How We Make the Most of Our Time by Working Async

6 min read

At Float, we spend a lot of time thinking about time. Our mission, after all, is to help professional services teams make the most of their time. This aligns with our team's goal to make the most of our time working asynchronously and remotely—so we can do the best work of our life while still having a life.

Immanuel Kant, the 18th-century German philosopher, describes space and time as a form of perception. A systematic framework we use to structure our experience. Making the most of your time means making the most of your experience.

The typical work experience might surprise you. 50%–80% of the work day is spent communicating. Making the most of your work experience, therefore, is making the most of your communication.

Communication involves a sender encoding and transmitting a message to a receiver, and the receiver decoding the message and responding with feedback.

Synchronous communication is when a response to a message is expected immediately (e.g., instant messaging, a Zoom conversation, or a face-to-face meeting), while asynchronous communication is when a response to a message is not expected immediately (e.g., emails, proposals, or comments on a document).

That's not to say that synchronous communication is more urgent and important than asynchronous communication. Yet, the format of synchronous communication often implies greater urgency and importance, which can be the first misstep towards miscommunication.

Communicating the Float way

At Float, we've been working asynchronously since day one, ten years ago. Asynchronous communication is our default for all team members and all messages. It's also a practical choice, with remote team members across 12 countries and growing.

Working asynchronously doesn't mean we miss out on specific types of communication—we use asynchronous alternatives or choose synchronous communication if better suited. For example, planning, documenting, collaborating, and stand-ups are all asynchronous. Some interactions like customer demos, partner exploration, or quarterly 1:1s are synchronous.

How do we ensure we are communicating effectively when communicating asynchronously? We embed our values in the four parts of communication—sender, message, receiver, feedback.

Sender: Own it

The communication loop starts with the sender owning it. The loop won't occur without them, so they are ultimately responsible for achieving understanding and any action.

We trust our senders to make the right decisions and lead with good intent. We celebrate wins and acknowledge mistakes. We learn faster this way.

For example, we recently upgraded notifications to send at a time set by each user. The application engineer responsible for the upgrade also took responsibility for communicating; there was no need for meetings or managers to pass on the message. They sent a transparent summary of actions to a relevant Slack channel and followed up to close the loop.

Message: Keep it simple

A prototype is worth a thousand meetings is the tech company version of a picture is worth a thousand words. Likewise, simple communication is just enough information to provide understanding or spark action.

How we encode and transmit a message is key.

There are four main types of communication: verbal, non-verbal, written, and visual. Synchronous work biases verbal and non-verbal communication, while asynchronous work biases written and visual communication. Our team members have different learning and communication style preferences, so we select a range of communication types to achieve a depth of understanding.

This doesn't mean things are more complicated. It's easier to explain complex concepts to a diverse audience with diverse methods, and we respect the receiver with brevity. For example, we recently proposed changes to how we sequence projects on our roadmap. The sender (me! 🙋‍♂️) created a Notion page that combined written and visual content. A Loom video explained the changes and content with verbal and non-verbal cues.

Receiver: Be constructive

Asynchronous communication, by definition, does not expect an immediate response. When seeking a reply, we create space to encourage quality feedback over quick reactions.

We expect some form of response within a few work days (yes, days, not hours, even for instant messages). This can be a simple acknowledgment like a 👌 emoji in response to a message received or a ✅ emoji in response to an action taken. For example, we facilitated our last retrospective over two weeks asynchronously. Typically, at other tech companies, they run for an hour synchronously. The sender (again me! 🙋‍♂️) explained the Notion board format in a Slack message. They set expectations of the receivers with a supporting Loom video overview.

We sought to improve and encourage. Receivers provided open and honest feedback, triggering discussion and upvotes. The extra time created an environment where we were more reflective and less reactive.

Feedback: Play like champions

Championship teams pursue excellence. They know that they're stronger when they work together. We communicate to inspire our team to come together and push for the best outcomes for our customers. The best ideas win.

When you think of communicating ideas, you might visualize talking. If you haven't worked asynchronously before, you might imagine it involves a lot of Zoom calls. That's not the case at Float. Debating ideas is discussion-oriented, but we don't typically reach for Zoom or even Slack. We want our discussion to be action-oriented.

We've found the best way to elicit a response of action is through documentation. Documentation doesn't have to be boring. We don't just capture notes. Documentation doesn't have to be exciting either. We save the snazzy keynote presentations for our quarterly town halls. We use documentation to progress work, propose an action, and create momentum towards the next best action.

For example, we use Notion pages as a source of truth for projects proposed by our product team (we call them specifications). A specification begins as an idea and evolves into a solution with an agreed plan to make it a reality. The content includes stories, data, goals, descriptions, illustrations, timelines, and actions.

The primary audience for the specification is the engineering team. Its utility extends beyond this as:

  • A QA reference manual
  • A problem-solution guide for marketing
  • A training document for customer success

Many people collaborate on this document, sculpting raw material into a polished form. We play like champions, aligning on a shared vision and pursuing excellence for our customers.

Asynchronous work gives us more time to do our best work

Working asynchronously is a more efficient use of our time than working synchronously. We have ​very few meetings at Float.

I can work on a task in Australia during my day, pass it to a colleague in South Africa to work on during their day, who can then pass the task to another colleague in Italy for their day. 24 hours has passed in elapsed time, but the task benefits from three day's work.

More importantly, working asynchronously is more effective. We have more space for deep, uninterrupted work. I can choose when to dig into data for hours and when to check off quick to-dos. If my colleague and I both want to have a chat, we can, but we don't have to. I can choose what's valuable for me to work on and when.

We haven't perfected asynchronous communication. Yet by applying our company values, we do continuously improve (one of our five company values). Working asynchronously is a path to work-life balance, contentment, and fulfillment if you're lucky. That's making the most of our time.

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