By Alex Daintith

It’s fair to say that the working landscape has seen a pretty seismic shift in recent years, owing largely to the fallout of an unprecedented global pandemic combined with the rapid advancement (and adoption) of new technologies. As a result, a hybrid working culture is inevitably here to stay — it’s one of the trends we predict will continue to dominate the staffing industry — bringing with it a raft of benefits (a few challenges notwithstanding).

A hybrid staffing model, it’s argued, leads to a more efficient use of company time, an uptick in productivity, a reduced possibility of employee burnout, and overall a better work-life balance across the organization. But as companies increasingly adopt this way of working, they’re starting to explore further opportunities to introduce workplace flexibility through models such as “async” working, an approach that negates the need for constant real-time collaboration and communication.

But what is async working? Why is it becoming increasingly commonplace? What are the benefits of working asynchronously over ensuring alignment of schedules? And how can you implement an effective async model in your organization? Let’s explore. 

What is async work?

As you’ve probably already surmised, “async” is a contraction of “asynchronous,” which is defined simply as one or more things not existing or occurring at the same time. When we apply the term to the realm of business, that definition pretty much still stands (with added nuance, naturally): working asynchronously broadly means that not all members of a team or organization are required to be working (or online) all at the same time.

An asynchronous approach denotes that work is completed and tasks progressed despite employee schedules not always aligning. It’s an extension of the hybrid working model that not only enables a business’s employees to choose their own working location but effectively their own working hours too, allowing flexibility over schedules, facilitating an even more efficient use of time, and ultimately maximizing productivity.

In an async environment, individual employees can perform their roles and complete assigned tasks without necessarily having to wait for others to complete theirs, while time spent in unnecessary or drawn-out meetings can be significantly reduced. The key, of course, is putting processes in place that enable team members to work autonomously, with a focus on efficient, agile workflows, and effective (yet not necessarily immediate) communication.

What’s the difference between synchronous and asynchronous work?

In the simplest terms, synchronous and asynchronous work models differ in that the former is a more rigid structure that relies upon employees working simultaneously, while the latter introduces more flexibility (and crucially, trust) by not requiring them to work to matching schedules. Essentially, async work seeks to optimize productivity by denoting that an employee’s work does not depend on synchronous communication.

In practice, there are several ways in which a traditional synchronous model can be distinguished from a more flexible asynchronous approach. For example:

  • Synchronous work is more common in companies with largely office-based cultures, while asynchronous work is more conducive to remote or hybrid working models.
  • Synchronous work requires employees to work to roughly identical schedules, whereas asynchronous work doesn’t require them to be online at the same time.
  • In a synchronous work model, employees communicate in real time and are often expected to respond to messages immediately; in an asynchronous model, employees respond at their earliest convenience without this impacting workflows.
  • In a synchronous work environment, the employer typically determines each employee’s schedule, while an asynchronous business places trust in their employees to determine when they work most effectively.  
  • Synchronous work often creates artificial barriers to productivity (the need for face-to-face meetings, for example) which can slow progress, whereas asynchronous work seeks to remove these barriers and create more efficient workflows. 
  • Asynchronous work relies on clear documentation and seamless communication (a project management tool such as Teamwork can help here), while synchronous work may encompass more spontaneous correspondence, requests, and updates. 

What are the benefits of working asynchronously?

From an employee’s perspective, async work can introduce more flexibility and a better overall work-life balance, often causing them to feel more content in their roles. But there are ample advantages for businesses, too, with the model offering many compelling reasons to abandon a more traditional synced-up model and introduce greater calendar-related flexibility. 

Enhanced productivity

One of the primary advantages of asynchronous working is that it enables each employee to maximize their own productivity by determining the makeup of their work schedule — in essence, it empowers them to work when they’re most productive, rather than forcing them to work to set hours simply because those hours broadly align with those of their colleagues and line managers.

“Morning people” can start work at the break of dawn, for instance, while those who hit their peak late in the day can shift their hours and work into the evening. They can also better accommodate unexpected lifestyle factors (childcare requirements and such) without these interrupting their work or hampering their output. With fewer interruptions, too, your employees are likely to get through work more efficiently and maintain a higher standard.

