A Time-Traveler's Guide to Asynchronous Work (+Cheat Sheet)
Building a Remote Workforce

A Time-Traveler's Guide to Asynchronous Work (+Cheat Sheet)

by Carla Dewing
A Time-Traveler's Guide to Asynchronous Work (+Cheat Sheet)
  • What is Asynchronous Working?
  • Asynchronous vs Synchronous Work
  • Examples of Async Work
  • The Benefits of Asynchronous Communication
  • Steps to Becoming an Asynchronous Master

Welcome to the world of asynchronous work. Where you can give your remote team the ultimate superpower: mastery of time itself. It’s the biggest gift that you could ever give them. When you embrace it, you tap into the power of time travel – and I’ll tell you how.

I’ve worked asynchronously for over ten years, with multiple teams distributed as far as New York City, Wellington and Reykjavík. Take it from me, async work is the hero of this remote work saga.  

In this guide, I’m going to help you define asynchronous communication and develop a stronger understanding of how it will drastically accelerate your team’s productivity, creativity and time management ability. The magic trifecta!

That last skill will be particularly important. It’s under-rated, but it’s everything. Time is the most valuable commodity in a person’s life.

Most people believe that there’s not enough time in the day. What they don’t realize is that TIME isn’t the problem – it’s HOW they work. 

This is doubly true for remote workers in tech.  

Set hours, endless in-person meetings, and torture-style instant message notifications that ping so often, you hear them when they aren’t there. That’s no way to work. 

When you introduce asynchronous working into the lives of your people, it transforms them all into masters of time. They become Time Lords.  

And like Time Lords - they have control over time and space, they can travel anywhere at the drop of a Tardis, and they change for the better with each new adventure. 

By the time you read the last word, you’ll be able to argue in favor of switching to a fully asynchronous working environment. 

This is the clarifying guide you’ve been waiting for, with a dollop of sci-fi just for fun.

Your remote team says thank you, from the future. 

What is Asynchronous Working?

The term asynchronous literally means ‘not synchronous’ or ‘not happening at the same time.’ So asynchronous working can be defined as work not happening at the same time as your colleagues. Everyone is interdependent and owns their part in the end goal.

Man at home asynchronous working.

People work when it’s best for them!

  • Different time (schedules)
  • Different place (time zones)
  • Same team (shared goal)

Schedule flexibility and time management are the defining traits of asynchronicity. The much-loved phrase ‘same sh*t, different day’ doesn’t apply to asynchronous workers. 

Different Sh*t Different Day

Instead of each remote team member working in real-time together, they have the flexibility to complete their work when the time is right for them, on a schedule they determine for themselves. 

In other words, time isn’t a straight arrow – it’s a space meant to be explored. 

Time is shaped around that space in the most convenient way possible for the individual. 

  • Urgent deadline? Tap into team time zones to get the job done.
  • Feeling inspired? Brainstorm at night when you’re most productive.
  • Client far away? Serve them better by adjusting your hours. 
Graphic showing with an async team you can get deadlines completed fast.

The perks of being an asynchronous worker hit hard when all you’ve known before is rigid office life.

Someone who can stay on top of deadlines, harness the power of innovation windows, and be fresh and focused for global clients is going to be a more valuable team member. 

This style of work gives people the ability to have a more flexible work-life balance. Instead of work chaining you to a desk for 8 hours every day – you can choose which 8 hours in your day are most productive, and can fit them around your life. 

A life that isn’t the same every single day. 

Because of that, asynchronous work is easily the most human-centered approach to work that exists. It gives remote workers the freedom to be human, a state that has never suited a 9-5 office environment. 

Perhaps most importantly it allows people to excel, in their own time. 

Speaking of time - have you seen our article on independent contracting?

Asynchronous vs Synchronous Work

Recent studies have shown that 42% of employees from European countries believe that async work is the future of work. To understand why, let’s go deeper and define asynchronous working alongside synchronous working – contrasting them as we go.

It’s tempting to think of synch working as a cobwebbed and decrepit system, but that’s not true either. 

Some types of work can only be done synchronously, so turning it into the Miss Havisham of the story isn’t useful. Its use here is to highlight the differences, and celebrate them. 

  • Synchronous work: Must be in the same time zone as your team
  • Asynchronous work: Can be in any time zone anywhere in the world
  • Synchronous work: Must work the same hours as your team (9-5)
  • Asynchronous work: Can choose which hours in a day to work
  • Synchronous work: Remote communication happens in real-time
  • Asynchronous work: Communication is timeous but isn’t live
  • Synchronous work: Live training sessions, conferences and in-person seminars
  • Asynchronous work: Online learning, video classes, instructional walkthroughs
  • Synchronous work: Virtual meetings, chat channels, phone calls, brainstorming sessions
  • Asynchronous work: Email, project management tool messages, Loom recordings, guides
A live meeting done in a virtual space.

Async working is often the opposite of synchronous working, which calls for present, real-time interaction and availability – usually squashed into an overly rigid schedule. 

When your team is asynchronous, the communication is rarely done in real-time. 

That’s why synchronous work happens in offices or with location-centric remote teams, and asynchronous work is best for global remote employees living across different time zones. 

Examples of Async Work

Asynchronous working happens in a variety of ways, depending on your team members routine, schedule and time zone. Here are some top-notch examples of async work.

>> Ben goes to bed in Chicago. His colleague Jerry in Berlin finishes the widget they were both working on. Jerry leaves notes for Ben’s final review when he wakes up the next day.

>> Kat reviews a set of videos and leaves feedback in the project management tool. Her video team in Melbourne implements the feedback hours later, during their workday. 

>> Tyson records a quick Loom video to touch base with a colleague in South America. He shares it on the team platform, tagging key people and giving them access. The colleague receives the approvals, and the rest of his team are aware it’s time for phase 2. 

