The shift to remote work has led some teams to experiment with asynchronous work — and redefine the concept of teamwork in the process.\nWhether it’s sports, relationships, or work, we all suffer from some personal bias about what a healthy team looks like. But ask yourself this:\nIs working together the same as working as a team?\nTo many of us, the answer is no. All teams work together to pursue a common goal, but that doesn’t mean they have to literally work together at the same time, in the same location.\nIn this post, we’ll explore the concept of asynchronous work and share some of our best strategies to increase productivity.\nBut first, let’s make sure we’re clear about what asynchronous work is.\nWhat is asynchronous work?\nAsynchronous work occurs when teams have work hours that don’t directly align. This happens because of time zone and location differences or because teams choose their own hours.\nSome teams have specific mandatory overlapping hours, and they operate asynchronously outside of that time. Some remote teams start out working a fixed schedule but gradually become more asynchronous over time to work around other responsibilities.\nThere’s no right or wrong way to adopt this scheduling style.\nWhen it comes to asynchronous work, you may be wondering: how can you make time for team collaboration if your team’s schedules are so different?\nChances are, you won’t be able to do away with all synchronous work. So how do you decide which work should be done asynchronously and which should be done synchronously?\nAsynchronous vs. synchronous work (examples)\n\nSource: Doist\nSo what is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous work?\nThe main difference is that synchronous work happens in real-time while async work happens on our own time.\nEven if a team spans different time zones, they’re operating synchronously when they engage in a Zoom video call, a Slack back and forth, or another communication method that requires an immediate response.\nReal-time communication is great, but it isn’t always possible. Some remote employees only overlap for a few hours a day, so they’ll have to mix in some async communication, too.\nThis could come in the form of watching a video, reading a guide a teammate created in Google Docs, or sending a progress update email.\nAt first glance, async communication leaves more room for error than synchronous communication —but not if you have the right tools.\nFortunately, we’re no strangers to async work here at Hubstaff. Even before the pandemic, we’ve been working in a remote, asynchronous environment for over a decade.\nTake it from us: Respecting people’s time and allowing them to work at their own pace can change your life for the better.\nWhy should asynchronous work be part of your business strategy?\nCompanies around the globe already realize that remote workforces perform better than in-office teams. But can asynchronous collaboration help us take productivity to even greater heights?\nWell, not without overcoming some remote work challenges.\nLimited meeting time, time zone differences, and language barriers can affect even the most experienced teams. You’ll also need to strengthen relationships and encourage remote communication. Not all work environments have conventional coffee breaks or water cooler chats.\nThe benefits of asynchronous work\nAt Hubstaff, we’ve found that having the right tools makes asynchronous communication one of our greatest strengths.\nWith asynchronous work, team members get plenty of time to focus, but we still have excellent systems in place to help us stay connected. However, it’s not only about productivity.\nOne of the primary reasons we’re asynchronous is because of our company values.\nAt Hubstaff, we believe asynchronous communication is the future of work. Flexible schedules help us reduce burnout and be more present for the things that matter most to us. It also allows us to put our families and personal lives first.\n “Working at Hubstaff has allowed me to take full advantage of remote work. Being an ex-pat is never easy: I find myself missing my family, friends, and even the Portuguese cuisine more than I expected. Thanks to remote work, I’m able to travel back home every few months to spend quality time with my family. Even back home, I can continue working without missing a beat.”\nTiago Santos\nSoftware Engineer\nHubstaff\nAs the saying goes, variety is the spice of life. We love the ability to change plans at a moment’s notice. Because we try to limit meetings whenever possible, no one has to cancel plans or refrain from spontaneous decisions when working async:\n “I can volunteer for a field trip when another chaperone cancels at the last minute. I can wake up and decide to go to the beach with my family because it’s a beautiful day. I can do these things knowing I’m not letting others down and disrespecting their time. All I need to do is find time to make up the work.”\nCourtney Cavey\nDirector of Marketing\nHubstaff\nFlorida, U.S.\nOf course, asynchronous collaboration gets easier the more you practice. Spontaneous trips, flexible hours, and impromptu time with family simply aren’t possible without healthy workflows.\nSo how can you get started?\nHow to create an asynchronous workflow\nThe critique that async work can easily slip through the cracks is valid. That’s why it’s extremely important to collaborate with your team to create an asynchronous workflow.