As organizations embrace the remote-first future, they face several challenges. First, they must learn to communicate effectively with team members across different time zones and cultures. Once they master communication, their productivity soars -- but how can they measure productivity effectively?
Distributed teams deserve smarter workflows.
Remote work began reshaping the global workforce well before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the spread of the virus accelerated remote work adoption for many companies that may not have been ready. When faced with a new threat, businesses sent employees home in droves, thrusting workers, managers, and leadership teams into unknown territory.
Some companies with remote-first philosophies adapted easily. Others were not so well prepared. People who had never worked remotely struggled with unclear processes, while leaders scrambled to keep production steady. In almost all cases, the old standards of measurement and productivity no longer applied.
No one can say how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, but for the future of remote work, it doesn’t matter. The change has already occurred.
Research from Remote found that two-thirds of companies plan to increase remote working options, while 40% of U.S. tech workers estimate more than a third of roles will move overseas in the next five years. Many companies, such as Slack, Twitter, and Square, have already announced that they will allow their teams to work remotely for as long as they wish.
Working remotely does not always mean working from home. People who work remotely often choose to do so for flexibility of location. Some people will work in different countries, while others will change the hours they work to make room for other responsibilities in their lives, such as their families, travel, hobbies, and side businesses. Companies that attempt to limit the freedom of their remote workers will see their best and brightest leave to join more understanding workplaces.
This shift marks the beginning of a new era of work in which time flows differently for every employee. People across the world will work together on projects across different time zones and in different cultures. Some people will start their day late in Asia and work into the evening, while some in the U.S. will rise at the crack of dawn so they can sign off an hour or two after lunch.
With so many people working on their own schedules, companies can either become more flexible or break under the strain. Businesses that force their global workforces to adhere to a set schedule will drive away talent, while those that acknowledge the reality of the situation will embrace the obvious solution: asynchronous work.
What does an asynchronous workflow look like?
Asynchronous workflows allow teams to work independently without sacrificing speed. Because remote work increases the distribution of working hours for employees, asynchronous work makes perfect sense for remote-first businesses.
In a traditional workflow, the first person completes part of the project before handing it over to the next person to continue. If three people work together and each task takes three hours, they will complete the work in nine hours.
Asynchronous workflows approach the problem differently. Rather than ask each worker to complete an entire task before involving the next person, asynchronous workflows break tasks into smaller pieces. One person does enough work to involve the next, then continues to work on the next part of the project as the second person gets started. Planning asynchronous work in this way can slash project completion times in half.
Adopting an asynchronous workflow demands not only a shift in priorities but a shift in culture. Synchronous teams are accustomed to working in silos and waiting for others to complete work before they move on with their own. In a distributed workforce, where people operate in different time zones and on different schedules, synchronous work creates unacceptable roadblocks.
Remote work and asynchronous workflows create a perfect harmony of productivity. When employees can work and ship their progress independently, moving from one project to the next on their own schedules, the company benefits from both the advantages of a distributed team and the advantages of a workforce that defaults to action. No more waiting to hear back, no more follow-up emails — just efficiency.
How can newly remote companies make the asynchronous shift?
Companies with remote teams enjoy a host of advantages over those with traditional, office-bound workforces, but those advantages are deliberate, not accidental. Distributed teams following asynchronous processes must maximize their productivity and eliminate opportunities for miscommunication.
Reliance on Documentation
In offices where people share the same work hours, employees constantly ping one another with questions and updates. This doesn’t work as well when colleagues live and work on opposite sides of the planet. To realize the advantages of asynchronous work, teams must become fanatical about accurate documentation. From sales to engineering, anyone should be able to see what others have done and pick up the work from there.
Elimination of Meetings
Businesses hold too many meetings regardless of time zones and schedules. Remote-first organizations recognize that not everyone is available to meet during the same hours, which forces them to think more proactively about when, with whom, and why they meet. On asynchronous teams, regular recording and storage of virtual meetings allows other interested parties to catch up on content on their own time.
Standardization of Time Zones
Distributed teams operate in several time zones at once, which can create headaches for scheduling — and not just for meetings. Marketers, for example, must schedule campaigns across a variety of tools. Engineers must schedule launches and updates at optimal times. Remote-first teams should switch to UTC, or Coordinated Universal Time, and communicate their needs based on that time zone.
In a truly asynchronous workplace, no one can keep work hidden in an inbox. The pace moves too quickly, and colleagues always need to know what their fellows are doing so teams can prioritize their actions to maximize productivity. Workers must trust one another and use tools that facilitate transparency in communication.
Respect Different Cultures
Asynchronous work doesn’t care when someone leaves the office. In some parts of the world, people prefer to leave work several times per day to take care of other businesses, working in spurts throughout the day. Elsewhere, people prefer to work straight through lunch, cramming all their productivity into a shorter time frame. With team members around the world, people may take time off for different cultural holidays. Rather than force team members to keep track of a global calendar, asynchronous work allows them to stay focused on the work in front of them.
