If you’ve been working from home for the past year, you must have been conscious of the green dot next to your name on whatever collaboration you use. And for whatever reasons, you must have paid attention to the one next to your colleagues’ names too. It has a direct impact on your real estate cost optimization efforts. Curious?
That green dot once was a mere indication that a person is online. These days it’s transformed into the “I am available at my work desk” symbol. The difference might not seem like a lot unless you’ve felt the pressure of keeping it green, marking your presence, from 9 to 5 and beyond. That’s presence prison for you.
While work from home has become the norm, the model of working hasn’t changed. So, the expectation of being at someone’s beck and call hasn’t gone away either. Admittedly, it doesn’t work that way when you are at home. There are parenting duties, household chores, and seemingly infinite disturbances that pull you away from your laptop now and then. Keeping that dot green all the time is, therefore, an unrealistic expectation when working from home.
If presence-prison is something you can relate to, here is a solution that might interest you. It starts with few questions.
- Is all work urgent?
- Does every ping require an immediate response?
- Are all virtual meetings necessary?
- For most of the workday, do we have to be present at the same time as our colleagues?
Understandably, a large majority would answer in negative.
These points culminate in questioning the imposition of a 9 to 5 physical office work model on WFH. Most workplaces are struggling with WFH precisely because of this approach.
Businesses need to acknowledge the shift of concept of work. It’s no longer a place. It’s a timebound activity to be done by each employee at her own pace. Of course, there will be work that will involve groups. However, it doesn’t translate to mandating all the people to be logged in all the time. It’s unrealistic and creates a lot of unproductive pressure in the organization. How do you let it off?
That brings us to the concept of asynchronous collaboration, which drives home the point that work is an activity. With that acknowledgment, you will be able to rationally assess the office space utilization, which will in turn impact your cost optimization efforts.
What is asynchronous collaboration?
Asynchronous collaboration is work that does not happen at the same time for all parties involved. There isn’t a pre-defined sequence either. With a host of workspace management solutions, it facilitates the functioning of a hybrid workplace in quite a few ways. Broadly, you may look at it as a hybrid workspace management tool.
While everybody puts in dedicated hours, not all employees are present or available at the same time. Here asynchronous applies to both communication and actual doing of work.
Asynchronous communication does not involve real-time interaction. One of your team members leaves a document listing the dependencies that require your attention. You pick it up during work hours and deliver based on timelines. If you have a question, you insert a comment and assign it to the relevant person.
Done conventionally, you will end up with at least two meetings, which may not be the most efficient way of doing it. Why?
As we know it, meetings often have people responding through the top of their minds. Not all responses are well thought, given the lack of enough time to craft one. Also, the discussion points might get lost, missed, or forgotten even as you religiously post that MoM (Minutes of Meeting).
The bottom line is – don’t rush it if it can wait. If you aren’t brainstorming or firefighting, leave that well-crafted note on Slack or the good old Google Document. It’s more efficient and leaves a historical context to check back on for future tasks, follow-ups, or delays.
Not just that, asynchronous collaboration has several other advantages.
The pros of asynchronous collaboration
Switching to asynchronous collaboration has a direct impact on the number of meeting you have in a day.
Despite several pieces of research pointing out that meetings cost money, they refuse to go away. And they have made their way to the post-pandemic new normal, albeit with a different name.
Zoom Calls and Google Meets, coupled with the now ubiquitous “let’s get on a call,” have been a constant source of fatigue. It isn’t the calls themselves but the frequency that causes more damage.
Asynchronous communication can help your organization battle Zoom fatigue by allowing the response time to be set to an employee’s productive hours. With a tool like TeamBuzz, your employees can plan their workdays, set aside hours for tasks, monitor their productive and non-productive time, and do much more. At the same time, it allows employers and colleagues to set their expectations accordingly. Employees can focus on their work without having to worry about the green dot.
When you take the pressure away and provide people more autonomy over their time, it fosters a culture of transparency and accountability.
The other advantage that comes with asynchronous collaboration is a culture of documenting work. Documentation serves two purposes:
- It structures the thought process by making people think before they ink. Documenting helps set the context, objective, and execution plan for any reader to reference back when required. Without having to dial up a colleague or spend time setting up a group call for clarification, it makes work more efficient.
- More importantly, documentation creates organizational knowledge that has multiple benefits. For starters, it can drastically cut down on the onboarding time for a new employee by providing ready reference material.
The main advantage is the natural fit of asynchronous collaboration and remote work. When you try syncing individuals working in different locations, time zones, and environments, the organizational energy’s lost on replicating an on-premise working model. But is that the right goal to chase? Perhaps not. The resources, instead, can enable employees to be more productive and deliver results. A by-product of this approach is a change in perspective about the need to have a physical workspace. With a successful transition to an asynchronous approach, companies can switch to a hybrid workspace, significantly decreasing their office space utilization.
It’s not that asynchronous collaboration is not without a downside. It has quite a few.
The cons of asynchronous collaboration
Asynchronous collaboration, while providing autonomy and freedom over one’s schedule, places a different set of expectations on the employee. The employees have to stay up to date. They need to consume all information that’s passively shared on the collaboration applications with a notification to boot.
With reduced meeting invitations and interactions, it transfers the burden of staying in touch with the organization onto the employee. Also, it amplifies the less desirable aspects of WFH, such as loneliness, lack of belongingness, and listlessness.
The freedom to work at any time blurs the line between work and personal time. While the environmental shift has already blurred the division between work and home, asynchronous work can further exacerbate the problem.
Increased monitoring of employee productivity is another likely fallout of allowing employees to decide their work schedule. However, an organization’s decision about monitoring depends on several other variables like culture, work, workforce, and overall experience. Nonetheless, it’s a possibility.
How do you make asynchronous collaboration work?
“Whether one should move to asynchronous collaboration?” is a no-brainer. Planning to have a 9 to 5 model for remote work is akin to knowingly force-fitting the familiar into the unknown.
Organizations and workplace managers need to acknowledge the differences between WFH and on-premise work in their entirety. It will provide the much-needed perspective to plan and execute a seamless shift to asynchronous collaboration.
Given the positives and negatives of asynchronous work, you need to plan a calibrated approach for the transition. Categorizing work based on expectations and dependencies would be a good place to start. For example:
- Synchronous and collaborative: Group activities that demand on-the-feet thinking like brainstorming, crisis management, or anything where real-time engagement is beneficial Hybrid workspace management tools like Slack, Teams, and so on should prove helpful.
- Collaborative yet asynchronous: If you have a culture of sharing daily status updates over calls, you could move it over to each team member filling in a cell on a shared spreadsheet. You could save a lot of time by doing it. You can have less frequent in-person meetings to keep the sense of belonging to a team alive.
- Independent, asynchronous work: Are you developing a program that requires deep focus or building a solution where outcome matters most? In such cases, you must share the progress and findings regularly.
Once you’ve categorized work, moving the asynchronous parts to the new model becomes easier.
Employees are working in vastly different environments separated by distance, time, and realities. Focusing on synchronizing something so varied and diversified, HR and workplace managers are draining their energies into a bottomless pit. The organizational perspective about a physical office space gets stuck in time. Consequently, organizations end up taking a lot more space than their actual requirement and hurting their real estate cost optimization efforts.
Today the focus should be on driving efforts and outcomes. It demands using technology that enables the functioning of a hybrid workspace. Chasing a goal that does not improve employee productivity and work efficiency is a misdirected effort, period.
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