\nThe first step is to create an asynchronous collaboration policy.\n1. Create an asynchronous collaboration policy\nOverhauling the way you work can be overwhelming, so it’s much easier to create new policies when you break them into smaller subcategories. Help your team adjust to change gradually by prioritizing specific policies and adopting new habits one by one.\nHere are a few areas to focus on while developing your asynchronous work policy:\nMeetings\nAs previously mentioned, unnecessary meetings hurt productivity.\nThat said, you won’t be able to do away with them altogether. You may need to hold sprint meetings, weekly 1:1s, and brainstorming sessions to keep your team connected.\nThis can be a challenge for asynchronous teams. With so many different schedules to deal with, there are very small windows where everyone is available at the same time. So how do you make it work?\nOne way is to have your teams utilize the Stand-up feature in Hubstaff Tasks. If someone can’t make a meeting, their team leader can share what they’ve been working on.\n\nEven if you can find a time when everyone’s schedule overlaps, there still may be people missing because of sick time, vacations, or other conflicts.\nIt’s also smart to record meetings so that those team members can catch up when they’re available. Plus, team members who were there can look back on the recording to clear up confusion and remember what was said.\nCommunication etiquette\nWhen it comes to remote meetings, video calls, and Slack messages, create a general etiquette guide for your teams. Include guidelines for communication tools too. Consider this:\n\nSlack response time etiquette – How quickly do you expect people to respond on Slack and other instant messaging apps?\nVideo meeting camera policy – When should team members keep their cameras on?\nCell phone policies – What are the rules for contacting people on their personal devices?\n\nOne of the most common complaints from new remote and distributed teams during the pandemic was that it was hard to unplug and get away from work. Some people felt like they were living at work rather than working from home.\nSet clear boundaries so that off time can truly be a time to unplug and stop thinking about work.\nAt the same time, your team members need to hold each other accountable so that work doesn’t stall.\nIf your remote workers are on their phone during meetings or not responding to Slack messages in a timely manner, it can make it harder to collaborate efficiently. If left unchecked, these small habits can balloon and create productivity issues.\nCreate a communication manifesto\nAt Hubstaff, we include all of the policy elements we just talked about in our Communication Manifesto. To see how we create and handle asynchronous communication rules, get a free copy of our policy here.\n\n\n\nWe’ve worked through our fair share of communication challenges — just like every other growing team.\nOne of the ways we conquered our collaboration struggles was by creating this Communication Manifesto.\nOur goal is to strike a balance between being available and responsive to teammates while still finding quiet time to focus without interruptions. The Communication Manifesto gives us clear boundaries and expectations to help us do that.\nMake your communication guidelines even clearer by setting up rules for do-not-disturb hours.\nDo-not-disturb hours\n\nIf you want your team to become great at asynchronous collaboration, create an environment where your team never feels afraid to be offline. People should trust that they can step away and recharge when they need to.\nEven when your team is signed in and working, they don’t always have to be available for interruptions. One of the biggest advantages of remote work is the ability to control distractions while you tackle jobs that need a lot of focus.\nUse Do Not Disturb and custom status away status settings for messaging apps like Slack. If you’re not sure how to configure these settings, Slack has a helpful guide to get you started.\nAt Hubstaff, we like to do this with a shared Gmail calendar as well. Our team posts when they’ll be out of the office or unavailable during the day.\nIf team members plan to be out frequently, they can create their own office hours by adding time to the calendar and changing the “Does not repeat” setting to a frequency of their choice. You can learn more tricks from Google’s support page. \nYou can even use this feature to create time blocking schedules and implement focus time best practices.\nEven when your asynchronous teams are on the clock, you still need to instill a culture where each team member’s independence is respected. One of the ways we do this at Hubstaff is with focus time.\nHubstaffers have the option to block out two four-hour periods each week for focused tasks. We put our times on a shared calendar and use these points in our week to grind out deep work.\nFocus time isn’t fool-proof, but the idea is that you will have eight hours a week of uninterrupted time. That means no Slack messages, emails, or meetings.\n2. Find tools for async conversations and meetings\nRespecting boundaries is difficult without the right tools. That’s why our team at Hubstaff has a few staples we like to turn to. Here are some of the best apps for async work.\nYac\nYac is a tool that allows teams to hold asynchronous meetings. Can’t find time to meet with a co-worker? No problem.