Provide Lifestyle Flexibility
The advent of asynchronous remote work frees people to live their lives the way they choose. Some people may want to start side businesses. Others may elect to spend more time with their families. Asynchronous work must not only accept this dynamic, but encourage it. People who do not feel trapped by their jobs are far more likely to bring their best selves to work, even if they don’t work during traditionally expected hours.
Judge Quality Over Quantity
Employers should not require their employees to install time-tracking software and other spyware on their work computers. Doing so only makes employees feel that their managers judge them for the way they spend their time, negating the advantages of asynchronous remote work. Rather than obsess over hours, leaders should judge employees based only on the quality of the work they produce.
Introduce the Proper Tools
For communication, project management, and everything in between, asynchronous workflows demand effective tools. Invest in platforms that empower workers to document, communicate, and manage their work quickly, easily, and transparently. Make sure to check out the section on async tools later in this eBook.
Establish Goal Measurement
A great way to maintain async collaboration across an organization is to adopt Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). The OKR methodology is a collaborative, goal-setting framework that helps teams and organizations reach their goals through identifiable and measurable results. By design, the OKR framework works across teams to create a standard the whole company can adopt. OKRs give purpose to organizations and help asynchronous teams pursue meaningful goals.
Remote-first businesses need asynchronous workflows to realize their potential and provide their employees with the perfect conditions to thrive. How should remote organizations measure asynchronous productivity and purpose using OKRs, though, and in what ways do goals change on async teams?
Harmonizing asynchronous work and OKRs
The OKR framework empowers employees to work with purpose. Companies like Intel, LinkedIn, and Airbnb have achieved amazing results using OKRs, but OKRs do not exist solely to boost bottom lines. Executed correctly, OKRs in asynchronous work can create a more comfortable, inclusive, and effective environment for teams.
Venture capitalist and OKR guru John Doerr writes about four “superpowers” of OKRs:
- Focus and commit to priorities: Setting OKRs forces the conversation of what’s most important and makes it easier to let go of all the things that aren’t.
- Align and connect for teamwork: Committing to transparent OKRs across the entire organization means everyone knows the priorities and can self-organize to achieve the goals.
- Track for accountability: Regularly and transparently measuring progress uncovers problems earlier and drives the team to win.
- Stretch for amazing: Setting and then achieving or failing at hard OKRs helps teams accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
OKRs are a fantastic way to align teams to achieve goals. In an asynchronous working environment, this advantage becomes even more pronounced. Consider the intersections of OKRs and async and how these synergies could help your team.
Foster collaboration over goals
More than simple metrics, OKRs provide the stage for deeper conversations, allowing team members and managers to collaborate more easily with one another. Defaulting to asynchronous communication allows teams to have meaningful, ongoing conversations and provide more timely feedback to their peers. These collaborative, fast-moving conversations allow teams to pursue multiple goals at once without losing sight of their original intentions.
Facilitate regular, honest feedback loops
When teams share common goals, OKRs make async communication simple. By using an OKR tool to capture insights from contributors, companies create a natural feedback loop for team members and managers to give and receive direct feedback, ultimately increasing engagement. On remote teams, OKRs offer a way for everyone to monitor goals and track progress asynchronously. Writing down qualitative feedback ahead of time yields more thoughtful answers and offers the opportunity for colleagues to discover alignment issues more easily. In addition, by collecting data ahead of time, teams can easily set more meaningful meeting agendas.
Connect daily routines with strategic goals
OKRs focus on outcomes over outputs. Think of it as a way to treat the root problems as opposed to the symptoms, providing teams the flexibility to experiment and innovate in more creative ways. On remote and asynchronous teams, where companies must take care to avoid creating silos, OKRs help workers feel more engaged with the missions of their companies.
Establish outcome-focused team management
OKRs actively put measures in place to ensure that all of their employees, regardless of whether they are in the office or working remotely, have visibility into the company’s objectives and progress. Async communication around OKRs facilitates smart resource planning, helping different teams discover cross-team dependencies and ensuring adequate resources. If one team depends on another to contribute, OKRs keep everyone in agreement and working toward the same goal, no matter what their working hours.
Great async cultures are already built around the importance of autonomy and trust. OKRs are a great way to support this structure because they focus on defining outcomes versus being prescriptive about the specific work. By allowing individuals to be responsible for their own domains, OKR-async alignment builds a motivated workforce, rather than narrowing the focus to basic measurable numbers.
Prioritize intrinsic over extrinsic motivations
OKRs empower remote employees to feel fulfilled by working how they want instead of stressed by the expectations of others. Implemented correctly, OKRs create a sense of ownership, encouraging productive behaviors that create an intrinsically motivated culture. Employees define the outcomes they aspire to achieve, which in turn creates autonomy and ultimately motivation.
