Is This the Dawning of the Asynchronous Age?

The issue with innovation is that sometimes we fail to realise the true implications of the changes it brings.

When faced with something new, our immediate instinct may be to compare it with what we already know. We then try to adapt the new thing to work within our existing boundaries, when what we should really be doing is seeing how it enables us to do things differently.

When it comes to remote working, maximising its potential means looking at what we can do differently to support it, rather than to try and make it fit in with more traditional ways of communicating and collaborating.

Asynchronous communication methods can play a vital part in this.

Communication and Collaboration

Working from home has never been easier. The digital age provides us with the necessary tools to be much more flexible than in the past.

For many of us, being physically present in a shared workspace is no longer essential for us to work effectively and efficiently.

But what happens to that sense of close collaboration and instant communication that you expect to have in a physical workspace, where you can talk to someone across the office, or workshop an idea in a group setting?

So much modern, forward-thinking people management has been about developing good group dynamics. But while paying lip service to this, many workspaces have found it difficult to break free of a meeting culture which is at best inefficient, at worst, toxic.

For established workplace cultures, the Covid-19 pandemic has been a deus ex machina, an event of momentous proportions that sweeps all before it, forcing everyone to rethink and reset how they work.

What, then, should communication and collaboration look like post-Covid?

We Want the World, and We Want it Now

Digital can feel very immediate. With a click, you can email someone, text them, and view, upload and download files and data.

But what does this sense of immediacy do to how we plan and prioritise work, and communicate with each other when working remotely?

We are used to the idea of our communication being very much in synch. We call someone, they answer, we talk, exchange views and ideas, and base actions and decisions on this interaction.

Someone sends you an urgent email or other digital message requiring immediate action, and therefore an immediate response.

But what if you’re not in a position to answer these communications immediately? Emails, especially, have a tendency to build up into a backlog of things to do. Before you know it, you face a whole host of pressures arising from competing priorities.

However, with the rise of remote working, the whole pace of work can start to alter. When people work from home, they must largely manage their own working time. No one is constantly looking over their shoulder.

Most employers aren’t going to have the time, resources or appetite for constant remote monitoring, and home-working employees would find it intrusive.

But how then should employers and employees manage expectations when it comes to performance, responsiveness and the whole pace of work?

Asynchronous Working

Asynchronous working isn’t new, but it is a very timely concept for a new age of remote working.

Ultimately, it is about better resource management, and includes how individuals manage their own resources.

Firstly, if an employer wants to champion a genuinely flexible work culture, they need to re-think how they want their employees to work, and to communicate.

Asynchronous communication enables this re-thinking because it allows for people not to have to communicate in real time.

For example, you send someone an email, or a list of tasks in an app, such as Slack, but with the expectation that they will look at it when they have the opportunity to do so.

This is about empowering individuals to manage their own time more effectively, prioritising the tasks that matter, and allowing them the space to carry these tasks out without interrupting their workflow needlessly.

Mindset and Pace

Remote working represents a shift in mindset, for both employer and employee.

It comes with a host of modern communication tools, but wielding these tools effectively means adopting a different mindset.

If you attempt to manage working from home as if people were in an office together, with the same level of micro-management, then it is unlikely to work. In fact, it’s probably a sure-fire way of adding to people’s stress levels.

Yes, there will still be time-sensitive aspects to many people’s work, but the pace of work has changed with the huge growth in working from home. The most efficient, effective and beneficial way for people to approach this is to prioritise the tasks that matter, rather than trying to address everything at once.

Just because digital communication channels create the possibility of people always being available doesn’t mean that they should be.

Asynchronous working offers an alternative set of best practices, not just for remote working, but for working in general:

  • Make your intentions clear – the more dispersed a workforce, the greater the potential for communication stress, therefore you must express clearly what needs doing
  • Use the right channels and processes – if the messages are to be clear, the methods you use to send and receive them must be clear too
  • Understand what urgent really means – most things aren’t urgent, so resist labelling them as such, but instead help keep anxiety levels in check by being realistic about needs and expectations
  • Communicate clearly from the start – resist the urge to waffle, and get to the point early on, to keep your remote communications efficient
  • At the same time, you can still employ a friendly tone, just don’t let informality get in the way of what you want, or need, to say.

Digital communication channels may encourage a degree of spontaneity, but it makes sense to write down what you want to say first, so that you’re clear about the points you need to address.

Who Benefits from Asynchronous Working?

Taking an asynchronous approach to work should benefit everyone involved. It’s not just about alleviating pressure on people working from home, for example.

It’s about getting the best out of people, by giving them the space to prioritise tasks properly, and to focus for as long as they need on key areas of their work.

Asynchronous working can help people develop their individual skill sets more effectively, and play to their strengths, rather than their weaknesses.

Employers get more highly-motivated employees, and employees become more autonomous and genuinely self-motivated.

Work patterns may change for good, as more companies embed flexible and remote working practices permanently. But the enterprises that leverage this change most successfully will be those who develop the right mindset to match it.

A Partisan Approach

We’re a brand consultancy based in Manchester, and our focus is on supporting the built environment and purposeful brands within it. We aim to help these brands develop strategies to meet the challenges of change.

For more information, please call us on 0161 860 7010, or email hello@partisan.studio

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