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The tech you need to make asynchronous working stick

Introducing asynchronous working – a new style of working practices and principles that replaces meetings with video recordings and email updates to prioritize productivity.

MaryLou Costa

asynchronous working HR
Photo by Remy_Loz on Unsplash

Unleash Your Curiosity Now that we’ve all got our heads around WFH, how can you keep up when your team is becoming increasingly global and essentially, WFA – working from anywhere? Enter asynchronous working.

  • 46% of companies are more open to hiring remote workers.
  • But, with many of these employees distributed across the globe, how can HR departments establish processes that help teams work collaboratively?
  • Enter asynchronous working — leveraging technology to encourage productivity and deep work.

With 46% of companies now more open to hiring remote workers — compared with two-thirds of business leaders admitting they don’t have a long-term remote working strategy — is it time to get serious about how to make remote working, work? And if so, what new and innovative methods should HR departments be aware of?

Introducing asynchronous working — a new style of working practices and principles that replaces meetings with video recordings and email updates to prioritize productivity.

It’s being adopted as a way to alleviate the time zone challenges of international remote working, allowing colleagues across geographies to pick up the conversation and workflow when they log on. It can also be a solution to Zoom fatigue.

Tech companies like Dropbox, workplace app maker Doist, and global employment platform Remote are proponents of asynchronous working, but can mainstream companies embrace it? And besides a new mindset, what tech does it require?

Collaborating via a Creative Hive

Advertising agency VMLY&R  has developed its own internal “Creative Hive” platform, a virtualization of the creative sprint process it championed pre-pandemic, as a more effective way of developing new pitches or solutions to client projects. 

Even in different time zones, team members can log into the Creative Hive to review work done to date via images, video recordings, and comment threads, then continue with their own tasks, under a “master curator” who keeps direction on point. When meetings are held, they’re more focused and productive, as there’s no need to go over old ground.

For Jennifer Heath, VMLY&R’s EMEA regional HR director, the move towards asynchronous working and the relevant technology, is based on its advertising philosophy of “meeting consumers where they are” and applying this to its employees.

“As we’ve seen people’s schedules and responsibilities change, it’s allowed us to experiment with ways of working that would have traditionally been viewed as ineffective,” she says.

“It’s a shift of mindset for many, but we’ve proven we can work effectively from pretty much anywhere. You don’t always need to be ‘in the room’ to participate, and by doing things such as recording meetings, or giving people the opportunity to feed in when their headspace is feeling a little clearer that day, you may find everyone’s time being used more effectively.”

Accelerating your digital maturity

Companies like Korn Ferry, a management consultancy, have shifted to a more asynchronous way of working through the Atlas platform provided by software company ClearPeople. 

Katya Linossi, chief executive and co-founder of Clear People, which has also helped companies like Nandos and Toshiba, says the ability to do this is inherently linked with a business’s “digital maturity” and bringing people and knowledge together in one place.

“Knowledge discoverability is key — making sure documents and assets are tagged correctly so people can find them quickly. You need the right taxonomy and information architecture so things are easily findable and someone can continue working on something without always having real-time communication,” Linossi explains. 

The next step, she adds, is marking questions and answers within a document or messaging thread as “knowledge,” so the next time someone asks that question, the answer can be found by an AI in the system rather than having to disrupt another colleague.

This evolution is being pioneered by Microsoft’s Project Cortex, a new Microsoft technology that acts as a knowledge network within an organization’s Microsoft 365 apps. The technology takes existing tools like Microsoft Graph, Search, and SharePoint and introduces AI to change the way data is processed. Clear People is one of 17 tech partners involved in the project.

Not about the tools, but the accessibility

Fancy tech, however, isn’t necessary, argues Remote co-founder and chief executive Job van der Voort. The company uses Notion for internal documentation, Asana for project management, and Slack for company communications.

“The most important part of asynchronous working is not the exact tool, it’s the ability to work with multiple people and to always be accessible online,” he says. Every Remote employee has a VR headset, he adds, for when they do get together.

Also using Notion and Slack, Jessica Hayes, VP of people at video calling platform Whereby, is leading a partnership with digital learning organization You Can Now, to offer training on online workshop tool Miro, among other things. This is part of the company’s efforts to move towards a more asynchronous working style, which also involves reviewing how they collaborate across time zones.

“We would like to better embed asynchronous working. Some roles still require time zone crossover, so my aim is to add two hours of the timezone ends we currently offer every quarter, so we can get the whole way around the world. Time zones can be a potential barrier if you’re not diligent around how you approach them,” she notes.

“But to be working across borders without limitations, one of the problems we need to solve is feeling the need for multiple people to all be in a meeting and keep having conversations in real-time. You may find the vast majority of conversations can be had in a Google document, or it can be a recorded conversation that’s sent to somebody or a meeting that’s recorded with just some people.”

Leading a cultural shift

For many businesses, working asynchronously is a cultural shift that should be led from the top down, advizes Remote’s Van de Voort.

“We have to reset that mindset that you have to have a meeting to share information. If leadership doesn’t follow suit, it’s not going to work,” he warns.

With the pandemic far from behind us, Clear People’s Linossi raises critical questions for those considering adopting asynchronous working: “What’s the reality? Continue working the way we were? Or do something about it?”

For most HR leaders, having to deal with decentralized, and distributed workforces has been challenging in many ways. But, with the right technology tools, and the ability to use them in the right way, asynchronous working could well be the way forward.

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