What is Async? Understanding How to Collaborate Remotely and Solve Zoom Fatigue

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Darren Murph
12/08/2020

What is Async

I’m looking forward to Google’s year-over-year report on queries for the term “asynchronous.” 

As millions embrace the reality that remote work will be a permanent fixture in their world, mindsets are starting to shift. We’ve graduated from crisis management to building for the future. In doing so, leaders the world over are working to build remote fluency — instilling virtues and workflows that enable a company to thrive regardless of where a team member is situated physically. 

Asynchronous, or async for short, is a superpower for remote teams. Mastering it takes years, but there are motions you can trigger today that will put your team on a path of becoming more inclusive and less susceptible to Zoom fatigue. 

What is Asynchronous?

Async is the method of working and communicating in such a way that progress can be made without another vital party being online, available, or even awake. It’s counterintuitive for many, particularly if you’re accustomed to working on projects “in real-time,” with micro-communications creating the fabric for project completion. 

The Kentucky Derby 

To better understand async, let’s use an unusual analogy: a famous horse race. Instead of focusing on one big project, break projects down into multiple, smaller pieces. Think of each sliver of work as a horse at a racetrack, where you can only jockey one at a time. You hop on the first horse and work on a given project until you need input; then, you write down the current status and what you need from your not-yet-online colleagues so that they’re equipped to move the project forward once they’re available. 

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Meanwhile, you saddle the second horse, and move that piece of work forward. You keep hopping on and off horses until you reach the final horse. Then, you circle back to the first horse — ideally, your colleague moved that piece of work forward, unblocking you to incrementally take it to new heights. 

What are the Async Fundamentals? 

To do async well you’ll need two critical things. First, the right tools. While email and Slack can be used asynchronously, they aren’t built for it. Consider project management tools like GitLab, Dropbox Spaces, and Friday. You’ll want to create a single source of truth for where work is discussed. Think of this as a sole boardroom. In a remote team, transparency is vital, and you’ll want to solve for fracturing if you want async to work.

Second, the right mindset. Working well without relying on colleagues instantly replying to each other on Slack or Teams message requires your entire team to reset their expectations. The mental shift must start at the top, and it requires you to think about work differently. If you’re looking for a shortcut, ask yourself this: “How can I accomplish this piece of work without calling a meeting?” 

Why Bother with Async?

While async may seem like it’s centered on productivity, there’s a deeper reason to embrace it. Async is all about inclusivity. Companies which enable most work to be done asynchronously enable people to optimize their day-to-day for their lives, not their work. They can schedule their days around their families’ needs, not the needs of their colleagues. They can work during their most productive hours or utilize a non-linear workday, creating a new paradigm for flexibility. 

Companies which offer the best async experiences will be viewed as the best companies to work for. While luxurious campuses and free food were once useful for winning awards, times have changed. Now, the best talent will flock to an atmosphere where async workflows make Zoom fatigue a foreign concept.

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