Sync vs. Async

The ability for workers to control when they communicate may be the largest factor driving quality and productivity in remote teams, compared to their office-bound counterparts.

“It’s not enough to be busy. The question is, what are we busy about?” ~ Thoreau

Synchronous vs Asynchronous

Synchronous communication, such as a phone call or in-person meeting, occurs for its participants in real-time. That is, participants are present and communicating simultaneously.

Traditional office environments are supported largely by synchronous communications, and therefore prioritize being connected and available over being focused and productive. The demands of always-on, real-time communication foster resistance to deep, focused work.

Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, occurs between participants with delays between exchanges, and participants are in control of when, or how fast they respond. This allows for value-added, highly-cognitive work, which requires longer periods of uninterrupted focus.

Focus drives quality

Studies show that remote work teams are more productive, and produce higher-quality work, than traditional, office-based teams. Asynchronous communication - the ability for workers to control when they communicate - may be the largest factor driving quality and productivity in remote teams, compared to their office-bound counterparts.

In the last two decades, the time that workers spend on collaboration has increased by 50%. And it is not uncommon for them to spend as much as 80% of their workday communicating through email, meetings, and instant messaging.

This paradigm of near-constant communication means that office-bound knowledge workers must organize their daily productivity around their communication activity. And whatever “productive” time they do have is often performed in a distracted manner, as they keep an eye out for the next “urgent” message.

Communication is key

In an office setting, opportunities to communicate, clarify, and correct exist at every turn throughout the day, which means the threshold for miscommunication is much higher.

Remote environments, however, lack the numerous, readily available conversations found in the office, and therefore require strategic, high-quality communication and collaboration.

Asynchronous communication requires that your collaborators receive high-quality information since you may not be available to answer questions or provide clarification in real-time. If your collaborator has questions or needs clarification, but you’re unavailable to communicate, then unnecessary delays will create time waste within the workflow.

In asynchronous environments, workers adapt to the need for clear and concise communications, which increases quality while avoiding unnecessary delays. Verbal and written communication skills are critical to the success of any career, but such skills are doubly important for remote workers supporting asynchronous workflows.

Self-direction

Unlike their office-based counterparts, remote workers don’t have the benefit of colleagues close by who can help them out when questions arise.

Remote team members should be experts in their functional area, and exhibit high-level critical thinking and self-direction. They should be proficient at working from written instructions, independently, without the help or support of synchronous team members, and remain productive without direct guidance.

The key component for asynchronous success within remote workflows is the development and maintenance of insight-rich, searchable documentation. World-class organizations leverage asynchronous workflows by creating centralized, searchable repositories of business-critical information and insights.

Managing asynchronously

Just like the team members they oversee, remote managers should also be experts at navigating their asynchronous environment.

Rather than hosting synchronous meetings and conference calls that require the entire team to be present, simultaneously, an efficient remote manager is just as likely to present ideas, gain consensus, and make data-driven decisions using asynchronous tools such as Google Docs or Slack.

Remote managers are also fundamentally different from office-bound ones based simply on what they measure and manage.On-premise managers have real-time visibility and influence over their team’s activity, and can, therefore, control it’s process inputs.

Conversely, remote managers assess their team’s quality and productivity based on their resulting deliverables, or outputs.

Deep work

The engine which drives increased productivity and quality universally among asynchronous, remote teams is deep work. Deep work is the activity performed by a team member while in a state of distraction-free concentration, which allows them to push their cognitive capabilities to create new value for the customer.

Because asynchronous teams aren’t required at all times to be connected and available, their members can schedule large blocks of uninterrupted time devoted to deep work. Deep work, thereby, becomes the default mode of asynchronous teams, maximizing value to the enterprise by adding value directly to the customer.

Conclusion

Asynchronous workflows are, statistically, higher in both quality and productivity than synchronous ones. However, there are certain skills you must develop and maintain in order to consistently yield high results. Skills such as deep focus, optimal communication, and the effective use of collaboration tools - e.g., Google Docs.

Your communication skills must become world-class, and you must continue to grow your capacity for self-directed learning, and for independent, deep work. Increasing your capacity for quality production, and for managing teams within an asynchronous environment, will create immense opportunity throughout your career as a remote manager.