Maintain alignment across cultures and borders
The OKR methodology is a standardized process. Regardless of where employees live in the world and in which time zones they operate, they can provide the same qualitative and quantitative feedback around their goals.
Even the most well-equipped and well-organized teams need some help to ensure their asynchronous workforces make the most of OKRs. To realize these benefits and make the transition easier, businesses seeking async-OKR need the right tools.
Essential tools for OKR-driven async teams
The first step in keeping remote-first teams productive is to make sure everyone is connected. From Zoom to Slack, a number of communication tools can bring employees together and streamline conversations. But then what?
Think beyond basic communication and look for ways to keep employees motivated, engaged, and productive. It takes multiple tools to support employees in a remote setting, especially on distributed teams. This list of collaboration, communication, and productivity tools can help keep teams aligned and on target.
Slack is the lifeblood of many remote teams, keeping them constantly connected and working together. Slack offers ways to regularly check-in with teammates, provide real-time updates, and share accomplishments along the way. Use Slack more for casual conversations than for work documentation, however, to keep things organized and documented appropriately.
Web Conferencing: Zoom
Zoom has exploded in popularity as an accessible and affordable video conferencing tool. From one-on-ones with managers to team meetings, Zoom makes it easy for distributed team members to see one another, which can help ease the isolation some remote workers feel. Remember to record and store important meetings so async teams can always catch up when necessary.
Many remote teams find it challenging to brainstorm and whiteboard collaboratively. Remote teams commonly rely on applications like Mural for visual collaboration.
Figma lets users to design, prototype, and gather feedback all in one easy-to-use application. From mocking up designs for products to creating marketing collateral, Figma is an ideal tool for collaboration with internal and external designers and stakeholders.
Document Creation: Google Docs
The primary benefit of creating documents in Google Docs, as opposed to Word, is the facilitation of collaboration. Google Docs ensures that users always work on the most up-to-date version of a document, offering the ability to collaborate asynchronously or otherwise with user-friendly notation and commenting tools.
Wiki Documentation: Notion
Notion is a great wiki platform that creates a dedicated workspace to host different types of processes and keep everything easily organized in one central place. Notion can host things like marketing collateral, company resources, task lists, product roadmaps, and design repositories with ease, thanks to a variety of helpful templates. Asynchronous teams depend on a single source of truth, and Notion is the perfect tool for the job.
Project Management: Trello and Jira
For more involved projects and teams with unique needs, Trello is a great tool to manage deadlines and assign tasks, offering an easy way to monitor progress and track status. For more technical teams, like engineering and product management, Jira is a fantastic platform to plan, track, and manage projects.
One of the challenges of having asynchronous teams is scheduling convenient times for virtual meetings and chats. Calendly eliminates the back-and-forth of scheduling for distributed teams. Users can manage external meetings, including demos, prospecting calls, and customer success updates. It’s also an easy way to show availability among team members and allow others to request an appointment at a suitable time.
DevOps Platform: GitLab or Github
GitLab and GitHub are complete DevOps platforms, delivered within single applications, which help manage every stage of software development and operations. Rather than piece together tools, they provide everything developers and product managers need to manage, plan, create, verify, package, release, configure, monitor, secure, and defend applications.
Hiring and Onboarding: Remote
Remote helps businesses of all sizes employ international talent legally and easily. By handling payroll, taxes, and benefits for a flat fee instead of a percentage of salary, Remote makes it possible for companies of all sizes to hire top talent all over the world. Hiring employees with Remote allows businesses to provide a better employee experience without the dangers of misclassification or labor law violations.
OKRs and Status: Koan
When it comes to goal management and status tracking, Koan is a great tool to manage OKRs for the entire company. The tool supports regular asynchronous communication around goals, offering a weekly update (a “Reflection”) about the key accomplishments from the week prior, priorities for the upcoming week, and any blockers or anticipated problem areas. The regular habit of communication keeps teams aligned and on track to push toward achieving ambitious goals. Koan easily integrates with other tools like Slack, Jira, Zapier, and plenty of others to keep work streamlined.
It’s important to remember that there is no single solution that can support every need of every business. To work together successfully, asynchronous teams must take advantage of a variety of tools, leveraging them to the greatest potential without introducing unnecessary confusion. This collection of critical tools can help async organizations sustain high productivity levels while achieving their OKRs.
What comes next for remote teams?
The future of work has already begun to shift to a remote-first reality. Now, the question becomes: is your organization ready for what comes next?
As companies enter a more competitive global market, they must look beyond their local neighborhoods and borders. Only by tapping into the pool of global talent can businesses turn their visions for sustainable success into reality.
Koan makes it simple for remote teams to collaboratively manage goals, strengthen strategic processes and continuously deliver on objectives. As the modern leadership platform, Koan gives remote teams the ability to drive exceptional results through alignment, transparency, and accountability. Discover how Koan can help teams work with purpose at koan.co.