As you can see, important information is changing hands – and projects are being completed – without the need for much (or any) real-time engagement. 

Connecting for higher level planning or to talk around specific ideas to decide on, is the catalyst for a week of far less meetings. 

The Benefits of Asynchronous Communication

There are three major benefits involved with asynchronous work, and they each involve empowering your team to harness the flow of time. 

I mentioned earlier that time management was the bedrock of async work. Now I’m going to unpack why and give you the keys to unlocking extraordinary growth in your remote team. 

#1: Time Management Magic

Time management is the #1 benefit of asynchronous work. 

Without it, none of the other benefits would exist. And that’s because when you give your remote team members back the ability to master their own schedules, everything at work improves. 

  • A chronic procrastinator can be more deliberate about when they work
  • A workaholic can streamline their focus time to maximize output
  • Instead of a mad sprint, a day becomes a relay race of on and off blocks of time
  • Projects, goals and important non work-related tasks are done sooner
  • The overall invaluable skill of managing time gets better and better
A woman setting her flexible schedule because of asynchronous work.

Once time is mastered, your remote team members will be less stressed, more agile in their weekly decision-making and wide open to innovation, change, and new adventures. 

They also tend to be more organized, and less likely to miss deadlines.

I like to think of it as giving a Timelord the ability to travel throughout a universe of possibilities – all in the space of a day. Using the flow of time as their vehicle, they can test themselves and find the ever-changing balance that makes daily life easier. 

When I started working asynchronously, I wanted to be a Timelord. So, I learned some effective techniques that would make asynchronous work a breeze. 

Some of my favorites:

  • The Eisenhower Matrix: The most famous time management tool that exists, this matrix needs no introduction. It helps you prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. 
  • The 52/17 Method: This technique accelerates performance and drastically improves focus on the task at hand. Work for an hour, take 15 minutes off. Your brain loves it! It’s based on a study that showed people work best with 52 mins of work, followed by a 17 min break. 
  • Pomodoro Technique: Another great one, this technique breaks a single task into smaller focused windows of time. You work for 25-minute sprints, then take a 5-minute break. Repeat four times, and take a 15–30-minute break. 

These are impossible in an office environment when Brenda keeps stopping by your desk for a chat - enroute to her ninth cup of coffee. 

Things like uninterrupted time management technique application, contribute to the time efficiency that makes async work so formidable (and wonderful).

#2: Big-Bang Creativity 

Asynchronous work makes people more creative. 

Harvard Business Review cites many scholars and experts who believe maximum creativity is simply impossible without it. And that’s because it works a little differently to synchronous work. 

Instead of the team feeding off each other, it allows individuals to think deeply and develop their own ideas.

  • This has impact with women and marginalized communities whose voices tend to be stifled in real-time or in-person environments. Diversity in a team is the foundation of creativity, whether that diversity is age, experience, culture, ideas or insights. 

Because asynchronous work creates a safe space for expression, more can be expressed. 

Brainstorming is an example that has cropped up in recent years. We once thought it was better in live teams, now we know it’s more creative if done individually first. 

And to add cream to the proverbial cake, we have 100 teams and 400 grad students who took part in experiments for the American Psychological Association. 

The APA found definitive evidence that virtual teams communicating asynchronously were more creative than sync teams.   

Creativity thrives when your team members are given two things: time and space. 

A quote about time and creativity from Deepak Chopra.

Deepak Chopra once said, “When you are in the field of creativity, you lose track of time. Only the flow exists.”

Giving your team the autonomy to have control of their own flow of time naturally results in a more creative team – with bigger, riskier and more imaginative ideas. Asynchronous work is the key. 

#3: Productivity Fuel

Flexibility is a catalyst for productivity. 

And there is no more flexible work arrangement than asynchronous work. It’s something every remote team needs to function at their best. Because your team’s ‘best’ changes. 

It’s impossible to be super-productive for eight of the same, straight hours every day. This is an arbitrary metric designed for unlawfully demoralized factory workers from the 19th century. 

Certainly not knowledge workers sitting behind a desk at home (or anywhere really).

Research suggests office workers are only productive for about 3 hours a day. Not surprising then, that the ability to work when it feels right, or when it fits best, improves this metric. 

Gartner reported that 43% of their respondents in a 2021 Experience Survey, said that flexibility in their working hours helped them achieve higher levels of productivity. 

Productivity is fueled by time management. Man being productive working asynchronously.

The ability to independently manage their own time is what fueled this boom in output. When your remote team can cherry pick hours that suit them, when they are most productive – magic happens. 

Without time travel, your team just wouldn’t be as productive. 

Here's a cheat sheet to show your team!  

Asynchronous work guide and cheat sheet

Steps to Becoming an Asynchronous Master

The good news is that asynchronous work is within your reach. 

Much like time travel, it will free your remote team in ways you can’t truly predict. And I’m not going to pretend it will be without its challenges. But far from being fiction, this style of working is reality - it’s the future. 

When you switch your team to async work, you’re giving them an incredible gift. 

Each of them will have a shot at becoming Time Lords – navigating time and space like true masters. And with each new adventure, they’ll develop those critical skills that make a good team, great. 

So, the future of remote work isn’t bound by 9-5 routines. 

It’s about making work human-centered, with flexibility, creativity, and productivity as your primary drivers. In the grand cosmos of things, the power to leap through time zones and control the clock is your biggest ally.

By embracing asynchronous work, you not only change the way you work - you redefine the boundaries of productivity and creativity. 

If your goal is to find the ultimate workflow for your remote team, this is it. 

Join me in creating a world where every remote worker can be a master of time. 

A world of Time Lords.

[Or hire your async team here]

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