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Asynchronous work best practices require strong policies

Hybrid work is becoming the norm, but it challenges distributed teams collaborating to complete projects. A new generation of asynchronous collaboration apps may be the answer.

Hybrid workforces -- sprinkled across different time zones and geographic locations -- are becoming commonplace, and businesses must now figure out how to orchestrate projects where teams function asynchronously.

In this tip, we examine the definition of asynchronous collaboration, its benefits and reveal some asynchronous work best practices for working in a more efficient manner.

What is asynchronous collaboration in remote work?

Asynchronous work is a methodology where teams work together, but instead of meeting and working on a particular project in real time, members tackle their assignments as their local schedules permit and can complete their tasks without having to wait for others. It's a balancing act that requires remote teams to be up to speed with what their colleagues are doing. Success depends upon the right mixture of work culture, policy and collaborative technology.

Best practices for asynchronous work

Policy is the first step in cultivating asynchronous work best practices. This sets the framework that lays out the expectations that govern how employees operate independently while also acting as a team. Common components within this policy include asynchronous communication expectations and methods, documentation requirements, workflow processes, and data control and expectations. Technology tools should be rigorously evaluated to ensure they can operate within the overall blueprint. This may include the use of applications, architectures and remote access methods, such as the following:

  • VPN, software-defined WAN or Secure Access Service Edge to provide a streamlined and secure way to access business apps while remote;
  • internet-based voice and video calling software, including Microsoft Teams, Zoom or Cisco Webex;
  • cloud-based file sharing repositories;
  • team-based chat software with historical reference and search capabilities, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams;
  • presence awareness tools to see in real time who is online or offline; and
  • easily accessed web-based project management tools that update the entire team on progress, upcoming goals, resource planning and documentation.

Once policy and tools are in place, the final step is to create a training program that lets remote workers and collaborative partners know what is expected and how the new tools should be used. Training should be both written and conducted in person or via virtual formats. In many cases, it's wise to include a multiple-choice quiz or exam to ensure that employees understand asynchronous work goals, tools and expectations.

In addition to the technology itself, a successful asynchronous work environment requires the organization to adjust its culture to support the methodology.

The benefits of asynchronous communication and collaboration

Employees are seeking more flexibility as they attempt to improve their work-life balance. And happy employees result in better productivity and innovation. But employers benefit from asynchronous collaboration as well -- through tools that provide valuable data that can be mined in a variety of ways, among them:

  • detailed records of project or task progress for each employee;
  • accurate information regarding status updates of a project or task and whether timelines will be met;
  • information on project challenges and who is responsible for overcoming them; and
  • information on which team members work best together, who is providing the most value and any interteam problems that can be addressed in an efficient manner.

In addition, companies can gain operational visibility and insights into teams, team members and individual project decisions. These details can be reviewed over time to see what teams and tactics work best within the organization. The resulting documentation is incredibly useful when team members are added or removed as it enables new team members to get up to speed much more quickly.

How to achieve asynchronous collaboration efficiency

The only true way to reach efficient asynchronous work is to employ collaborative tools that provide team members with the following:

  • status reporting and thorough documentation of what's been accomplished -- and what still needs to be done;
  • a streamlined messaging and documentation tool that accurately tracks and highlights the status of each part or workflow of a project;
  • a tool that enables team members to search for information using keywords and phrases; and
  • a dashboard that clearly defines goals, deadlines and responsibilities for each team member.

In addition to the technology itself, a successful asynchronous work environment requires the organization to adjust its culture to support the methodology. This means buy-in from top management, a framework in which expectations are set, the provision of proper communication tools and remote access, and an environment where everyone involved in the project diligently documents their progress and keeps other team members properly informed.

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