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Maximizing productivity with an async-first approach: tips and strategies

Angela Guedes
January 13, 2023
Remote Works

Are you struggling to keep your team organized and productive? An async-first approach may be the solution you're looking for. In this article, we'll explore the benefits of an async-first organization and provide practical tips on how to implement them in your team. From setting clear goals and expectations to fostering trust, we've got you covered.

The benefits of an async-first workplace

Defaulting to asynchronous communication can set your team apart, especially for distributed organizations where team members may be located in different time zones and working remotely.

One of the key benefits of being async-first is that it allows for greater flexibility in decision-making. When you can take your time to respond to requests, rather than feeling pressure to make a quick decision on the spot, you are more likely to come up with creative solutions and consider different perspectives.

Another advantage is that it reduces misunderstandings. Related with the point above, when we have the space to think about how we’ll respond to a message, we pay more attention to the language we use and how we structure our thoughts. This can ensure everyone is on the same page and that important information is not lost in the fast-paced nature of synchronous teams.

Async-first workflows also make it easier to build a diverse and inclusive team. By encouraging team members to work at their own pace and schedule, rather than feeling pressure to be constantly available for meetings or discussions, you can attract a wider range of talent, regardless of location, time-zone, or any other scheduling constraints.

And finally, more flexibility normally translates into more productivity, too. Instead of working for eight straight hours every day, your team can organize their schedule to when they are feeling the most productive. It’s no longer about when they work, but about getting work done.

Best practices for managing an async team

If you're used to an "always-on" environment, managing an async team can be challenging. A few questions normally pop-up for first-time managers:

  • How do you foster greater autonomy and flexibility without loosing track of who is working on what?
  • How do you ensure everyone is working on the right things without micromanaging?
  • How do you preserve a few collaborative hours, where synchronous work like brainstorms can take place?

The most difficult part is finding the right balance between giving your team the autonomy to work asynchronously and providing the necessary guidance to ensure everyone is working towards the same goals. And here communication is key. Establishing clear timelines and expectations, setting up systems to track progress, and giving everyone the opportunity to ask questions, share ideas, and receive feedback will help ensure everyone is on the same page. Additionally, it's important to be aware of the individual needs of each team member and provide support where necessary.

So here are our top tips to set-up a successful async team:

Set guidelines for communication and collaboration

Establishing clear rules and expectations is the foundation of a successful async team. It helps to ensure alignment among team members, improve communication, build trust, and increase productivity. Above all, it helps your team work in the best conditions when it comes to handling the communications’s flow they receive.

Some things to consider when defining internal communication guidelines include:

  1. Purpose: You must clearly define how the guidelines will support the organization's mission and goals.
  2. Immediacy: Clarify what's important to do now vs later, have a clear definition for emergencies, and how to unblock dependencies between teams.
  3. Channels: Identify the most relevant tool and/or channel depending on the objective, content and timing (emails, meetings, project management tool, etc.). Be also clear about ✅ Do’s, ❌ Don’ts, and 👌 Best practices for each channel.
  4. Frequency: Determine how often different types of communication should occur, such as stand-up meetings, team updates, or all-hands meetings.
  5. Tone: Set the tone and language used in communication, including professionalism, respect, and inclusivity.
  6. Confidentiality: Define expectations for maintaining confidentiality and protecting sensitive information.
  7. Feedback: Establish a process for soliciting and incorporating feedback on the effectiveness of the communication guidelines.

Embrace new communication tools

Once you define the rules of engagement for your team, the next step is making sure you limit as much as possible your work tools. There’s nothing worse when transitioning to async to having to figure out where to find a document or where an important discussion took place. So when you’re defining your communication channels, make sure you clarify what should be used for what.

Which tools you will choose will depend on the work you do, but at a high level you should define team and company-wide tools. Here at Claap, for example, our company-wide tech stack includes:

  • Notion. It’s for knowledge management purposes (meaning non-urgent information of all importance levels). It’s where we document almost everything from Product roadmap, to OKRs and cross-team initiatives. It’s also our content calendar database and customer CRM.
  • Slack. It’s for urgent and non-important messages, during business hours. At Claap, we are asynchronous first, which means that we are very cautious with Slack. Ok for quick questions, company announcements and the occasional ice breaker. But it’s a no-go for anything that requires careful consideration, that we need to refer to later on, and even to submit requests.
  • Claap. Claap is for non urgent & structured discussions, anytime. It helps us replace meetings when a discussion doesn’t fit in written tools.
  • Video Conferencing. We use a mix of Google Meet, Around, and even Slack huddles. Live meetings is our last resource and we have a full blog post dedicated to them and how we use them here: Meetings: when to record, when to miss, when to replace.

Proactively communicate goals, achievements and roadblocks

The best way to foster trust and avoid micromanaging in a distributed team is avoiding the guesswork. Here are a few strategies you can use to keep your team updated on everyone’s progress and challenges:

  1. Use a project management tool: Many async-first teams use tools like Notion, Trello, or Asana to track goals, tasks, and progress. By regularly updating these tools, you can keep the team informed about what you're working on and any roadblocks you're facing.
  2. Write regular updates: Let the team know what you're working on and what you've accomplished on regular basis. Here at Claap, we use HPFOs to share our weekly highlights, goals, and what’s blocking us. More here.
  3. Use video communication: Sometimes, it's easier to communicate complex ideas or convey your emotions through video. Consider using tools like Claap or Zoom to communicate with your team async or to hold short meetings.
  4. Create transparency: Make sure that important information and decisions are easily accessible to the team. In our case, we track decisions and host documents in Notion and record a claap video when we need to explain things in more detail.
💡 Further reading: 3 Remote proof tips to make asynchronous work work

What’s next?

Ok, so now you have defined your guidelines, chose your tools, and have a plan in place to foster accountability, transparency and track progress. The only thing left is deciding how to start with async collaboration. Here are 5 ideas to effectively transition to asynchronous work you can implement today.

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