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Fun with Async Communications
Async comms creates more time for deep focus work, but let's create some room for fun as well!
So, you’re considering implementing async comms. As I talked about last week, asynchronous communication is a mode of communication where parties involved do not need to be available at the same time to receive or respond to a message. This style of communication is becoming increasingly popular, especially in remote and hybrid work environments, where team members are often spread out across multiple locations and time zones.
Some Best Practices
There are a lot of benefits to async comms, but the main one is that you spend less time in meetings coordinating work, and more time being able to focus and do deep, concentrated work. Let’s start with a couple of best practices.
First and foremost, document everything you do. Central to async comms is documented knowledge, for two key reasons.
First, when you’re doing your own work, you want to be able to find all the information you need without having to ask someone else. Imagine you’re doing your work, and you need some info on another project, on the reasons behind a specific decision made, or some other historical information. In the traditional world, you’d have to send an email to the project manager, and hope to get a response within a day or so. You might send them a chat message, but they’re probably in meetings all day, so they won’t be responding. You could try and reach out to someone else, or just wait for the project manager to reply. In either scenario, you’ll be lucky to have the info tomorrow so you can continue what you’re working on.
Imagine if all of the information was documented, the project details, each decision with the arguments and rationale behind it, including who said what? You could simply go to the project repository and look up the information you needed, and continue working. This is why we document everything we do in an async world.
And second, when you’re in deep work mode yourself, you don’t want to be continuously bothered by others - asking you questions about your work, or scheduling meetings to be able to ask you a couple of questions or get your input on something. These questions and meetings all interrupt your flow, where you’d be able to do your own work. You want to be able to answer questions and provide your input on your schedule, when it makes sense to you. Which means - making sure all your work is documented so others can look it up on their own!
Sharing so much information can feel controversial, but in an organization where nearly all information is readily available, the need for meetings is significantly lower.
As a second best practice, documented ways of working and training, are key to implement. If we’re not all sitting in the same office, how would each of us know what’s expected; how we communicate. A couple of examples:
What do we document? Where do we store our documents? How do we ensure others can find our documentation?
When we need to make a decision, how do we do that? What decisions can we make on our own? If we need to solicit others for their input, how do we do that asynchronously, ensuring all input is documented.
What information can we share with everyone, and what should we still keep private?
What tools to use for which type of communication?
When do we fall back to synchronous communication, i.e. we schedule a meeting?
How do we give feedback to each other?
What if there’s an issue or a conflict? How do we resolve it?
When you’ve got all of this clearly written down for the first time, let it evolve. Once these ways of working are being used, you’ll find a need to add guidance, make updates or change some of the rules. Then, create clear training for every new person joining the organization, so they can easily find their way around.
And now… for some fun
So, deep work and async comms sound efficient… and quite boring. With less time in meetings and with colleagues, it can become lonely. So, how do we stay connected with our coworkers? How do we have fun?
Let’s start with Async Socializing. Of course you still want to have those non-work watercooler type discussions with your colleages. Discussing the Olympics, Formula 1 or Soccer? Talking about exercise and fitness? Parenting? Create social channels on Slack or whatever tool you use. You could have moderators in each channel to ask questions and keep the discussion going, or run some async games. Also, celebrate wins, and regularly recognize people and teams. There’s a lot of different ways to socialize asynchronously. But… have someone responsible for keeping this alive continuously!
Then, we have Synchronous Virtual Socializing. A very simple way is to ensure everyone schedules regular informal 1:1 calls with co-workers, to talk about what’s going on at work, their work/life balance, their personal lives, what’s going on in their community or country, etc. The big risk of async work is that it turns to “work only”. These types of meetings help build personal connections.
Second, back in my consulting days, we had “brown bag” sessions, where someone at a project would come in during a lunch meeting to talk about a topic, any topic. This could be technical, another project they had worked on, a new solution that was available, their project work at the client, just about anything. These are very simple to organize virtually as well. Ask one person to organize, and who ever wants to attend can attend. You could also organize these on non-work topics, e.g. about mediation, books, parenting, or anything else.
Third, you can organize virtual get-togethers. Keep these small (no more than 5-7 people), so everyone can join and contribute. It’s a great way to meet people outside of your normal team that you might not otherwise interact with.
Most of these socializing opportunities should be optional. You don’t want to “force” people to be social when they don’t feel inclined to do so. Also, make sure these social events happen during working hours. Socializing with colleagues is not something to do on top of our work, it should be part of it.
Finally, also organize more formal team meetings, where larger teams get together, where you could have useful presentations or Q&A’s with team leaders. These are also great for recognization and celebrating wins as a team.
In the end, humans are made to bond in person. Create a time & place for in-person meetings. Most all remote organizations organize at least one annual get-together for the entire organization. Even in a globally spread organization, it’s incredibly worthwhile to bring everyone together in the same place, and create personal connections. Maximize the time & activities to create these personal connections.
In addition, you could allocate budget for smaller local get-togethers such as having drinks for people in the same area.
Tools & tricks
With the rise of remote work, more and more tools are available to create some team fun. Some examples…
Kosy has created a virtual office where you can see your co-workers and interact with them. It’s not very async, but it’s a fun way to connect with co-workers, and it helps prevent that feeling of isolation.
Another one I really like is Spark’n. They organize unique, live & energizing 15 minute online experiences with a team. These experiences range from a 15-minute scavenger hunt to a session with a Paralympic legend. Fun guaranteed!
Async work can be very productive and efficient. But as a result, human connections can suffer. Create plenty of time for people to connect, bond, form and maintain those human connections. Make someone accountable, and ensure everyone in the organization understands the value of human connections.
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