Asynchronous communication – 4th level of distributed work

Today we are discussing the 4th level of remote work.

‘I’ll get to it when it suits me.’ This is the nature of asynchronous communication.

The reality is that most things don’t require an immediate response. For most things, a one-way email or instant message should do the job, with the recipient responding when it suits them.

If something really is urgent, then the mode of communication should reflect that. Pick up the phone, or tap that person on the shoulder, but only if it is truly urgent.

Aside from the obvious and massive benefit of giving knowledge workers time to think, create and get into the flow state (a psychological state whereby we are up to five times more productive according to McKinsey), but asynchronous communication predisposes people to make better decisions.

As Robert Greene says, if you want to cut emotion out of the equation, increase your response time. Giving people time to think between question and response, rather than fall victim to blurting out the first thing that comes to mind in a meeting or when tapped on the shoulders, delivers a compound benefit to the organization over time.

In order to avoid tennis games and duplication of effort, ensure that asynchronous messages:

  • provide sufficient background detail, where necessary provide clear action item(s) and outcome(s) required.
  • provide a due date
  • provide a path of recourse if the recipient is unable to meet your requirements.

For example:

Hey Shay

Attached is the incorporation document for our new spin-off company.

Please sign the document where requested and send it back to me by 4 pm this Friday.

If you have any concerns, give me a call on 555 1983.

Companies that truly practice asynchronous communication have stepped out of the industrial revolution, and no longer conflate presence with productivity, or hours with output, as one might on the factory floor.

Mullenweg points out that globally distributed teams, who work asynchronously, and master ‘passing the baton’, can get three times more done than a local team relying on everybody to be in an office between 9am and 5pm.

I’d argue that they could get an order of magnitude more done than a centralized company characterized by real-time and over-communication, as well as consensus-seeking meetings with everybody but the office dog present.

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