4 min read

Should you work in Sync? or Async?

Picture this:

You are working in a team of five people who have been given a business challenge to solve.

The challenge is:

“Identify and Screen the opportunity of selling canned water in Australia.”

The roles for the project are delegated as below:

  • Joe - Coordinate and compile the final business case
  • Mark - Conduct thorough market research on business viability and competitors
  • Tom - Identify suitable water suppliers in Australia
  • Pascale - Identify can suppliers and contract manufacturers in Australia
  • Tash - Compile a distribution strategy
  • Julie - Logo, branding and marketing strategy

To create a sense of agency we have given ourselves 4 weeks to finish this project. There are two scenarios for how this can be approached:

Option 1: We work together, at the same time

Assuming we all have full-time jobs and this is a passion project, the project team meets Saturday and Sunday to work together.

We decide that it’s best if we all commit to working the next four weekends together. All day Saturday and Sunday because we all have full-time jobs and other commitments to attend during the week.

We come together on the weekend and get the whiteboard up to start writing down our ideas and putting a strategy together.

Once the strategy is complete, we all put our heads down and start working on our respective areas of the project.

The end of Sunday comes around, we discuss what we have achieved, what we each got up to and what we hope to do next week.

We all go back to our day jobs for the week and reconvene on the weekend to continue working together.

This process continues for four weeks, at our final meeting we make a decision on whether there is a case to proceed or not.


Option 2: We work Asynchronously and only meet on an as-needed basis

We all have other commitments that don’t allow us to commit to coming together for 2 full days for four weeks - Julie and Pascale have sailing regattas to win, Tash teaches Pilates on the weekends, Tom has a 4000km bike ride to do in preparation for his Ironman, Joe is preparing his famous recipe for the Potjie Competition and Mark has 3 other businesses he is also working on.

Although we can’t meet to work together, we all agree and commit to finding the time to have our section of the project complete within the four-week time frame.

To kick the project off, we organise a 1-hour group call to outline the strategy and make sure everyone is aware of what they have to do.

We all go off and work on our own time, whilst keeping the team updated through the online teams chat. Any questions or milestones we have are communicated through the shared chat, calls are set up on an as-needed basis and we work in a shared onedrive folder so we all have access to each other’s work in real-time.

One week before the deadline Joe sends a message checking how everyone is going and if he can start compiling all the work together in a business case.

At the end of the four weeks, we arrange a final call for us to discuss our work and decide together if we have a case to continue.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Work

Although the above examples represent a simplified project environment. There is still a lot of truth in it. You have to stop to ask yourself if the way you are working is the way that suits you and your team best.

Atlassian, a software company founded in Australia is a first mover in the shift to 100% remote first workforce. They provide some really good insights into the pros and cons of Asynchronous collaboration which I have summarised below:

Pros Cons
Meeting culture is a waste of tie and money. Not every meeting is boring, inefficient and poorly run - but plenty are. It takes time to build trust, buy-in, and create alignment with remote teams. Particularly with teammates who have not worked much together.
Asynchronous collaboration makes it easier for teammates to collaborate across timezones. So much of how we communicate is non-verbal and communicated through our intonation and body language. It’s easy for miscommunications when you can’t gather that information.
Meetings tend to reward the loudest, most confident, most extroverted and the most senior - not necessarily the people with the best ideas. Asynchronous collaboration isn’t necessarily more inclusive, face-to-face meetings mean you can interrupt bias more effectively.

A good meeting is still essential in a lot of circumstances - but meeting bloat is a real issue. It slows down work, wastes time, money and morale.

In many cases, meetings can be replaced by a simple memo or email.

“Could this meeting be an email?” is a great question to ask before you arrange anything.

Meetings shouldn’t be a tool to remind people to do their portion of the work.

When we default to asynchronous collaboration, we have to be more intentional about how we interact and communicate with eachother. For example:

  • when can people expect feedback?
  • When is it time for talking things through?
  • When does the team celebrate or share lessons learned?

Asynchronous work means we are all responsible for understanding our roles in the workflow, so the onus is on us to be accountable in the big picture.

There is no one-size fits all approach to how you work, but just because that’s how things used to be done does not mean that is how you should do them now.

Keep up with the times, learn the tools, and create a working environment that aligns with how you want to live your life.