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What is asynchronous work? 8 best practices for more efficient teams
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What is asynchronous work? 8 best practices for more efficient teams

Get eight asynchronous work best practices that let you get more done on your own schedule–so you can cancel more meetings.

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“Most workers view the prospect of a two-hour meeting with the same enthusiasm as Prometheus awaited the daily arrival of the eagle, sent by the gods to peck at his liver.”* 

That’s how the Economist’s Bartleby column opened in 2018, continuing: “Meetings have been a form of torture for office staff for as long as they have pushed pencils and bashed keyboards.”

Spare a thought, then, for the average Teams user who saw a 153% increase in the number of meetings and a 252% increase in weekly meeting time between 2020 and 2022.** That leaves very little time to get any work done and can make you feel like you have no control over your schedule. 

Most people think synchronicity is the key to collaboration—hence all the meetings—but increasing asynchronous work can actually help your team become more cross-functional. It can also reduce meetings so that the ones you do have are more productive.

In this post, you’ll learn what asynchronous work is and how it benefits everyone, not just distributed teams. You’ll also get eight asynchronous work best practices so you can get more done—together and apart.  

Get more done, wherever, whenever.   
Switchboard’s always-open rooms save your work, so you can make progress on your own schedule. 
Learn more



What is asynchronous work?

Asynchronous work is when people work individually, often on their own schedule, contributing to shared goals without ever being in the same room or online at the same time as the rest of their team. To work and communicate async you need email, project management tools, document collaboration tools, audio and video clips, and visual collaboration platforms like Switchboard

By contrast, synchronous communication and work involve in-person meetings, video conferencing, phone calls, Slack huddles, etc. 

Note that you can use some communication tools async and in real time, depending on the urgency and message. For example, Slack lends itself to both. With async work, though, you generally aren’t expected to give an immediate response to messages. 

What is an example of asynchronous work? 

Here’s an example of asynchronous work: Your product manager posts in your “features release” Slack channel, asking the team for feedback on a new implementation. They give a deadline and include a link to a Google Doc with the wireframe where people can leave comments. Once all the comments are in, they collate them and pass them to the developer team to implement.   

The benefits of asynchronous work 

While async working has always been around, it became more popular in 2020 and many companies have stuck with it after returning to in-person or hybrid. Here’s why.   

  • Collaborate across different time zones and locations: Async lets you work from anywhere. This is good news for the 90% of remote-capable employees who prefer remote-work flexibility and the 60% who want hybrid. In-person team members can also work on their preferred schedule, which is helpful if the 9-5 isn’t you. There’s also less need to juggle schedules to find meeting times that work for everyone across multiple time zones. 
  • Fewer, more productive meetings. More async communication means less time in meetings, which translates into less “Zoom fatigue” and more time to get work done. Also, if you do async communication properly–updating people beforehand, and sharing takeaways afterward–the meetings you do have become more productive. 
  • More focused teams and working. Async working allows you more and longer periods of focus time, without constant interruptions from Slack notifications or the pressure to respond. People can also organize their workday to suit their working style and productivity peaks. For example, night owls may do their best deep work in the evening when nobody else is online.   
  • More autonomy. Combined with strong shared values and company culture, async work fosters accountability and ownership, which makes for more empowered, autonomous, and engaged employees. 
  • Allows different personalities to thrive. Not everyone thinks well on their feet or enjoys contributing in large, face-to-face meetings. Async work allows people to process ideas before contributing and respond thoughtfully to messages.    

Now you know some of the benefits, let’s see how to put async work into practice.

8 best practices for efficient asynchronous work

To make async work, you and your team need to know how–and when–it works best.  

1. Know when to use asynchronous collaboration and when to do synchronous work 

As Jaime Teevan, Microsoft Chief Scientist, says of hybrid work, “Because everyone is working at different times and in different places, it’s important to shift as much work as you can to be asynchronous and get really intentional about the use of the synchronous time you have together.” 

This means knowing when people need real time oversight and input and when they can progress on their own schedule. A big factor is how much they depend on each other: Tasks that can be carried out independently naturally lend themselves to async working. For example, a UX designer can work alone to create call-to-action button copy and then share it with the team to test in their own time.    

