Stop Meeting and Start Working Asynchronously

One of the constraints that eased up during our collective work-from-home experiment was the need for everyone to do their work at the same time. With the sudden burden of parenting, teaching, and caregiving during traditional working hours, we had to get creative with our work schedules. A significant benefit of a flexible schedule is having the power to match your personal energy peaks to your work habits. Night owls, who do their best thinking in the evening, are free to do so. Likewise, early birds can use the breaking-dawn hours to advance their thinking work, giving them greater flexibility for the rest of the day. These benefits aren’t trivial; they increase productivity, inclusiveness, and connectivity.

To sustain these benefits, organizations need to honor and encourage work across three distinct modalities: 1) working together, 2) working alone, and 3) working in turns (asynchronously). The death-by-meeting culture, all too common in organizations, has crowded out other ways of working. Individuals do their thinking work around the edges rather than giving it the focused time it deserves. Asynchronous practices, if they exist at all, are often sloppy and inefficient, reducing their value to almost zero. Is it any wonder, then, that we default back to meetings as the primary means to advance work?

When working asynchronously, does any of this sound familiar:

  • Emailing a document out for comments and receiving separate and competing feedback from multiple people that you then need to reconcile?
  • Passing a deliverable off to the next collaborator who then goes dark for an extended period of time?
  • Searching through email and IMs trying to pick up the trail of a conversation around a team project because there is no shared repository for status updates?

While these examples may sound like minor annoyances, they can build up to a high pitch of collaborative friction — an emotional drain and time cost generated by group work. Can any of us really afford more friction in our lives right now? 

Here are three strategies to enable effective asynchronous work on your team:

Schedule meaningful blocks of thinking time throughout the week. Being able to independently advance a deliverable by doing analysis, writing a point of view, or creating a presentation requires dedicated work time. Put yourself and your priorities first by scheduling them on your calendar before anyone else can crowd them out. 

Establish collaborative norms / protocols. Select an environment for working together on materials — be it Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, Basecamp, etc. — and then stick to it. Establish conventions for document storage and naming. I have received documents entitled “Presentation Doc” more times than I can count. Give your documents descriptive names that make it easy for others to understand the purpose.

Use meeting time sparingly. Don’t schedule meetings simply to inform one another of progress on independent workstreams. Instead, post meaningful updates in a shared location and have follow-up 1:1 conversations as needed to answer specific questions. Use meeting time to debate options, make decisions, or generate solutions. Dynamic meetings build energy in the team and become something to look forward to rather than dread.

Work will never be the way it was again. Hallelujah! We have the opportunity to be so much better than we were pre-pandemic. Add intelligent asynchronous work to your team’s repertoire to get even more value out of your work week.