Working asynchronously is one of the signatures of a widespread remote team. Whether your experts are distributed from coast to coast or across international locations, it is likely that not everyone will share the exact same working hours.
Teams that embrace flexible hours will want to develop a similar capability to accommodate the night owls, the people who work best in the early morning, and so on. Asynchronous working has become an essential skill for diverse teams, especially as remote work has become the norm.
Instead of trying to maintain a chat-like synchronous communication style, embrace the async. Let's dive into our best asynchronous tips for flexible hours and time-zone separated teams.
Table of contents
- Approach Communication as Pen-Pals
- Get To Know Your Team's Schedule
- Get to Know the Night Owls
- Carry Half the Conversation: Say Everything You Need to Say
- Share Information, Links, and References
- Build Your Asynchronous Message as You Work
- Leverage a Virtual Assistant
- Take Advantage of Mutually Online Moments
- Maintain and Respect Offline Time
- Let People Know When You're Up Late (or Early) on Their Behalf
1) Approach Communication as Pen-Pals
The first thing to embrace is that you and your schedule-distant colleagues have just become pen-pals. If you have ever engaged in letter writing or exchanged long emails with a loved one, you will be better prepared for the communication style that asynchronous working requires. You are not waiting for the other person to say "Yeah" and then continue your ask.
Your goal in each communication will be to frame your piece in a way that allows them to give a full-bodied response the next time they are online and able.
You likely won't get responses right away and, if you do, consider this the exception rather than the norm. Accept that you will not be available at the same time, and this way everyone's schedule is mutually respected.
2) Get To Know Your Team's Schedule
That said, get to know when your team is online and when you will most likely receive replies. You don't have to contort schedules to meet all of the time, but it helps to know when you will get an answer from your coworker.
You may become used to receiving the answers you need while you are out at dinner or know that you will typically wake up to a full inbox of information and task updates every morning.
Even within the same country, your entire team may not all be on the same schedule. Some may be a few hours offset from the others. Learning schedules can help you best coordinate with everyone, and maybe even catch a few when they are online.
Times when your schedules overlap will often be the best to collaborate, so knowing your colleagues' schedules can be extremely useful to catch these important moments.
3) Get to Know the Night Owls
If you work on the other side of the world from your team, you will inevitably get to know the night owls. Remote work and flexible schedules make it possible for those people who work best at night to do so - and they will become your synchronized coworkers.
When working with an international team, night owls are a gem that bridge the gap. You might notice one coworker across the world who is always online during your daytime hours, who answers emails immediately when everyone else will be gone for half of your day.
Get to know your night owl coworkers and enjoy the company.
4) Carry Half the Conversation: Say Everything You Need to Say
When you send work messages asynchronously, you want to frame everything your offset coworkers will need to give you a useful answer. Instead of asking "Hey, do you remember that project", give all the information you have and take the time to fully frame any questions you want to ask.
Carefully frame what you need and what you want to convey. Understand that your message stands on its own instead of getting the usual support of an interactive conversation.
You can ask more than one question at once, or you can provide a full report of information that will be waiting in the inboxes or group chat of your team when they wake up. This will make it possible for them to take time and frame a complete and useful answer that you can wake up to later on. Your letter-writing skills can come in handy when building your asynchronous communications.
Try to be complete in your messaging so that large chunks of work can be done as a result.
5) Share Information, Links, and References
Whether you are sharing information or asking questions, include your resources. Share details, links, and references. It always helps to link to what you are talking or asking about, and to provide supplementary information if you need someone else to make an informed decision and get back to you.
The more direct and useful a link, the better. Just referencing a previous document might not be enough, so don't be shy about re-linking and attaching to make sure everyone has what they need to understand your messages and complete their work.
This will allow both you and your schedule-offset coworkers to work off of asynchronous messages and send actionable responses without the need for real-time chat in between.
6) Build Your Asynchronous Message as You Work
It may work best to build up an asynchronous message as you go along. If you happen to know that your questions will go unanswered for several hours, take time to build an email with a list of questions. You can add a separate list of useful information that you would normally deliver in the form of a conversation.
Depending on the native workflow of your group chat, you might leave a series of messages for others to answer, or it might be friendlier to leave one large block each day that you put together over time during your shift.
It's understood that these messages are built through hours of work and not just a rapid-fire set of questions that you could answer for yourself. Your coworkers will then have their entire shift to address your half of the conversation and provide useful information in return.
7) Leverage a Virtual Assistant
If you find coworkers often need information or documents when you are not online, consider leveraging a virtual assistant. Your assistant can know the answers to commonly asked questions and provide help when you are not online.
You can also give your assistant access to files and documents for ongoing projects and empower them to give updates and share links on your behalf.
A virtual assistant can also act as a receptionist. They can answer calls during your off-hours and take notes for when you are back online.
8) Take Advantage of Mutually Online Moments
There will be rare moments when you and your team are both online. When this happens, take advantage of it. You might even schedule these times for things like early morning or late afternoon meetings just so that all the time-zone dispersed team members can be online at once, between meals, shifts, and sleep periods.
This is your chance for some real-time conversation, screen-sharing meetings, and other interactions that require live synchronous communication to get it right. These meetings will also build rapport between team members who usually communicate via email and packets of information.
9) Maintain and Respect Offline Time
That said, don't let your asynchronous job throw off your team's right to personal time. Everyone has a right to specific times with their family or for themselves, no matter what the team schedule might be. This is especially important in teams spread across a wide range of time zones.
Make sure everyone can set aside a few hours that are always 'personal time' so that the around-the-clock nature of a schedule-diverse team doesn't start to jeopardize the sanctity of work-life balance and personal hours.
Offline time is essential.
Fortunately, asynchronous working skills make it possible to respect that time without demanding that employees hop online any time there is work to be done outside their designated schedule. While flexible hours make it possible for people to work anytime during their best hours, asynchronous flexibility also leaves room for family and personal time whenever that needs to be scheduled.
Instead of an always-online policy, build a slightly offset schedule so that everyone can be online with the team at least once a week.
10) Let People Know When You're Up Late (or Early) on Their Behalf
Lastly, it's OK to let everyone know if a team member is up very early or awake unusually late just to meet with the rest of the team synchronously. In most cases, your team will understand if you don't want to turn on your webcam because it's 5 AM your time for their 11 AM meeting. Or if an offset colleague is jittery on caffeine because they are up late to make the weekly collaboration meeting.
Your team will be more understanding if they know you are making an exception for them. Remember to greet your night owl buddy with warmth because they, too, are out of their element in the mid-morning sun of their own continent. This will bring an element of genuine connection to team meetings where several people may be off their usual schedule to come together for a live conversation.
Asynchronicity Efficiency at Its Finest
If you are looking to build an asynchronous team - or to hone your asynchronous skills in the time-zone diverse team you are already a part of, don't hesitate to reach out.