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What Is Asynchronous Work? [Definition, Benefits, Challenges]

Thursday, November 18, 2021Written by Charlotte McIntyre

Remote and hybrid work is on the rise, and it shows no signs of slowing down. As employers embrace the benefits of hybrid work and come to terms with the fact that remote work won’t spell the end of their business, they’re also opening their eyes to the other possibilities that arise when you widen the scope of when, how and where work happens.

For employees, having more flexibility over how they structure their working day and being empowered to take control of their working areas has opened a lot of doors, especially when it comes to work-life balance. For many, it means a slower pace of life, where work fits in around life and personal commitments, and not the other way around.

Not only are businesses coming to terms with the fact that employees are more productive and happier when they have the flexibility to manage their own work schedule, they’re also realising the talent opportunities. When geography is no longer a barrier and your people are enabled to work from anywhere, your pool of talent grows immensely.

This rapid change in our approach to work has also brought a new concept to our consciousness as people work at different times and across time zones: asynchronous work. Which is what we are going to explore in this article.

What Is Asynchronous Work?

Asynchronous work is when teams work at different times of the day, rather than at the same time (e.g. 9-5). There can be different levels of asynchronous work. In some organisations there may be an overlap when teams are working at the same times. In others, there might be no cross over due to time differences or commitments.

Asynchronous work is very different to the world of work many of us are familiar with. For the majority of working people, the activity of work happens across a set time and (for the most part) everyone works within that time frame regardless of whether they work full or part time. This new way of working radically bucks this trend, leaving us to reframe the ways in which we communicate, collaborate, and innovate with our colleagues.

As you might imagine, there are challenges to asynchronous working that are mostly brought about by the fact that it’s such a radically different way of working. Having said that, with the right workplace culture, leadership ethos and frame of mind, asynchronous work presents a very real opportunity to harness the power of talent the world over. Let’s have a look at these challenges and benefits in more detail.

Benefits Of Asynchronous Working

We’re a positive lot here at Huler, so of course we’re going to start with the positives. And asynchronous working brings more than a few to the table when managed properly.

Better Communication

Yes, you heard us right. Better communication! Of course, there are communication challenges that come with asynchronous work, but they’re mostly tied to transitioning employees away from synchronous communication to a new way of interacting with one another. The reality is, once they get the hang of it and have the right tools/processes in place to collaborate and innovate effectively…the world is their oyster.

Often, teams experience something miraculous when they embrace asynchronous work. Instead of being overwhelming or distracting, communication is more purposeful and meaningful. With the help of defined means of communication and collaborative work tools, teams can work on projects efficiently and recognise the times when it might be more effective for them to come together synchronously to work on a project.

More Flexibility

Remote work brings many benefits. It removes the need for a lengthy commute, which can eat into your employees personal time and help them make the most of their days without being tied to a physical location. That being said, the flexibility of asynchronous work goes one better to add another layer of benefits to working from anywhere.

Asynchronous working gives employees the opportunity to identify and capitalise on their most productive times. It also allows them to be more present in their personal lives, when they have the flexibility to fit work around their life. This angle benefits organisations in a number of ways. Firstly, happy employees are proven to be more motivated, focused and engaged. Secondly, in breaking the bonds of the 9-5 organisations can get the edge on their competition in being productive when everyone else is winding down.

Empowered Employees

Asynchronous working requires employers to release the reins somewhat and trust their teams to do their best work at times and locations that work for them. This might sound scary, but when implemented correctly it can have a fantastic effect on your teams. Empowered employees who are given the gift of independence and control in their working day are more productive, innovative and creative.

They also feel more positively towards their employees, who have taken steps to fulfil their needs and give them the flexibility they need to strike a better work-life balance.

Less Pressure, Better Outcomes

Working synchronously can often lead employees to feel burnt out as they try to fit everything they need to do into a small window of time in their day. Similarly, employees in different time zones might feel pressured to ‘show up’ or ‘get involved’ in none work hours.

In having a clear asynchronous working policy, employers can take control of this experience for their employees and put clear boundaries into place to stop this happening. What’s more, the use of digital workplace platforms, collaboration tools and asynchronous communication tools can take the urgency out of the situation and give employees the freedom to approach a problem or situation at their own pace.

Challenges Of Asynchronous Work

Let’s be realistic, every situation and approach comes with challenges. What matters is how much we can do to mitigate those challenges to reap the benefits on the other side. Asynchronous working is one of these situations. When implemented and managed correctly, it can be hugely beneficial. However, without the right tools, platforms, training and management in place it can be tedious and detrimental to the employee experience over time.

Inefficient Processes

Pretty much every organisation relies on a level of agility and quick decision making to get things done. Asynchronous working, when not done correctly, can result in slower, inefficient processes, meaning it takes longer for decisions to be made or projects to be completed.

There are ways to mitigate this however, and it involves the grey areas that sit between asynchronous and synchronous work. For organisations that rely on quick decision making, it may be beneficial to build in a cross over period into everyone’s working day or week (if possible) where those important decisions can be made.

As well as this, contingency plans over who gets the final say on something at any given time can also ensure decisions get made in a way where accountability is preserved along with the ability to remain agile.

Negative Impact On Work-Life Balance

In situations where asynchronous working is in place without clear processes, policies and boundaries, employees can be left feeling like they’re always on which can quickly lead to burn out.

It’s important to keep in sight that asynchronous work schedules should benefit your people as well as your business. It’s not about being always able to contact each other at any given time in a 24-hour period. More so, it’s about working together effectively from anywhere.

To avoid this, organisations should have clear boundaries around contact around working hours. Everyone should know who is on and contactable at any given time, where they can seek support and what they should do in an emergency. Similarly, employees who are not working should have the right to switch off and be encouraged to do so no matter what is happening in the business.

Again, it sounds a bit scary. But with the right infrastructure in place, it can actually make your company more communicative and productive.

Lack Of Culture

Working remotely can be lonely. Add asynchronous work schedules in the mix and it’s even harder for colleagues to connect and feel part of something bigger while they’re at work. What’s more, it can also lead to employees feeling excluded or forgotten about, especially in hybrid scenarios where some colleagues are working face to face while others work remotely.

In these situations, it is down to leadership teams and HR departments to be sensitive to this fact and steer clear of black and white thinking. Company culture is just as important to asynchronous remote employees as it is to any one else. In fact, it’s probably more important as it doesn’t naturally grow from just being present in a physical workplace.

To overcome this, it’s important to over communicate with your workforce and be a champion of transparency. When it comes to socialising both in and out of work, there should be just the same amount of opportunities for remote employees as there is for in-office colleagues and more of an effort should be made to carry out team-building and bonding exercises.

Remember: great cultures aren’t built from the bottom up. They are top down. It is up to the C-suite, managers and the leadership team to set an example when it comes to transparency, communication, inclusion, diversity and equality.

Moving To Asynchronous Work

Moving to asynchronous work and communication can feel like a huge challenge for businesses. Especially considering that until 2020 many of us were still in the traditional 9-5 working bubble.

But the world of work has changed, is changing and will continue to change. Digital transformation is rapidly changing our approach to productivity, communication and collaboration like never before and to get ahead businesses need to ride the wave and make lasting changes that bring their people along with them.

If you’re ready to take on that challenge, why not check out HulerHub? Our digital workplace platform is taking the headache out of digital transformation for businesses by bringing all of their comms, tools, content and people into one user-friendly virtual space. To learn more about HulerHub, book a demo today and see it in action!

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