Every workplace is different, but here are a few other times when async works well:  

  • Sharing status updates, meeting outcomes, and FYIs 
  • Sharing new processes or updates
  • Shouting people out for a job well done  
  • Non-urgent feedback or input on non-sensitive issues 
  • Complex tasks or requests where people need time to gather their thoughts or information  
  • When schedules don’t overlap 

By contrast, here are some times when synchronous communication and work are best:  

  • Brainstorming or discussing complex topics that require several people’s input 
  • Sensitive topics like client feedback and communicating major changes. Face-to-face meetings let you judge people’s responses and adjust your tone and body language as necessary. 
  • When you can resolve something faster by talking
  • Emergencies and situations that require people’s full attention. For example, getting your engineering team to fix a bug that’s blocking user sign-ups. 
  • 1:1s, quick catch-ups, and performance reviews  
  • Team building like games and icebreakers that bring hybrid and remote teams together  

Part of knowing when to go async involves taking a long hard look at your communication practices. Let’s do that now.  

Slack “wins” channel with several messages
Slack is perfect for async shout-outs to reward people. Source: Flying Cat Marketing

2. Ask yourself “Could this meeting be an email?”

When shifting to async work, start by auditing your communication practices. Have you and your team list your regular meetings and evaluate their purpose. Is it to get feedback, reach a consensus, or make a decision? Could you get the same results with async communication? How would you deliver a message or present information if everyone on your team is offline? If you can do it via text, video, or audio clip, maybe you don’t need that meeting.  

Some collaborative meetings can even become asynchronous work. For example, by sharing a Google doc or working in a digital whiteboard. These let people drop in anytime and leave contributions as comments, drawings, or sticky notes. 

Remember to be aware of emails that should be a meeting—i.e. when to switch from real time communication to async. Imagine you’re informing your project manager which sprint tasks to assign to team members. What should have been a simple Slack message has turned into a never-ending thread thanks to scheduling conflicts. In this situation, it’s faster and more efficient to hop on a quick huddle and explain what you need. Alternatively, you can use virtual office software and other Zoom alternatives to hold a video call. 

Whiteboard in a Switchboard room
Whiteboards are great for real-time and async collaboration and can be used inside Switchboard. Source: Switchboard

3. Use the right tools and communication channels

Once you’ve established which tasks and communications can be async, you need the right tools and channels. 

As a rule, instant messaging is best for instant, informal communication whereas email is more formal and less suitable for quick conversations. Similarly, Slack is great to share that you signed a new client, but not to delegate important tasks. For that, you need project management tools like Asana to create and assign tasks and track progress. You’ll also need shared document management platforms like Google Drive and Docs to keep everything organized and accessible. 

Remember that written communication can be easily misinterpreted. Communicating something sensitive–like feedback on someone’s work–is best done via a private audio clip or Loom rather than a public comment on a shared document. 

Your team also needs a place to collaborate and make progress async, like Switchboard. Instead of losing time to unproductive meetings, struggling to coordinate across time zones, or juggling fragmented apps and notifications, you can bring everyone together in dedicated, persistent project rooms to move work forward faster. 

Here, cross-functional teams can open up all the browser-based apps, documents, and files they use and work on them side-by-side. Rooms are host-free, so anyone working async can hop in later to add their contributions or catch up with the room recording, voice notes, or AI-generated summaries of sticky notes.

Switchboard project room with different documents open
Switchboard lets you keep information organized by project, so anyone can always find it and make progress. Source: Switchboard 

4. Know how to do asynchronous communication 

As well as when you need to know how to communicate async. This ensures your messages are clear and keeps the number of exchanges to a minimum. Here are a few pointers: 

  • Prepare. Think about what you want to say in advance. If you’re not clear on it, how will others be? With video or audio clips it never hurts to rehearse first. Remember, to keep them short, sweet, and to the point.
  • Write or speak clearly and concisely. Ambiguous wording or rambling messages will only confuse team members and waste time going back and forth to clarify things. 
  • Match your tone and message length to the format and recipient. You don’t need to think as deeply about comments and the niceties of punctuation when you’re jointly editing a Google Doc (though you still need to be clear). However, if you’re crafting an email to the board, you’ll want to use more formal language and proofread it. 
  • Provide everything they need. Give clear instructions, next steps, and deadlines, plus all the necessary context, resources, etc.  
  • Anticipate follow-up questions. The more you address these upfront, the more time you’ll save. 
  • Use formatting. Bullet points, lists, or headers make information easier to digest.
  • Check before you hit send. Read or watch your message back to check it conveys everything you want to communicate.  
  • Craft detailed responses. When team members have questions or need updates, take the time to craft a detailed response rather than dashing off a couple of lines. Leaving out important information will only unleash unproductive back-and-forth. 

5. Set expectations and provide guidelines  

When people work on their own schedules, you need to set clear goals and expectations to keep everyone on the same page. This gives employees the freedom to choose when and how they do their work—as long as it’s done on time and to standard. 

