RemoteWorks

A guide to effective & engaging async collaboration

This guide is designed for people that have trouble convincing their teammates to transition to asynchronous communication.

Pierre Touzeau

This guide is designed for people that have trouble convincing their teammates to transition to asynchronous communication.

Over the past few years, I often had the opportunity to discuss with people that wanted to implement more async collaboration with their teammates. Most of them had one main issue: they’re trying hard to communicate async with their teammates, but they never get any reply from them. And they end up in a quick call once again.

Before Claap, I had the opportunity to work in another tech company (360Learning) that was async-first — actually, we even had no meeting when I first joined — so I had to onboard a lot of people to this new way of communicating.

Here are the things I learned along the way that could be useful if you’re the first one to try in your organization.

Step 1 - It works if you reach your goal

Whether it’s sharing an update, asking for feedback or making a decision, your goal has to be clear when you start using async communication. What’s the one thing that if you accomplish will let you say “ok it works, I don’t need meetings”

Here are a few examples:

  • Share an update: I want to make sure people have seen it.
  • Ask for feedback: get feedback/replies from people
  • Train my teammates: my teammates have understood
  • Make decisions: I know what our next steps are and how we got here

The following steps maximize your chances to reach those goals.

Step 2 - Make your message super sharp

One thing that we often don’t realize is that it’s easy to be lazy when you’re presenting in a meeting. Of course, people that are sharp stand out in the crowd but if you’ve never been told how to present your ideas concisely, you can still count on your teammates to ask questions and drive your presentation.

This doesn’t work async. Whether it’s through written communication or video, it’s better to be sharp.

Good news, there are a lot of frameworks & techniques to help you do that.

One technique is to start with short videos. If you have a quick question, you can for example record a claap.

Above all, I discovered a few frameworks that have really helped me to present my ideas concisely. Here they are:

When you present a recommendation:

Use the Pyramid Principles:

  • Start with the answer first (ie. the solution of a problem, a suggested action, a key information)
  • Group and summarize your supporting arguments
  • Logically order your supporting ideas

Start with why: similar to the above but I find it a bit more simple and straightforward in some other cases

  • Why: present the goal
  • How: present the plan (how you want to get there)
  • What: go into the details of each section
Frame a problem or a question, I often use this one:
  • Context: explain the current situation with the key elements that are required to really understand the problem
  • Problem: explain the complication you’re facing
  • Question: once you’ve presented the problem, you want to formulate hypothesis and ask a question
  • Options: the end is about formulating hypothesis.

Here’s a concrete example, if you want to see how it looks like:

Robin wanted to get feedback on the redesign of our commenting system so he used some of the tips above to make the video easy to watch:

  1. Name your recording to make it easy to grasp the context
  2. Present the context with the goal using a description
  3. Highlight different sections using comments:
  4. Presentation of the context
  5. Presentation of the scope
  6. Presentation of the solution with questions

This way anyone can easily scan the video and understand what’s in it.

Step 3 - Encourage people to contribute

One mistake we often make when working async is that we don’t clearly say what we expect from others. When you’re in the same room, it can be more implicit. You can stop talking if you see someone raising an eyebrow, you ask questions, people can easily interrupt you, etc…

I’ve often seen people writing super long messages or recording really long videos without making it super clear what is expected from you.

So if you communicate a message async, make it super clear what you expect from others.

To do that, you have few tips that you can use:

  • With async written communication: highlight your question in your message or note. Do you understand?
  • If you use async video collaboration, highlight the moments when you expect feedback using comments. It will be easier for your teammates to stop at this moment and leave their feedback.

In this example, Robin is using comments to highlight moments when he expect feedback from stakeholders. This video was sent to both people internally and externally. You can also let people comment directly on the video but highlighting those moments is useful if you want to aggregate those comments.

Step 4 - Align & make decisions

Beyond comments, the key idea behind async communication is to help you align and make decisions with your teammates.

In order not to feel stuck in endless messaging threads, we had defined some guiding principles in my previous company:

  • Mentioning people: when you’re in a meeting, you look at the person you expect an answer from. For async collaboration, it doesn’t work. So we had to define another system: if you mention a person directly (@angela for example), it means I expect an answer from Angela. If it’s just FYI @angela, it means I want to highlight something to her but I don’t expect any answer.
  • Use bullet points to be concise: if you start explaining complex things, use bullet points. It will help you structure your message.
  • Use votes/reactions for quick answers, acknowledgment (and limit notifications): when you communicate async, you can get a feeling of not being listened to. In order to reduce this feeling, use reactions like 👀 to indicate to someone that you’ve seen their message.
  • Name a DRI (directly responsible individual) that makes the decision: one advantage of a meeting is that it’s limited in time. You need to hopefully make a decision after 1h because the meeting is over. To avoid endless debates async, it’s important to set a due date but above all, name an owner that is responsible for making the decision.

For example, at Claap, we’re constantly introducing new features to facilitate alignment and decision-making:

  1. Viewer insights: you can easily control that your teammates viewed your video
  2. Mentions with notifications: highlight something important to one of your teammates
  3. Reactions: quickly acknowledge something
  4. Votes: gather feedback at scale, or force a decision

Step 5 - Create transparency

People want to know the outcomes, not having access to everything. They are reassured when decisions are made so they can focus on execution.

So when you’re done, don’t forget to close the discussion and inform everyone of the outcomes.

Whether it’s on Notion, Slack, Trello, Claap, etc…, we often tend to update it with the following elements:

  • Update your description or first message with a short exec sum
  • If you use tags, mark it as closed
  • Log your decisions in a table/board (can be Notion, Trello, Claap…) that is accessible to everyone.

Hope those tips are useful! And of course, let me know if you want to add more things.

Baci
Pierre