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How to create an asynchronous work culture: A guide for leaders and people managers
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How to create an asynchronous work culture: A guide for leaders and people managers

Discover which challenges asynchronous work solves and how to create an async work culture people want to be part of.

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As a leader of a product team, you've been holding more meetings than usual to launch your new feature update. But without as much time for focus work, you sense employees are burning out faster and aren't as productive.

People default to meetings all the time and think they're essential to get consensus and make progress. However, you're starting to realize meetings come with hidden costs—and time really is money! 

Leaders need to understand how async work can make their teams more effective and productive—and create a culture where people stop and think about whether that meeting is really necessary before they take up valuable time. 

In this piece, you'll learn which challenges async working solves and how to create an async work culture. We'll also explore how a visual collaboration platform like Switchboard can make teamwork the best part of work—async and in real time. 

Build an async work culture with a sense of connection
Switchboard lets you move work forward anytime, and keep everyone aligned
Learn more

What challenges does asynchronous work solve? 

Async working prioritizes output over facetime. This is especially valuable for people in different time zones or who have personal commitments. 52% of employees prefer async communication and 42% say it's the future of work, with more flexibility around where and when they work, and more control over their calendar.

Since async working gives you more autonomy over how you move projects forward, you can also overcome these challenges: 

  • Bad meetings. How many times have you been in a meeting that should've just been an email? Async work means you can spend less time in unproductive meetings and more time moving work forward. 
  • Lack of time for focused work. Real-time communication can be distracting. For example, you're always toggling between tools, searching through Slack, getting pinged by notifications, or dropping what you’re doing to attend a meeting. This creates a culture of immediacy that makes it hard to do deep work, and it can take nearly 30 minutes to refocus after you get distracted.
  • Lack of alignment. A meeting-heavy culture is a sign of an unaligned team. Instead of defaulting to a meeting that pulls people out of focus work, async working relies on written or recorded communication. This can include anything from clear instructions to project updates and task assignments. With a clear record of what needs to be done and by whom, it can help keep everyone on track with fewer distractions. 
  • Lack of autonomy. With the right async systems and values in place (more on this below), there's less need for constant supervision and micromanagement. Team members are trusted to manage their own tasks and responsibilities, which fosters a culture of autonomy and responsibility for their work.
  • Not everyone is comfortable contributing in real-time meetings. With real-time communication, there's the danger you always end up hearing from the people who speak the loudest. Async communication lets everyone contribute, regardless of their personality type.

9 steps to create an asynchronous work culture

Creating an async work culture is more than just working when you want, where you want—it's about achieving true collaboration without the need for constant meetings. 

According to Elliott Brown, Startup Marketing Consultant, the key to creating a thriving async culture is to "focus on the human side first." Below, we’ll take a look at how you can do exactly that. 

1. Audit your work and communication practices

Many leaders don't know how much time (and money) is wasted in meetings. If they did, they’d think more carefully about whether they really need them.

Shopify creating a calculator to figure out the cost of meetings calculated that an average 30-minute meeting with three employees at the company costs between $700-$1600. The tool is designed to help Shopify employees reconsider the necessity of their meetings and explore more creative ways of working together. By canceling three meetings a week per person, Shopify expects a 15% reduction in overall costs. 

To better understand which meetings can be an email and which emails should be a meeting, do a meeting audit. Have employees evaluate their recurring meetings and take note of the ones that lack value. Then, ask them to empty their calendars of all recurring meetings. Get everyone to sit with a clear calendar for at least two days, and only repopulate calendars with important meetings going forward. 

Remember: if the meeting doesn't help you move work forward in a meaningful way, then you're better off with asynchronous collaboration.

See here for more on the pros and cons of synchronous vs asynchronous collaboration

2. Set clear communication guidelines

Don't assume people know how to communicate well async. That means you need to teach your team how to write clear emails, Google Docs comments, and Slack messages. Make sure your communication guidelines are documented and clear and that everyone knows where to find them, for example, in your persistent Switchboard room. You can even keep a file in there with great asynchronous communication examples for inspiration. These might include written responses or screenshots that closely match your guidelines. 

When in doubt, overcommunicate—but don't overwhelm–. Set clear expectations and boundaries around response times, including discouraging an "always on" working culture. This involves respecting out-of-hours, personal days, and vacations. Plus, you need to make sure you've blocked time for focus work. You can also give people the option to experiment with setting "no meeting days'' on their calendars. 

