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Opting for Asynchronous Collaboration in the Hybrid Workplace: The 2021 Way of Working (Part 4)

The Final Part of our 4 Part series aimed at supporting you to step fully into the Hybrid workplace with confidence in 2021.‍

The days of everyone starting at 9 am at the office and ending at 6:30 pm aren't long gone, but it's not so common anymore. With the way things are going, the future of work is shifting more towards a hybrid workplace model; one in which is based on greater flexibility, more asynchronous communication, and the adoption of new habits and behaviours to better facilitate productivity and connectivity. Our aim in the last part of our 4 part series on the hybrid workplace is to open up the discussion around whether hybrid teams should be leaning more into asynchronous collaboration tools or towards synchronous collaboration. When it comes to bringing more visibility to what everyone is working on, knowing which communication method to use, and when, is crucial to the success of any remote team. So, where do you start?

Creating the Communication Bridge

Communicating across time zones and workspaces requires a solid bridge. One of the main ongoing struggles facing hybrid working teams is managing to create this communication bridge between those working in the office and remotely. Questions such as 'when should we set this meeting so the majority can attend?', 'Do we need a collaborative doc to work on this?', and 'How can we make our collective collaborative time more valuable?' are a few of the questions hybrid teams are struggling to find the best answers to. It's our aim to bring some clarity to these questions and provide insight to help you facilitate better communication within your distributed team. Let's dive in!

The Low Down on Async Collaboration Tools

To understand async communication, we need to be crystal clear on what is synchronous communication. Now, you must be thinking, 🤔 of course, we know the difference but hang tight, while we give a quick refresh. If you'd prefer to skip ahead, check out the next section.

By definition, synchronous communication happens in real-time, meaning in the moment. This can be anything from a video call or live chat and is a fast form of communication that most would argue leads to more dynamic interaction, active participation, and deeper discussions. On the other hand, communication synchronously can also lead to frequent interruptions that get in the way of deep work.

Async communication is one that isn't necessarily immediately received or responded to and often involves email, audio messaging, daily check-ins, and shared collaborative docs. Asynchronous collaboration allows for the facilitation of communication between individuals who are on different schedules. Often praised for presenting fewer disturbances, and enabling a more permanent record of written communication, the flip side is that decisions may get delayed such as in the case of teams working across large time zones.

So, what are the best asynchronous collaboration tools (more on this later) and what is the best method to communicate if you find yourself within a hybrid team?

Distributed Teams Need Asynchronous Communication to Thrive

Although synchronous communication works well with teams that are based in the same office, the moment teams begin to shift more hybrid, an adoption of asynchronous communication practices is not only necessary, but it's cost-effective and makes sense for the bottom line.

Now, let's take a step back to properly introduce async communication, and take a look into why only now companies are seeing more benefit in it. In early 2020, in came the pandemic, and along with it came an excess use of synchronous communication, which shortly after, followed by an influx of zoom fatigue, burnout, decreased productivity, and a lack of motivation. The way most companies adapted to the sudden shift to remote work, was by amping up the amount of video and voice calls in an effort to maintain their level of visibility over what was going on. Many people defaulted to their oh so familiar synchronous communication methods, which didn't necessarily provide the right solution to their team's remote struggles. If you were part of a company at the time the pandemic hit and were sent home to work, then you likely remember the overload of meetings. Over time, we've learned that rather than more meetings equating to greater visibility and better brainstorming, they've actually led to a higher likelihood of micromanagement and huge employee expense for the time spent lost in boring status meetings.

Embracing Async Communication

If you want to know whether async collaboration with work with your team, you need to first identify their needs. Once you've taken the time to assess the communication needs of your team, the next step is the part that's not so easy to master. When teams claim asynchronous collaboration doesn't work, the struggle often lies in the fact that they haven't properly implemented it. It's about time teams started paying more attention to knowing when to collaborate asynchronously, and when to hop on a meeting call. Once you master this piece, using async among your hybrid team will be a lot more effective.

