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Syncing Fast and Slow: How To Streamline Async Collaboration

6 min read

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of asynchronous work. With the rise of globally distributed teams, asynchronous communication is one of the most efficient ways to handle work across multiple time zones. Being async is less stressful (you don’t have to respond immediately to colleagues) and more flexible, as you can work whenever you’re most productive.

But, if there’s one thing asynchronous work isn’t known for, it’s speed. When I first mentioned to a friend that Float works largely asynchronously, their first question was, “What if you need something now?”

That’s a fair question. When you work asynchronously, collaboration doesn’t necessarily happen in real time the way it does in an office where everyone is working 9 to 5.  But it’s not the whole story. How you view efficiency and how you organize work are critical aspects to streamlining collaboration.

First of all, what’s the hurry? 💆

OK, I’m being cheeky. It’s well established that doing things before others can often be a strong competitive advantage in the business world. Some tasks are simply more urgent than others as well.

But there are always caveats to this approach. In content marketing, for example, I’ve sometimes seen quality being compromised for the sake of churning out blog post after blog post. Hyper-responsiveness is also a surefire path to burnout and loss of productivity.

Playing fast and furious won’t lead to the results you want most of the time, and it’s certainly not sustainable. Instead, the solution is to find a balance between efficiency and effectiveness, so you can speed up tasks while maintaining quality.

That’s something working asynchronously can help you do!

Asynchronous work is an investment

I heard something pretty cool in a recent webinar hosted by Loom and Notion: Meetings are lazy. That made me think of all the times I didn’t want to take a few minutes to write an email or look up the answer, and instead sent the ubiquitous (and admittedly, lazy), “Can you hop on a quick call?” message to a colleague. 😇

Don’t get me wrong—depending on the nature of your job or the issue—it can be super helpful to sync with someone over a quick call. Also, people who live with certain learning disabilities (like dyslexia) may prefer to use verbal communication.

That said, synchronous work has inherent challenges that can’t be overlooked.

Synchronous communication is a time-wasting risk

Time lost through meetings, calls, and other discussions is time borrowed from other tasks—and that eventually adds up. Studies indicate that people spend an average of six hours per week on meetings (more if you’re a manager).

This is time that is taken away from productive deep work, which must be scheduled around those meetings. As a result, people end up working longer hours to meet deadlines—which has a significant impact on morale and violates the boundaries of work-life balance.

Constant real-time communication also results in frequent context switching (shifting your thinking from one thing to another). This poses a great challenge for many employees, as Float’s Director of Engineering, Colin Ross, explains:

“Each time a person comes out of their focus bubble to respond to a message or to check Slack, some context is lost, and it takes time to regain it. Even if replying to a message takes less than a minute, the time lost might be closer to an hour, depending on how deep the person was in their bubble.”

On the other hand, working asynchronously means there is a system in place to find quick answers and plan future work without impacting the rest of the team’s workflow. In other words, you’re making a long-term investment that will help you reap the benefits later.

4 ways async work can streamline collaboration

1. Document to encourage self-serve

Working asynchronously without investing in documentation is doomed to failure. Putting everything in writing is the first thing you hear when companies talk about asynchronous work.

That’s what we do at Float too. While there are times I may need to speak to a colleague to clarify something, for the most part, I can find what I need in the regularly updated documentation the team keeps.

For example, when it comes to project due dates or strategy, we keep a single source of truth as often as possible—be it a Notion page or an Asana board. In fact, each Float team has its own Notion pages with resources and updates (take a peek at the image below).

Even meeting prep can be done with async updates. Since moving to 15five for our meeting agendas, we’ve been able to add action items and explanations for discussion topics to plan ahead. This helps us use asynchronous practices to make synchronous communication more effective as well.

2. Summarize and notify

Documentation is nothing new, but how you make it available matters. Sorting through documents is time consuming if you don’t know where to look or what to look for. That’s why we try to keep the team updated asynchronously by providing information they may need.

For example, our CEO Glenn sends a companywide update every Monday called The Float Weekly. This helps everyone get a quick look into what’s happening so they have context for the week ahead.

Department leaders do the same every month to keep everyone informed on what their team is working on. For instance, the most recent marketing monthly update included news on product marketing, new writing guides, and our SEO strategy. This is a great way for the team to gain insight and find the answers they need.

Make sure to disseminate documentation in ways that work best for your company. Otherwise, they may become too chaotic and inaccessible.

3. More thoughtful = better communication

When working asynchronously, you inevitably have more time to consider what you want to say. It’s not like a conference call where things can get sidetracked by a random conversation thread, or a real-time discussion where you can’t go back and correct what you’ve said.

An asynchronous message is almost always a thoughtful message. You can think it through and self-edit. You can even choose the best medium for a receptive response (e.g., if I find it’s difficult to explain a site bug with words, I can use a quick Loom video instead).

This reduces the risk of miscommunication and back-and-forths. Of course, long and complex threads can still form—they’re just less likely.

4. Leave a searchable trail

One thing to remember about verbal communication is that it’s not searchable. You may say a hundred important things in a call and they will be remembered only as long as a person’s memory allows (which is often not very long 🧠).

Most tools we use at Float are fully searchable—Slack, Asana, Notion, Google Drive, etc. Keeping meeting agendas, notes, and designating channels for specific issues (e.g., a Slack channel for product releases) are great ways to remain informed.

For async communication to work, of course, you need to establish a communication norm that favors transparency. For example, if we have a question or issue, we often ask it in a Slack channel rather than as a direct message. This way, if another team member has the same question in the future, they won’t have to ask it again.

Async communication should be the default

When your default is fewer meetings and more deep work, you have the chance to experience a calmer, more productive workday. The beauty of communicating asynchronously is that when something comes up that does require synchronous communication, you are able to approach it in a more strategic, thoughtful way (and with less stress!).

Async communication also enables you to build more deliberate relationships with your team. We set up meetings and send messages not because they are an unavoidable burden—but because they truly matter to us.

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