Set expectations around deadlines, deliverables, and response times. Also, make sure your team is clear on individual, team, and company goals. This helps align their work with overarching objectives.  You can also create and share guidelines on when to work async and in real time, how to communicate async, and which tools and channels to use. 

It helps to follow team collaboration principles and establish shared values like accountability, transparency, and communicating the “why” behind requests. These help bind teams and ensure everyone works together. 

Pro tip: Create async working and communication guidelines, share them with your team, and add them to a dedicated Switchboard room for processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs). This means everyone always knows where to find them. 

6. Get transparency on projects, tasks, and roles 

Visibility on task and project status and ownership helps you set expectations and hold people accountable. This is virtually impossible if all that information is buried in email or Slack threads.

Instead, use project management tools to assign tasks and deadlines to specific people. This lets everyone involved in a project see the status of tasks, dependencies, and blockers, providing a single source of truth. 

Team members can also leave comments on task boards using @mentions to ensure the right person gets a notification, instead of wading through irrelevant notifications to find them. Transparency around who’s responsible for what prevents people from spamming the whole team with questions because they don’t know who to ask.

ClickUp task board and a to-do list inside a Switchboard room
You can open project management apps like ClickUp in your Switchboard room to assign tasks and check their status. Source: Switchboard 

7. Help your team prioritize their work

Working on your own time means you need to be highly organized and able to prioritize. Being clear on bigger goals and how your work feeds into them–and impacts others–helps here. This clarity lets you prioritize important tasks rather than getting distracted by things that only seem urgent because they’re on an instant messaging channel. 

Use workflows and apps to help teams stay on course, delegate tasks based on strengths, and communicate deadlines and priorities clearly to prevent backlogs. Agile methodologies also allow you to divide complex projects into smaller tasks that you can focus on and track more effectively–all of which becomes easier when you have transparency and strong shared values. 

“Highly focused people do not leave their options open. They select their priorities and are comfortable ignoring the rest. If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything. James Clear, Author of Atomic Habits 

8. Set and respect boundaries

Setting expectations around asynchronous work also involves respecting boundaries. An “always-on” culture of toxic productivity is a surefire ticket to burnout and high employee churn. 

Instead, encourage people to set and share their working and focus hours, in their Slack status, email signature, or by blocking time in their calendar. This also promotes transparency around availability and capacity, which makes it easier to plan and prioritize. 

You should also encourage people to take regular breaks, disconnect during weekends and vacations, and silence Slack notifications when in focus time.

Slack status showing focus time
Setting your Slack status lets people know when they can and can’t expect an answer from you. Source: Flying Cat Marketing 

Asynchronous work best practices: The key to more productive async teams   

There’s a joke that goes “I just survived another meeting that could have been an email.” That’s not to say meetings aren’t important, just that not everything needs to be a meeting. 

Contrary to what a lot of people think, you don’t need synchronicity for great collaboration. Async work can actually make you more cross-functional and productive. This is because you can cut down on unproductive meetings and give people the autonomy to work where and how it suits them. 

To achieve this, follow our asynchronous work best practices, like establishing how and when to work and communicate async. Transparency around roles and responsibilities will help people prioritize, stay accountable, and be more efficient. Remember to respect boundaries around deep work and “off” times. By building a culture where async is equally important, you can avoid real-time meetings and messaging always taking priority.

You also need to use the right tools and communication channels, to match the medium to the message. Switchboard helps your async teams stay organized and get more done together or apart by saving everything in always-open, persistent project rooms. Cross-functional team members can hop in anytime and add contributions to any browser-based app, file, or document on their own time. No more siloed information or teams, no more wading through notifications or documentation—and no more unproductive meetings. 

Get more done, wherever, whenever.   
Switchboard’s always-open rooms save your work, so you can make progress on your own schedule. 
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about asynchronous work best practices

What are the principles of async work? 

The principles of async work are:

  • Knowing when to work async, when to work in real time, and setting clear guidelines and expectations 
  • Knowing which tools and communication channels to use 
  • Knowing how to communicate well async, and how to use the right format for your message 
  • Having transparency around roles, responsibilities, and task and project status, which makes it easier for people to prioritize 
  • Setting and respecting boundaries and work hours so people can do focus work or disconnect 

What is the key to successful asynchronous communication?

The key to successful asynchronous communication is using the tools or channels that are appropriate to the message you want to convey. For example, if you need to walk people through the features of your new app, a video tutorial is better than a Google Doc with written instructions.

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Switchboard’s always-open rooms save your work, so you can make progress on your own schedule.