\nWith Yac, you can create pre-recorded meetings that allow you to add attachments, copy transcriptions, and share Yacs with other members of your team.\nHere’s a Yac I received from Yac’s Head of Customer Experience, Tyler Sellhorn:\n “At Yac, we’re in the business of building high-performing remote teams. We do that by prioritizing voice messaging over text messaging and screen sharing over video conferencing. We’re all about putting those two things together in a space where you can have a better meeting that’s more efficient.”\nTyler Sellhorn\nHead of Customer Experience\nYac\nYou can even simulate the screen sharing features of a tool like Zoom or Slack with the annotations feature. Record your screen and draw on it like a virtual whiteboard to emphasize your points. Then, send it to your team for feedback.\nSlack\nSlack is a workplace communication and messaging tool for teams of all sizes.\nAn easy-to-use search feature helps asynchronous teams maintain a healthy work-life balance. Employees can answer their own questions and find files without disturbing their teammates who are off the clock.\nWhen you do need to talk face-to-face, Slack’s video calling feature is great for quick one-on-ones and meetings.\nAt Hubstaff, we treat Slack like our office space. The #general channel is a great place to post announcements that the whole team needs to see. We also have channels organized by team for group discussions and specialized information sharing.\nSharing important information in Slack channels is more effective than trying to make announcements in live meetings. Team members can see and respond on their own time.\nOf course, we do have meetings sometimes. When we do, we record them and post them in the appropriate Slack channel so that team members can access live meetings asynchronously.\nHubstaff Tasks\n\nHubstaff Tasks is our central location for all project-related communication and collaboration.\nEvery time we work on a task, we leave a comment about what we did so the next person working on it has a detailed work log. If we have questions or requests for teammates, we tag them on the task card and communicate directly within the task. The description allows you to link documents, add attachments and labels, and set due dates. When it’s time to hand something off, we assign it to the right person.\nThis strategy makes it far easier to collaborate because every task includes information about what has been done, what still needs to happen, and who is responsible.\nEven if someone comes in halfway through a project, it’s easy for them to catch up without needing a meeting or real-time conversation.\nOur team uses Hubstaff Tasks to ensure we’re all working on the right priorities at the right time.\nEach team member can see their task assignments and all the steps they need to finish before the project is complete. We know where we fit in the process and when we need to finish our part in order to stay on track.\nAs mentioned before, Hubstaff Tasks has an automated Stand-ups feature that keeps everyone connected, no matter when they work. It’s just like the check-ins you’re used to on Agile teams, except we can do it asynchronously.\nAt the end of our workday, we submit a Stand-up update that lists what we’ve worked on, what we’re doing next, and any roadblocks.\nIn a lot of ways, Hubstaff Tasks is our secret to successful asynchronous collaboration.\n3. Change project expectations and due dates\nSuccessful asynchronous teams are able to reimagine expectations and deadlines.\nMost teams have the luxury of working the same hours, so it’s easier for them to stick to fixed deadlines. On an asynchronous team, you’ll either need to:\n\nMove deadlines up. If you have client-facing deadlines that cannot be pushed back, consider creating an internal deadline that’s even earlier. This way, you’ll have room for error if schedules don’t align. Worst case, you’ll have deliverables ready ahead of time.\nCreate flexible deadlines. Ask yourself if deadlines need to be set in stone. What would happen if you pushed back a deadline? Would it hurt the project’s chance of success? If the answer is no, maybe experimenting with flexible deadlines would be helpful.\n\n “Something I learned while leading the Hubstaff customer experience team (that at the time spanned 18 time zones from Seattle to Melbourne) is how much you need to operate without the assumption that people are working at the same time.”\nTyler Sellhorn\nHead of Customer Experience\nYac\nNo matter how you choose to enforce deadlines, a great mantra for async teams is “always default to action.”\nIn other words, async collaboration works best in a proactive environment. Create a culture where employees feel comfortable jumping in — even when nobody else is around to guide them.\nThe results might vary, but it’s better to have a work in progress than a project that hasn’t been touched at all. Wouldn’t you rather pay employees who have a strong work ethic than ones who are afraid to make mistakes?\nWe’ve found success with this methodology, but that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.\nAsync or swim: not a method for everyone\nMastering asynchronous collaboration will take lots of practice. Even then, it might not be the right move for your team.\nThere are no easy, one-size-fits-all solutions, but transparency, respect, and the right tools are a great place to start.\nHave you tried asynchronous work? Tell us all about it in the comments.