Different Conversations Warrant Different Mediums of Communication

Let's be real, the way of working is shifting towards hybrid, meaning, that if we want to keep up, one of our main focuses should be, on how to best optimize our time. That leads us to the question, which conversations should be had synchronously and which should be asynchronous?

When to Keep it Asynchronous

In general, if you find yourself hopping on a quick call to discuss status updates, FYIs, or are meeting about arranging a meeting, then it's best to switch to asynchronous. Meetings can become extremely costly and often are disruptive to the flow of a project and in many cases aren't necessary.

With that said, although there is a lot of benefits of async communication among distributed teams, there are still times when some good ol synchronous collaboration is needed to move things further along. 👇

When to Switch to Synchronous

If you are engaging in the following types of communication, you may want to do it synchronously first.

  • Sensitive mattes (ie. personal issues/topics)
  • Sales client meetings
  • Meeting new team members
  • Meetings with external parties (if it's the first time)

GitLab did a great job at laying out when to start with synchronous communication first. If you want to dive in more, check out what they say on starting with synchronous for certain types of communication. GitLab as well as other well know successful distributed teams tend to agree that both asynchronous and synchronous communication is necessary for collaborative work. Once you get to know which method to use in each situation, you'll be well on your way to improving your efficiency, productivity, and a whole lot more. Now it's time to take a look at some of the best tools for facilitating asynchronous collaboration within teams.

Successful Distributed Teams Use These Top Tools for Remote Team Collaboration

No matter which asynchronous tool(s) your team choose to adopt, it's important to emphasize that the best success with async collaboration, has a lot to do with whether the company is aligned with how they use their chosen tool. It's important to clearly outline to your team, when and how they should be using each of their async tools. If you're curious which remote tools some of the top distributed teams use, check them out below.

  • Simplifying workflows with Gitlab - Used by TicketMaster when they ramp up to weekly mobile releases.
  • Kicking it ol School with Google Docs - Although some companies prefer tools like Notion for their collaborative docs, Toptal prefers to keep it simple with Google docs as their remote-friendly collaborative tool.
  • Trello board your way to order - Help scout, Lush Cosmetics, and Costco Wholesale, are a few of the companies using Trello to collaborate.
  • Your Built in 'Halp' Desk - Another one of Atlassian's suite; built in conversations ticketing for customer channels. Adobe, Slack, Github and many other international teams use Halp on the daily.
  • Krisp sound for focused discussions - Even though asynchronous discussions are taking centre stage within distributed teams, when you do need to hop on a call, ensure it's without distractions. Individuals and businesses use Krisp for noise-canceling during synchronous calls.
  • 1Password for all your needs - Security and password management used by the remote team at Buffer.
  • Your Groove'y' customer success tool kit - Companies like Uber use Groove to track feedback and prioritize product requests.
  • Your World Time Buddy Sidekick - Countless distributed teams use this remote tool for comparing time zones and scheduling meetings (I'm sure you're wanting less of these though.
  • Fyle for business expense management - Expense reporting and management is one of the most time-consuming yet thankless tasks. Working remotely, teams can't bury their favorite accountant with heaps of receipts every month. Fyle automates compliance and gives employees easy ways to track expenses so you can say goodbye to the tens of email threads and calls for reimbursements, payments, and ai.

Remote Collaboration

High performing and distributed teams need a whole new set of habits to keep their team in sync asynchronously. Tools that help you reduce the number of non-essential meetings you're having, and group together the tools you're already using into one space are the best for remote collaboration. Keeping your team in the loop through a tool like this, bring more visibility and greater context to the tasks you're working on.

In the end, the key to remote collaboration is largely dependant on the asynchronous collaboration tools you use, but more importantly on how you use them. With that said, keep in mind, successful distributed teams are built on both asynchronous and synchronous communication; it's time to use them both in the ways they work best. Knowing when to use async vs. sync communication is something that will be core to the overall success of your organization, so it's about time we all start to get it right.

Top 5 Asynchronous Collaboration Tools for Remote Teams

Are you looking for the best async tools to collaborate with your team, so you can stay productive and have fewer, better meetings?