What if there was a way of working that actively enabled flow and deep focus? One that takes in international time zones, encouraging cognitive diversity and time zone equality? Could asynchronous communication be the key to sustainable high performance? We examine the link between asynchronous communication & leadership performance.
Synchronous communication is real time. A familiar paradigm. You’re probably well versed in the pitfalls of working internationally and time zone differences. Or maybe your experience is more localised. The ubiquitous email from the person sitting opposite you who’s simply too busy to speak. Constant interruptions that require your immediate attention. Think conference calls, phone and emails that demand a response, right here, right now.
A Recipe for Burnout
You send a message and expect an immediate response. This type of communication feeds into cognitive overload and burnout. It’s what Adam Grant terms ‘Collaborative Overload.’ When collaboration is real time, it consumes our personal resources, depleting our time and energy, reducing our performance. When we’re constantly switched on we’re susceptible to sacrifice syndrome creating unsustainable performance.
It’s what we’ve done for years, but the landscape of work is evolving. Asynchronous communication gives everyone permission to work more productively. It allows collaboration across teams, departments, continents and time zones without contributing to burnout. What does it look like in practice?
Asynchronous communication doesn’t take place in real time. It doesn’t demand an immediate response. At Koru Development we’ve learned valuable lessons from our work with remote teams and applied them to our day to day working practice. Why? Data demonstrates that remote workers are more productive. Many of the company leaders we work with think that’s a hack worthy of investigation. Asynchronous dialogue brings benefits that synchronous doesn’t.
Benefits of Asynchronous Communication
- Cognitive diversity is recognised as people are able to digest, reflect and respond to information in a style that suits them.
- It provides a platform for data to be captured, recorded and re-used.
- Supports a culture where flow is enabled rather than one of constant interruption. The core conditions for deep work and focus are created.
- Reduces costs (travel to meetings is not required).
- It creates a time zone equality.
- Reduces spaghetti communication where listening rarely takes place as people talk over each other and battle to be heard.
- Decreases stress, anxiety and burnout by replacing the constant connection of synchronous communication.
- High quality communication as opposed to lack of reflection.
- Dispenses with the distraction of multiple meetings.
- All stakeholders get to contribute – including introverts.
- It provides autonomy over the use of your workday.
Creating an Async Culture
With the rise in remote working, the benefits of asynchronous communication are becoming more obvious. The reality is that we need to communicate synchronously and asynchronously, it isn’t and either or. There is no asynchronous vs synchronous. At Koru Development, we believe that we can use synchronous communication in a more async way.
Leadership Hack: Be More Async
- Switch off notifications. Book in specific periods of time during the day when you will respond to requests and emails. Create blocks of 10, 20 or 30 minutes to do this.
- Be clear about why you are communicating. Is there a concrete need? If there’s a deadline, include it. What do you need and why? Make sure that you intention is explicit.
- Create a shift in culture by assessing performance based on results rather than hours of availability or immediate response to email. You’ll be encouraging greater productivity and wellbeing at the same time.
- Ditch outmoded micro management practices. Embrace autonomy, trust and accountability instead. Without this asynchronicity is dead in the water.
- Plan ahead – allow yourself (and others) time to contribute rather than operating in a last minute frenzy. Lead by modelling this behaviour.
- Reconsider the 9 to 5, office based culture. When you’re working across time zones, it’s important to encourage autonomy and responsibility rather than imposing rigid parameters on how, when and where people work.
- Be specific and realistic about expected response times. At Koru Development we operate a 24 hour response time. This allows considered reflection and enables our partners around the world to collaborate.
- Use tools that allow asynchronous dialogue, supporting flow and deep focus e.g. Twist, Basecamp, Github. Use synchronous tools asynchronously e.g. when using Skype, Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts provide a context, allow for response time and don’t hang around waiting for that response. Do something else instead.
- Create daily, weekly or monthly checkins so people can see what everyone is working on without the need for constant email. This will allow you to provide more context. Consider using Trello, Twist, Github, Zoom or plain old paper like Jeff Bezos famously does with his communication at Amazon.
- Include as much information as possible. provide a context. Link images and all necessary supporting information. Clarity is key. After meetings create a thread so anyone can follow what’s happening and where you are in any given project. Not only is information available it’s transparent and open to additional contributions. You’ll be incubating creativity and innovation.
- Create monthly 1 to 1s to support connection and personal development.
Asynchronous Communication and Sustainable Performance
Whilst is challenges traditional paradigms, embracing asynchronous communication is a major step in sustaining high performance. When you adopt an async culture you no longer have to be present to contribute. Interruptions are minimised and you’re able to create core conditions necessary for flow and sustainable high performance. Flexing your organisational communication style is vital for productivity and performance.