Asynchronous work is changing the ways we work

Think of asynchronous work more like a relay than an individual sprint

Illustration courtesy of iStock

The pendulum has swung in favor of flexibility at work, and asynchronous work is surfacing to support all the ways we work. Employees who are no longer tethered to a cubicle, a building, or even a city have more options than ever before. This has allowed asynchronous work to become a reality for more than just the digital nomads. 

What is asynchronous work? 

Asynchronous work—or “async” for short—means that not all members of a team are engaged at the same time or place. While working async, you operate within your own schedule. For some of us, that means we don’t have to reshuffle priorities to accommodate surprises or sudden requests; for others, it may mean periodically checking in with HQ. Instead of disrupting work inside your peak productivity hours or outside normal working hours to attend a meeting, you might decide to maintain your schedule as planned and view the meeting recording at a later time. An async culture makes this type of decision acceptable. 

Think of async like a 4×100 relay in which four sprinters hand off the baton to complete a project. In order to maximize productivity and performance, each teammate focuses on a high-priority task(s) during their peak productivity periods within their schedule. Members of the team may not be online or occupy a shared space simultaneously, but they share clarity, communication, and collaboration on the scope and schedule. Leadership, rather than monitoring inputs (e.g., days in the office), focuses on results and impacts. 

Async workflow not only fosters a greater sense of autonomy and flexibility among employees, it also benefits the company. Imagine your colleague is out of the country, in another time zone, and/or traveling for an extended workation. The nine-hour time difference between San Francisco and Paris makes it impractical to coordinate 1:1 meetings in real-time. With an async workflow, they can be as productive elsewhere as they would in the office. In fact, while you sleep, they can move the project forward, and vice versa.

The benefits of async

Most of us perform our existing role with a combination of asynchronous and synchronous communication and workflow. Workplace technologies (email for asynchronous work, Zoom or in-person meetings for synchronous work) support both forms of communication. Only recently have companies begun to pivot to a fully asynchronous state of work. 

This is largely in response to the Great Resignation, as many employees—who juggled work-life balance difficulties during the pandemic—are voicing their preferences for flexibility, and employers are listening. Advocates of async report having longer periods of uninterrupted deep work, fewer distractions, and more control over how they allocate their time across tasks and activities by avoiding a myriad of meetings and internal messages. 

Working async does not equate to simply working from home. Having access to office space in a variety of formats and across multiple locations is fundamental to flexibility. Products such as WeWork All Access and WeWork On Demand can supplement a permanent office or replace it altogether—it’s more important than ever for companies to experiment and identify what works and what doesn’t.

For example, Automattic, the creator of WordPress, fully embraces async and offers its mostly remote workforce a $250 monthly coworking allowance among other perks. The employees, all of whom work asynchronously, are spread out across 97 countries and set their own schedules. More recently, Airbnb cofounder Brian Chesky introduced a new work-from-anywhere policy that allows employees to dictate where, when, and how they work, including up to 90 days per year outside the United States.

Transitioning to async

Some firms will be better equipped—because of their industry, product, or service offered—to embrace async as a work style. Anyone interested in mastering async can access troves of free resources. GitLab, an Open-Source DevOps platform and early adopter of async, has created a Remote Playbook detailing asynchronous work. The Playbook highlights a number of ways organizations can make a smoother transition into an async environment, including how to manage remote teams, establish a remote infrastructure, and embrace iteration and transparency. 

Wherever you go, and for all the asynchronous ways you work, WeWork has a range of offerings that promote productivity and further support an async culture. Our products and services span the spectrum of possibilities, from the more traditional dedicated office to the book-as-you-please WeWork On Demand. Your dream space comes with access to hot desks, meeting rooms by the hour, and all the shared amenities WeWork is famous for. Our members enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working and thriving from over 700 locations worldwide. Discover ways you can leverage WeWork for your own asynchronous journey.

Nicholas Shiya is a director of real estate advisory at WeWork.

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