How to Create an Asynchronous Work Culture
Distributed teams deserve smarter workflows.
As organizations embrace the remote-first future and wrestle with their own versions of hybrid working models, they face several challenges. First, they must learn to communicate effectively with team members across different time zones and cultures. Once they master communication, their productivity soars — but how can they measure productivity effectively?
Remote work began reshaping the global workforce well before the Covid-19 pandemic, but the spread of the virus accelerated remote work adoption for many companies that may not have been ready. When faced with a new threat, businesses sent employees home in droves, thrusting workers, managers and leadership teams into unknown territory.
Some companies with remote-first philosophies adapted easily. Others were not so well prepared. People who had never worked remotely struggled with unclear processes, while leaders scrambled to keep production steady. In almost all cases, the old standards of measurement and productivity no longer applied.
With the worst of the pandemic winding down, we're starting to see companies choose a formal position on remote or not. Many companies, such as Slack, Twitter and Square, have already announced that they will allow their teams to work remotely for as long as they wish. Companies that attempt to limit the freedom of their remote workers will see their best and brightest leave to join more understanding workplaces.
This shift marks the beginning of a new era of work in which time flows differently for every employee. People across the world will work together on projects across different time zones and in different cultures. Some people will start their day late in Asia and work into the evening, while some in the U.S. will rise at the crack of dawn so they can sign off an hour or two after lunch.
With so many people working on their own schedules, companies can either become more flexible or break under the strain. Businesses that force their global workforces to adhere to a set schedule will drive away talent, while those that acknowledge the reality of the situation will embrace the obvious solution: asynchronous work.
Asynchronous workflows allow teams to work independently without sacrificing speed. Because remote work increases the distribution of working hours for employees, asynchronous work makes perfect sense for remote-first businesses.
How to make the asynchronous shift
Companies with remote teams enjoy a host of advantages over those with traditional, office-bound workforces, but those advantages are deliberate. Distributed teams following asynchronous processes must maximize their productivity and eliminate opportunities for miscommunication.
Reliance on documentation
In offices where people share the same work hours, employees constantly ping one another with questions and updates. This doesn't work as well when colleagues live and work on opposite sides of the planet. To realize the advantages of asynchronous work, teams must become fanatical about accurate documentation. From sales to engineering, anyone should be able to see what others have done and pick up the work from there.
Elimination of meetings
Businesses hold too many meetings regardless of time zones and schedules. Remote-first organizations recognize that not everyone is available to meet during the same hours, which forces them to think more proactively about when, with whom and why they meet. On asynchronous teams, regular recording and storage of virtual meetings allows other interested parties to catch up on content on their own time.
Standardization of time zones
Distributed teams operate in several time zones at once, which can create headaches for scheduling — and not just for meetings. Marketers, for example, must schedule campaigns across a variety of tools. Engineers must schedule launches and updates at optimal times. Remote-first teams should switch to UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time, and communicate their needs based on that time zone.
In a truly asynchronous workplace, no one can keep work hidden in an inbox. The pace moves too quickly, and colleagues always need to know what their fellows are doing so teams can prioritize their actions to maximize productivity. Workers must trust one another and use tools that facilitate transparency in communication.
Respect different cultures
Asynchronous work doesn't care when someone leaves the office. In some parts of the world, people prefer to leave work several times per day to take care of other businesses, working in spurts throughout the day. Elsewhere, people prefer to work straight through lunch, cramming all their productivity into a shorter time frame. With team members around the world, people may take time off for different cultural holidays. Rather than force team members to keep track of a global calendar, asynchronous work allows them to stay focused on the work in front of them.
Judge quality over quantity
Employers should not require their employees to install time-tracking software and other spyware on their work computers. Doing so only makes employees feel that their managers judge them for the way they spend their time, negating the advantages of asynchronous remote work. Rather than obsess over hours, leaders should judge employees based only on the quality of the work they produce.
Establish goal measurement
A great way to maintain async collaboration across an organization is to adopt Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). The OKR methodology is a collaborative, goal-setting framework that helps teams and organizations reach their goals through identifiable and measurable results. By design, the OKR framework works across teams to create a standard the whole company can adopt. OKRs give purpose to organizations and help asynchronous teams pursue meaningful goals.
Remote-first businesses need asynchronous workflows to realize their potential and provide their employees with the perfect conditions to thrive. The OKR framework empowers employees to work with purpose. Companies like Intel, LinkedIn, and Airbnb have achieved amazing results using OKRs, but OKRs do not exist solely to boost bottom lines. Executed correctly, OKRs in asynchronous work can create a more comfortable, inclusive and effective environment for teams.
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