are bad, but many are a waste of time. If you want to eliminate most meetings, you need to be crystal clear about what that means. For example:
- When does a quick in-person chat (about work) turn into a meeting? 5 minutes? 10 minutes?
- Should workers avoid asking each other to hop on a quick Zoom call, even if it will only take (theoretically) 10 minutes?
- Are ad-hoc meetings that weren’t scheduled in advance allowed?
Same goes for responding to emails, messages, and the like. People default to “I need to respond in short order” or to say “Yes, I can”, instead of, “No, I’m not available” or “This is my scheduled deep work time.”
If you don’t define every possible use case, your team will likely still lean towards synchronous communication as that’s what they’re used to. Tell them how they should make requests, respond to requests, and of course, communicate asynchronously.
Which tools should they use for which type of communication? What qualifies as a ‘meaningful meeting’ and what can be accomplished with async?
Document everything and then explain the rules so there’s no confusion.
3. Give and share feedback asynchronously
In our earlier example, we took you through what asynchronous collaboration could look like at every phase of a project.
Of course, feedback will need to be provided throughout the project to ensure each team member is on the right track with their tasks before it’s handed off to the next person.
We mentioned that Yac is a great way to do that. Now, let’s look at step one of that exact same sample project again to show you how you can use Yac to give and share feedback asynchronously.
1. The SMEs use a documentation tool like Notion to compile research, quotes, data, images, and anything else they source in the early stages of the project.
As the SMEs compile their data, they’ll need to communicate with each other to share progress, send each other helpful resources, and so on. Perhaps one SME is gathering statistics while the other is sourcing images.
The SME gathering statistics comes across a great report that’s full of useful images, and wants to share the findings with their teammate.
With Yac, they can share their screen and annotate to call out the images they’re referencing. Then, talk about why these images are interesting and where they think they can add value.
- There’s no miscommunication about what images they’re referring to because the annotation feature allows you to get super specific.
- By using voice, there’s no miscommunication regarding why the SME thinks these images are interesting. The nuance and context is easily understandable, which helps the listener interpret feelings and meaning much easier.
However, after the SME in charge of images watches the voice and video share, they realize that one of the images doesn’t perfectly align with their brand. Perhaps the colors are too jarring, or the figures are too cartoon-ish.
Instead of writing a message trying to explain their thoughts, they can simply reply in the same Yac thread with their voice. As a result, the original SME doesn’t take the rejection as an attack on their image-sourcing skills, but instead completely understands where their coworker is coming from and sends a thumbs up in response.
After all, the main goal is collaboration. And the best way to make that happen is by fostering a happy team and working environment.
Asynchronous collaboration helps you and your team get more done, waste less time, and prioritize deep work over shallow tasks and endless distractions.
To start ramping up productivity through asynchronous collaboration, you need the right tools at your disposal. Learn more about the different ways your team can use Yac to see if we can help.