Should You Create an Asynchronous-First or Synchronous Remote Work Environment?

Jenna Rodrigues
March 22, 2022

Remote work is all the rage these days. While we were working remotely at Camber Creative long before a global pandemic struck, Covid introduced many new business leaders and employees to remote work who were previously trained to spend their days in office cubicles. Despite the hurdles it took to get businesses to this point, the important thing is that we’re here now, and leaders are seeing the benefits of enabling their employees to work remotely.

While the ideal corporate culture depends on the underlying business objectives and processes required to achieve those objectives, it’s worth taking a step back to consider whether remote work is right for you. Once you decide to plunge into the exciting world of remote work, the next decision you need to make is whether you should structure it as a synchronous or asynchronous-first environment.

Benefits for Managers of Promoting Remote Work

Before you can consider the type of remote work environment that’s right for your team and your business, you first need to think about whether remote work is right for you in the first place. While it takes some time to successfully make the transition from in-person to remote work, it’s likely worth the resource investment in the long-run, depending on the nature of your business. There are several benefits of remote work. We’ll name just a few.

First, setting up a remote work environment gives your employees a better work life balance. They can take short breaks throughout the day that can help them regroup to do high quality work more consistently. Rather than spending time in the morning and evening commuting, they can get more sleep and spend more time with their family. Second, encouraging remote work can help save your company money if this is something that you grow to enforce across the board. Rather than investing in buying or renting an office space that employees don’t even want to go to, you can allocate those resources towards creating a more inclusive digital workspace and increasing employee satisfaction.

Third, remote work inherently says that you trust your employees and you trust that they have what it takes to do good work. It gives your team members the freedom to do work when they want and where they want, and it allows them to structure their day in a way that is most productive for them personally. Fourth, remote work often drives up employee productivity. Work remains about the work itself rather than all of the extras. Finally, building a remote work environment can help you attract and retain high quality talent. This is what employees want these days, so if you’re not willing to give them what they want, they are going to go somewhere else to get it.

What is Synchronous Remote Work?

Synchronous remote work favors real-time communication. As a part of this remote work style, employees spend a significant amount of time throughout the day on live calls with individuals on their team or external stakeholders. These calls often take place through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or another video conferencing platform.

Rather than extensively troubleshooting issues that arise independently, employees in a synchronous remote work environment will be quick to ping their teammates on Slack to ask them to jump on a call to discuss the issue live. In some ways, these synchronous calls attempt to mimic a more traditional office environment, where employees are sitting in virtual rooms discussing topics of interest, much like they would sit in an in-person conference room together to listen to presentations and participate in group discussions.

What is Asynchronous-First Remote Work?

Asynchronous-first remote work involves less real-time communication. Rather than encouraging employees to immediately jump on calls with team members to flesh out issues as their first resort, this work style encourages team members to invest in troubleshooting individually first. This remote work style favors the flexibility of team members and encourages them to reply to messages when it’s a good time for them. There are significantly fewer synchronous (or what you may consider live) meetings, and there is more of an independent emphasis placed on completing the work at hand.

An important thing to note is that this work style is not fully asynchronous (meaning no synchronous communication at all), but rather asynchronous-first. This is an important distinction, as it’s often difficult to resolve ALL issues without real-time communication. It means that when issues arise that can’t be resolved asynchronously, team members will schedule live video conference meetings to discuss the issue together. However, it is simply encouraged that team members explore alternative troubleshooting options first before jumping right to synchronous calls.

Reasons to Create an Asynchronous-First Remote Work Environment

There are several reasons you might consider structuring your workplace as an asynchronous-first remote work environment. First, it gives your team more flexibility to do work at the times when employees feel the most motivated and inspired to do their best work. This contrasts with a synchronous environment, where employees are forced to do their actual work within the small available windows between meetings throughout the day. Employees who are very capable and independent tend to thrive in this type of setting and really appreciate having the capacity to work in this type of environment. This makes it easier for you to attract and retain high quality talent, since you’re creating a workplace that people actually want to be a part of.

In a synchronous environment, it’s easy for days to get packed with meetings, forcing employees to spend most of their time talking about the work they are supposedly doing. This leaves little time for doing the actual work. This is one core benefit of an asynchronous-first environment, as giving employees the freedom to structure their days as they wish helps them to maximize productivity and allocate their time in the most efficient way possible. When employees are focused so intensively on the work itself, this helps companies to get the most value out of their employees to drive business growth. Finally, having so much uninterrupted time enables employees to engage in deeper thinking. This type of thinking is often impeded by the start-stop nature of a day filled with scattered meetings and synchronous conversations.

Reasons to Create a Synchronous Remote Work Environment

Despite the several advantages of setting up an asynchronous-first remote workplace, this style isn’t right for every role or every business. Depending on the nature of the business’s value proposition, sometimes a more synchronous remote work environment is a better fit. One advantage of a synchronous remote workplace is that it allows employees to resolve issues quickly and have more difficult conversations about controversial issues in real-time. Sometimes it’s better to confront an issue head-on rather than allowing the tension to build up over time which inhibits employees’ ability to work together effectively.

Second, this style enables you to ensure that your team is staying connected. In some ways, it forces employees to build some iteration of a relationship with their colleagues through being in virtual meetings with them throughout the day. It can help team members feel socially connected to the people they are working with and less isolated, despite the fact that they are working from different locations. Third, it may lead team members to resolve blockers more quickly. In certain cases, troubleshooting independently can take some time and it’s another person who is physically blocking you from moving a given project forward. Sometimes jumping on the phone to flesh out the issue can enable team members to become unblocked more quickly and accelerate time to completion.

Deciding Which is Right for You

Structuring an effective workplace for your entire team is going to be a challenge no matter what route you choose. It takes time to get it right and find processes that work for your entire organization. It’s also possible that different teams eventually need to establish different processes and cadences based on the nature of the role responsibilities of the individual team.

When building out a new workplace, the first decision you need to make is whether remote work is right for your business. Once you decide to dive into the world of remote work, you need to decide whether to build a synchronous or asynchronous environment. It’s important to remember that if you start asynchronously, you can always plan to adapt as needed and slot in meetings as a last resort if there is something that can’t be resolved without one.

At Camber, we’re big proponents of asynchronous-first remote work because it helps our team members stay focused on getting things done. As a team of experts, this helps us to use our time efficiently to better serve our clients. If you need help building out the optimal virtual workplace for your business, reach out to our team at Camber Creative to help you get started and find the digital tools that are right for you.

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