3. Establish strong shared values 

For an async culture to succeed, you need values that promote a foundation of trust, teamwork, and communication. For example, a leader of a product design team might encourage accountability, extreme ownership, and continuous improvement as core team values. They might establish these values by:  

  • Leading by example. The leader sets the tone by embodying these values themselves. They take ownership of their actions and decisions, hold themselves accountable, and consistently seek opportunities for improvement.
  • Communication. The leader communicates these values clearly to the team and explains why adopting them is crucial to the team's success and their async workflow. 
  • Collaborative goal-setting. They involve the team in setting goals that align with these values. This ensures each team member understands how their work contributes to the team's success and how they can be accountable for individual tasks.
  • Regular check-ins. They schedule check-ins to discuss progress and share insights. These discussions help keep core values top of mind.
  • Collecting feedback. By fostering a culture of feedback–and establishing psychological safety–team members feel comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback. This promotes continuous improvement in both processes and individual performance.

4. Set clear goals and expectations

62% of employees say their company doesn't have an asynchronous-first policy, even if they have async working practices in place. That means, to make async work part of your company culture, you need to set clear, well-documented goals and expectations so everyone knows how to do their best async work. 

When everyone knows what they need to do, and which tools to use and how, it makes it easier to "feel like everyone's contributing to a team effort," says Brown. 

You can do this by tying individual goals to overarching team and company ones. Beyond this, it's crucial to establish a culture of trust where people can get work done on their schedule as long as it's done by the deadline and doesn't cause bottlenecks. This becomes easier when you establish those strong shared values we talked about earlier. 

5. Use the right async tools

The right async tools give you transparency on projects, roles, and tasks, and help keep everyone on the same page by enabling async workflows. 

Here are some tools you can add to your tech stack to make async work a breeze:

  • Google Docs or Notion for document collaboration
  • Asana or Trello for task and project management 
  • Zapier for automatic updates and task triggers
  • Figma for design-focused async working
  • Switchboard for visual and project collaboration and async brainstorming
Pro tip: Use visual collaboration tools like Switchboard as your single source of truth for projects by adding everything you need in persistent rooms that save your work. 

If you're working async, you can hop into the room and view all the materials you need. This includes documents, browser-based apps, and meeting recordings, so you can work in context even if not in real time. All your favorite browser-based tools work in Switchboard with no need for integrations—just pull up what you need and get to work.
Switchboard room populated with a virtual whiteboard, Figma design board, and Google Docs file
Switchboard makes it easy to keep teams, projects, and tools aligned during async work. Source: Switchboard

6. Train your team

Years of habit have trained people to use meetings as the go-to for making any type of decision. Yet too many meetings–or unproductive ones–can make employees feel spread thin with no time for focus work. Part of creating an async work culture is rewiring how you work, and this involves training your team in how they use tools and recognize urgency.  

For example, there's a common misconception that Slack is an asynchronous collaboration tool because you can send and answer messages anytime. However, without training your team to silence notifications during deep work, every notification becomes a priority—derailing your focus and train of thought. 

Make it clear to employees which tools, channels, and types of notifications require fast and urgent action, and which ones they can come back to.

For example, a product team lead might train their team to label incoming customer support tickets as "red, yellow, or green" to mark their urgency. When a "red" ticket comes in, the team knows which bug fixes or updates need attention and can prioritize their async workflow accordingly. It works so well that the leader makes it part of their async work guidelines and adds them to onboarding materials for new hires.

7. Create opportunities to connect 

"Async working can sometimes feel transactional because people are getting work done on a different timescale than each other," says Brown. But, he affirms, "asynchronous does not mean alone." This is especially true when leaders move beyond the input/output nature of work and give people opportunities to build relationships. 

Here are some ways you can foster team-building and forge new connections: 

  • Host team-building activities. For example, ask your team icebreaker questions or play a round of trivia to kick off team meetings. Or you could take a page out of Brown's book and have everyone swap roles for a day. Of a hackathon, he recalls: "Designers were coding and the engineers were designing and we built this cool little product feature in a day, all while getting to know each other better and having fun." 
  • Set up virtual coffee dates. If you're on a remote or spread-out team, use Donut on Slack to randomly pair you with a coffee date. It also gives you prompts you can use to strike up spontaneous conversations. 
  • Hold brainstorming sessions. Whether you're planning a big initiative or a fun campaign, getting cross-functional teams together to come up with ideas can spark new connections.
Pro tip: Switchboard lets you host multiplayer brainstorming sessions where team members can work together in and between meetings. Just pull up your project management tool, virtual whiteboard, Figma designs, and product reviews, and view and work on them side-by-side. The best part is you don't have to waste time on lengthy downloads, integrations, or meeting links, so you can get straight down to work.
Switchboard room with design review documents and project management tools
Switchboard lets highly collaborative teams get more done together, async and in real time. Source: Switchboard