More efficient use of time

If you really think about it, how many hours of your day are spent efficiently? If you work in a synchronous environment, you may think that you’re spending most of your time productively, but you’ll inevitably lose precious hours to unnecessary meetings (where an email or a message via a Slack Channel might have sufficed) and continual interruptions (such as “urgent,” drop-everything requests) when you’re trying to get your head down.

Organizations spend around 15% of their time in meetings, for example, but surveys have shown that only around 1 in 10 meetings are considered productive. This equates to a lot of time wasted, which could otherwise be spent making progress on important projects. Async models negate the need for non-essential meetings — the important ones can be recorded for people to watch back in their own time, while updates can be communicated through other means (shared files, messaging apps, or project management tools, for example).

Increased time-zone coverage

Another benefit of async work is that it provides greater coverage across time zones, particularly as it facilitates more of a geographically-dispersed workforce. This is especially beneficial if your business also has clients or customers in multiple global locations, since you’ll be able to respond to their requests and queries more quickly and avoid leaving them waiting several hours for a reply.

If your business is based in Europe, for example, but you have clients or business partners in North America, you might benefit from having at least some of your workforce based in that part of the world and working asynchronously from their overseas colleagues. If that’s the case, hiring employees in Canada or the U.S., for instance, is far easier when you operate an effective asynchronous model, providing coverage across multiple locations.

Better decision-making

In a synchronous work model, importance is often placed on criticality and urgency; because employees and leaders work on similar schedules, meetings are often arranged hastily, with little or no preparation time or clear agendas, and immediate responses are expected. This can result in speedily-made decisions that don’t consider all potential permutations due to less time spent deliberating.

On the other hand, an async model provides team members with more time to process information before responding to a query or offering a solution. There is less pressure to make on-the-spot judgements that may turn out to be infeasible later, which can create operational headaches and waste time and resources. Ultimately, this may lead to more effective decision-making based on insight rather than instinct.

How to effectively implement an async work model

Of course, successfully introducing an asynchronous working culture is far from straightforward, and it requires more than simply removing the need to align calendars. There are several important steps involved in creating an async environment in order to ensure your organization can continue to function effectively while working this way.

  • Communicate effectively. Effective communication is the bedrock of any async model, even though it rarely happens on the spot. Encourage the use of strong communication tools (internal newsletter software can be a great way of getting information across) and ensure updates are conveyed unequivocally.
  • Document everything. Clear documentation is also an essential element of async working. Rather than waiting for information to be related to them, employees should be able to locate it independently, so document all important information in one place and ensure it’s easily accessible using a secure file sharing solution.
  • Set clear deadlines. In an asynchronous environment, it’s crucial that each team member is aware of when each step of a project or task is due. As a manager, you should review your employees’ schedules and determine availability before assigning work.
  • Encourage seamless handovers. Working asynchronously often relies on one employee picking up a task or project from another, so it’s vital that everyone knows how to complete an effective handover (using clear documentation and notes) before leaving for the day or taking time off.
  • Avoid needless meetings. Effective async models rarely involve lots of meetings, so consider whether a meeting is really necessary before scheduling it; could an internal newsletter or even a short video message (check out this guide to recording a video on a PC) be more beneficial?
  • Show trust. An effective async model is built on trust. To allow your employees to work autonomously on their own schedules, you must trust in their ability to show self-motivation and maintain productivity without continual supervision or micromanagement.

Clearly, there are several reasons that many businesses are turning to asynchronous work models with a view to enhancing productivity and maximizing operational efficiency (they can also introduce greater time-zone coverage and encourage more effective decision-making). Follow the steps outlined above, and your business too could benefit from this more flexible approach to scheduling.

Alex Daintith is a creative content writer hailing from the Northwest of England. He loves to muse on a wide array of topics; from ecommerce and technology to the natural world — we dare you to find a subject he can’t write about. In his spare time, you’ll find him pottering in his garden, or plinking on the piano.