The future of work is asynchronous
The long-awaited workforce revolution has finally happened. Almost one-quarter of office jobs are fully remote. Millions of people are no longer stuck in offices and distributed work—whether it’s hybrid or 100% distributed—is more widely accepted for many careers. But the world had never been built for distributed teams or remote work. We’ve always been told to go to the office, see people face-to-face, use the tools provided by the company, and do our best to stay afloat.
But there is a solution for our new remote reality: asynchronous work.
For more than a decade, I worked with global teams across borders and time zones—at Google, I was based in Amsterdam and London, then in the United States for Android and Uber—and felt like I was in meetings all day while swatting away at a constant stream of emails, messages, and other distractions. My colleagues in Singapore, Los Angeles, and Tokyo would be using different platforms for communication, file sharing, and project management—and those tools were all in silos. None of the tools were interoperable even though they claimed to be. This was an enormous hassle and led to low productivity, wasted time, and overall frustration.
Companies are waking up to the current problems with distributed work and see the need for more flexible solutions. For example, constant messaging from an app like Slack can cause anxiety for teammates in other time zones, when they receive pings throughout all hours of the night or even on weekends. Being on Zoom all the time leads to people having to join meetings late at night or early in the morning.
Why did this happen? Because companies forced employees, no matter where they were, to abide by the same schedule. We want teams to break out of the tyranny of the traditional synchronous, in-office work model that doesn’t put work first. If you’re getting your work done on time and efficiently, why does it matter when or where it’s done? In the new way of working, we need to transition to asynchronous work.
Asynchronous, in short, is when work happens for different people on their own time. Consider a worker in London and one in Los Angeles. Based on a 9-5 work culture, they would have only a few hours to collaborate and work together. With an asynchronous work style, work becomes more like a relay race where one could set tasks and deadlines for the other without the expectation to respond right away. Work gets done on time, people are less stressed, and it allows for a wider talent pool. With an asynchronous work style, companies can hire literally from anywhere in any time zone and are not limited by geography.
It may sound daunting at first, but there are ways to begin your transition. Set up the proper tools to allow asynchronous work to occur. Taskmaster apps are better than simple messaging apps, which let anxiety seep in and can lead to wasted hours—10 hours a month to be exact. Remove pretty much all meetings—especially video ones—and save meeting time for more complicated topics, discussions, and brainstorming.
Company culture needs to change with the times and accept and adapt to distributed work if leaders don’t want to fall victim to the Great Resignation. Workers have spoken and want more flexible and efficient communication styles. Learning to balance synchronous and asynchronous communication should be simple for teams of all sizes with new tools.
It’s time to take a step back and ask if your current way of working and managing people is really the most productive and efficient. We have to rethink how we work—and allow people to work when and where they please, as long as they contribute. When we realize that distributed work doesn’t have to be so unnecessarily difficult and time-consuming, workers will be more productive, less stressed, and most importantly, happier.
Kenzo Fong is the founder and CEO of Rock, a multipurpose messaging app.