8. Get good at documenting everything

As mentioned earlier, async work is built on good documentation. Just because you have a well-oiled workflow now, that doesn't mean people will always be able to recreate it. You need to document everything from workflows and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to employee onboarding and communication guidelines. 

This ensures everyone knows what to do and how to do it, and holds people accountable for keeping processes up to date. It also means there's no confusion or holding things back because you're waiting for a colleague to come online and answer your question. 

You can use tools like Scribe that quickly capture your workflow or process and use AI to document and create an SOP for you. You can also use Notion to create a structured database or Intranet for all your documents or templates. If you're using Switchboard, you can keep everything in dedicated rooms, so it's always there when you need it. You can also get the AI assistant to summarize materials or activities in the room for you to save time.

Switchboard room with multiple tools, documents, and browsers
Switchboard gives you visibility into all your important documents, organized by project.  Source: Switchboard

9. Monitor and adjust

It's important to set key performance indicators (KPIs) when creating your async work culture so you can track whether it's really making you more productive—and what you can improve. 

Examples of KPIs you can set include: 

  • Documentation rate. Measures the extent to which information, decisions, and project updates are documented and shared within the team.
  • Engagement metrics. For example, participation in team discussions, attendance at virtual meetings, and activity on collaboration platforms.
  • Adaptation index. Assess the ability of the team to adapt to changes and challenges presented by async work practices.
  • Goal achievement. Measures the achievement of team and individual goals within the async work environment.

It's also important to ask employees for continuous feedback to understand what needs tweaking. This shows your team you're putting their needs first while staying agile and resilient in your async culture. You can do this in team meetings, 1:1s, or by having an anonymous form on your website or HR platform. 

Create an asynchronous work culture for happier, more productive teams 

Since reducing the number of meetings on your product team, you've seen an increase in employee engagement, morale, and productivity. It's also become clear that defaulting to meetings whenever someone has a question or needs clarification costs way more than anyone thought. 

Like you, leaders need to understand how async work can make their teams more effective and productive by giving employees time for focused work instead of busy work.

By creating opportunities for connection, setting clear goals and expectations, and training your team, you can create a successful async-first work culture. That means one where people stop and think about whether that meeting is really necessary before they take up valuable time. 

When you make Switchboard your go-to platform for visual collaboration, everything–apps, docs, files–stays right where you left it in your persistent room. That means you cancel more meetings, work more async, and get back more time for focus work.  

Build an async work culture with a sense of connection
Switchboard lets you move work forward anytime, and keep everyone aligned
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about creating an asynchronous work culture

What is an asynchronous work culture? 

An asynchronous work culture is one where employees are encouraged to complete tasks and move projects forward on their own time. It's a culture that trusts team members to be autonomous and take ownership of their output and asynchronous workflows, which can result in better work overall and improved work-life balance. 

What is an example of asynchronous work?

Here's an example of asynchronous work on a software development team. During async code reviews, developers create pull requests (PRs) or merge requests (MRs) to propose changes to the codebase. Other team members can then review the code async, and provide feedback, often leaving comments within the PR or MR. This flexible work approach lets everyone review code on their own time, reducing unnecessary meetings and back and forth. 

What is the difference between asynchronous work and synchronous work? 

The main difference between async work and synchronous work is that working async means you’re not expected to be online and available at the same time as everyone else. You also have more opportunities to cancel unproductive meetings when you don’t default to real-time communication. This means you get more control over your calendar and work hours, which can significantly improve morale and the sense of connection to your role and team. 

How does asynchronous culture affect people?

Done right, an asynchronous work culture can positively affect teams by removing the need to always be available, which can eat into focus time and cause them to feel like they don’t have control over their schedules. Asynchronous teams also benefit from knowing how to prioritize their work, including which things require immediate responses and which don't, so they can do more meaningful work.

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Build an async work culture with a sense of connection

Switchboard lets you move work forward anytime, and keep everyone aligned