Event Recap
Flexibility Unleashed: The Power of Asynchronous Work

16 Nov 2023
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The Power of Asynchronous Work

On November 16th, PLASTARC hosted its latest webinar, titled “The Power of Asynchronous Work,” as part of the Flexibility Unleashed webinar series.

Many leaders still believe that creative work is best done in synchronous work contexts. But as remote work and flexible schedules become increasingly common, synchronous work becomes increasingly impractical: varying time zones, locations, and work preferences mean that workers are often unable to be in the same physical or virtual workspace at the same time. And while the alternative, asynchronous work, certainly presents its own set of challenges as teams try to maintain a sense of connection between managers and employees, it also offers a unique set of benefits for creativity, inclusivity, and productivity.

PLASTARC’s Amy Rosen chatted with three panelists, all of whom are working at the forefront of asynchronous work development, about their ideas for optimizing success within an asynchronous work model.

Reasons to Utilize Asynchronous Work


Jasmine Wu, postdoc researcher at UPenn Wharton, studies communication patterns in teams and organizations, with a specific focus on the hybrid workplace.

Wu opened the conversation by explaining how asynchronous work offers an effective antidote for employee burnout. Meeting burnout, which is especially common for more introverted and neurodivergent employees, can often cause declines in productivity and employee satisfaction. By prioritizing independent and self-determined concentrative time, asynchronous work structures give employees the opportunity to avoid distractions or ongoing conversations, and thereby prevent meeting burnout.

Wasted Meeting Time

As part of her research, Wu calculated the actual cost of meetings by multiplying the number of work hours spent in each meeting by workers’ hourly pay. Unsurprisingly, meetings with numerous colleagues are both expensive and inefficient when poorly organized. This is especially liable to happen in synchronous work environments, where meetings are often required, regardless of whether they’re actually needed. Asynchronous work, then, not only saves time and money – it also cultivates more intentionality when planning meetings.

Power to Introverts!

Just as in-person work favors certain personality types, so too does asynchronous work. John Jenson, COO at PeaceGeeks and previously Senior Director of Insights and Strategy at Salesforce, explained that an emphasis on written communication and virtual relationship-building uplifts a type of communicator who often feels excluded from conversations. This builds inclusivity potential for those who are less comfortable with verbal communication.

Beyond empowering solitary workers and communicators who prefer the written form, asynchronous work also opens the door for greater flexibility as individuals can determine the ideal time, place, and space for their work.

Best Practices

A Strong and Thoughtful Team Charter

The first key to a successful asynchronous workplace is a thoughtful team charter, according to Haley Nelson, who serves as Global Head of B2B Marketing at Logitech and Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University. An effective team charter should outline expectations for how team members treat one another, the boundaries that should be maintained to respect time zone differences and time off, and general communication protocols. By emphasizing compassion and mutual understanding, Nelson stated, a team charter can give asynchronous teams the parameters they need to collaborate seamlessly.

Documentation and Transparency

Throughout the conversation, all three panelists highlighted the urgency of thorough and accessible documentation.

Jenson specifically focused on how thoughtful cultural leadership can help everyone understand what they are working on and why it matters. Gitlab, which fully documents everything their organization works on and makes much of this documentation public, has built an exemplary asynchronous work environment in which all workers consistently have a clear understanding of what’s going on. But Github is far from alone – in Jenson’s estimation, all of the most impactful asynchronous companies prioritize transparency and documentation to ensure that independent workers have everything they need.

Thorough documentation and transparency also help new hires understand the expectations that come with their role. By documenting all processes and procedures systematically, organizations create a comprehensive procedural handbook. Newer employees can then use this handbook to independently learn their roles, make decisions, and integrate themselves into new teams.

Ritualizing Practices

It may sound counterintuitive, but rituals are a critical component of effective asynchronous work environments. Wu recommended having meeting rituals, such as sharing agendas in advance so that individuals can prepare, leveraging chat functions, and sharing meeting recordings.

Nelson also practices her own set of personal rituals to optimize her asynchronous work: she schedules a 4PM walk everyday, and she regularly makes an active effort to chat with someone from her organization or industry who she has not already met. On an organization-wide scale, Nelson encourages the ritualization of meeting-free Fridays, and Monday morning priority list sharing amongst all organization members.

Complete Understanding and Buy-In to Tools

Having the right tools is essential for building a productive asynchronous work environment, but it doesn’t amount to much if employees aren’t fully bought into those tools. Nelson recalled a leader in her organization simply stating, “If you want me, reach me on Slack, I am off Teams,” during a period when her organization was transitioning between collaboration platforms. In the world of change management, this uncompromising mindset helps the team push past employees' individual preferences and do what is best for the organization at large.

Jenson agreed that employees’ acceptance of a tool is far more imperative than any of that tool’s capabilities:

"It's not the tool, it's the culture around it. If people don't use it or use it incorrectly, it's meaningless.”

Networking Intentionality

By scheduling recurring intentional networking time, Nelson and others like her are preventing the siloed work systems that are sometimes common in asynchronous teams. Nelson cited 18F as an example of an organization that has successfully avoided the decline in networking that often occurs when organizations become asynchronous. 18F has accomplished this by scheduling coffee chats that are expressly intended to build bonds between co-workers and maintain a collective workplace “why.”

When building the ideal asynchronous or synchronous workplace, it’s vital that organizations collect and utilize real-time data. In our next webinar, "Getting Unstuck: From Analysis Paralysis to Data-Driven Transformation", we’ll explore some of the most effective methods for putting workplace research to use. Join us on December 14th.