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Felipe Skroski

Asynchronous Work: The Runn Way

Discover the business benefits of async work - with examples from successful asynchronous working at Runn.

At Runn, we’re all about people. Our resource management tool is about keeping your people happy and productive to keep your projects moving. And our company culture is just the same. We believe engaged, happy humans create sustainable, successful businesses. So it’s no surprise we’re huge advocates for async work.

If you’ve not heard of async, expect to. It’s gaining traction as more organizations adopt - and adapt to - remote and hybrid working. It’s about making the new world of work, work better. Async is about truly embracing opportunities for better work-life balance, productivity anywhere, and diverse global teams. 

Here’s how Runn have implemented async work - and you can too.

What is async work?

Async work means ‘asynchronous’ work. Asynchronous just means things aren’t happening at the same time. So ‘asynchronous work’ is the idea that people can work at different times and still achieve the same shared goals.

It challenges the old assumption that people need to work at the same time and in the same place to deliver brilliant business outcomes. And breaks down barriers that prevent people from succeeding at work. 

At Runn we have teammates in different timezones all over the world. They all work their preferred hours to suit their personal needs. And - thanks to our async approach - they’re all empowered to contribute equally and collaborate effectively. 

What asynchronous looks like in practice

I’ll expand on these more in this article but here’s an at-a-glance overview of what async looks like in practice.

synchronous vs asynchronous work

Why is asynchronous work becoming popular?

Businesses like Airbnb, Coinbase, and Gitlab are just some of the organizations advocating this new way of working. 

Although it’s been around for a while, the concept of async work has been accelerated by the pressures of the pandemic. Organizations quickly implemented working from home during national lockdowns and many have made this permanent - realizing the many business benefits of more flexible, people-centric practices.

But - while we’ve collectively taken great strides to shake off the status quo of presenteeism, commuting, and the inflexibility of the 9-to-5 - some organizations have accidentally replaced one set of employee-unfriendly practices with another.

Take endless online meetings, for example. 

Calendars packed with back-to-back meetings make it difficult for organizations to honor the flexibility and work-life balance they’ve been promising their employees. And it leaves very little time for the reflective thinking and creativity that businesses need their talented teammates to bring to the table. 

Plus, the fact you can pack unlimited people onto a call means people get sucked in mega-meetings with no opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. It’s remote work done in the worst possible way  - exhausting, unproductive, and untrusting.

Asynchronous work takes a different approach. It looks at that wall of fatigued and frustrated faces in the online meeting and says ‘Do we all need to be here right now? Is this the best use of our time? Or is there a better way?’ 

Async is a better way of working 

As an organization that has successfully implemented async working over the past two years, we can confidently say there is a better way. 

Async working starts from the assumption that happier people are more productive, and organizations that prioritize their peoples’ needs will benefit as a business.

So it does away with the poorly thought-through, unfit-for-purpose practices that organizations implemented in haste during the pandemic. And it creates new ways of working that truly deliver work-life balance - and in doing so -  higher productivity, creativity, and engagement.

In practice, that means redesigning systems and processes so that people don’t need to work AT THE SAME TIME or IN THE SAME PLACE to work together effectively.

An example of asynchronous work at Runn

At Runn, we have far fewer meetings these days. Typically we only use meetings in situations where async doesn’t work - like if we need to make a decision fast to meet an urgent deadline.  We also send far fewer emails. We use other ways to communicate and collaborate with one another - like opening a discussion thread or chat in Slack. 

If someone needs to share information, they record a video for colleagues to watch and digest in their own time. And if they need feedback or ideas, they’ll open a shared document for people to contribute to within a certain timeframe.

This means Runn teammates don’t have to drop everything to attend a meeting to suit someone else’s schedule - they can participate at a time that suits them. And they have the time to make considered, meaningful contributions to a project - rather than being expected to magic up brilliant ideas during a meeting. 

We find this a far more productive way of working - as well as being more inclusive. See the benefits section below to find out why.

The Runn async toolkit

As you can see, async takes some adjustments. It isn’t as simple as saying ‘You can work whenever you want now’. It needs the organization to put systems and techniques in place, so everyone is set up for async success. And it needs everyone to be on-board with new ways of working.

Which is exactly what we’ve done at Runn. We’ve replaced outdated processes and communication platforms with modern approaches that make async work, work. And we’ve made sure our company culture is 100% async and employee-centric. Here are some of the tools we use.

  • Loom - ‘Async Zoom’
  • Threads - ‘For important and thoughtful discussions with decision making ’
  • Notion - ‘Knowledge base in the cloud’
  • Github - ‘Async collaboration for software developers’ 
  • Slack - ‘Quick chats ’ 

4 benefits of asynchronous work

There are many benefits to async work we've noticed by practicing it at Runn.

1. Happier employees and higher productivity

At Runn, we’re all about hitting the sweet spot where employees are productive and engaged, without being overworked and exhausted.

It’s not just about our moral obligation as a responsible employer - although we take that super seriously. It’s also good for business. We know from experience that happy, engaged humans deliver the most exceptional work. So we do everything in our power to make work, work for them.

Our talented teammates get better work-life balance. And we get people who love working with us and are loyal to the business. It’s a win-win. And a heck of a lot better than micromanagement, burnout and performative presenteeism. 

2. A global dream team

Now employers realize employees can be productive anywhere, it has opened the global workforce. You no longer need to draw on the skills available within commuting distance of a physical workplace. You can hire top talent from anywhere. 

That’s certainly the case with Runn, which has employees living and working globally - in New Zealand, Canada, the US, Denmark, UK, Italy, and Germany. 

If your organization is taking advantage of the new international talent pool, the old synchronous way of working just doesn’t cut it. If you’ve ever tried to organize a meeting time that works for colleagues in London, UK and Wellington, NZ, you’ll understand! 

Async working supports effective collaboration across different timezones, so your business can get the best from its global dream team. 

3. Favors deep thinking 

In our experience, synchronous work places too much emphasis on speed and not enough on quality. Emails demand a response ASAP. Meetings demand ideas on the spot. This doesn’t always deliver the best results. 

Async working gives people permission to take their time to arrive at the best solutions. It doesn’t mean dawdling and delaying progress - just setting realistic schedules and expectations. 

For example, instead of emailing colleagues for their feedback on something ‘by close of play Tuesday’ - which may cause colleagues in a different timezone or different work pattern to have to work late - it’s about setting up a shared document and asking for feedback within the next week.

That way, people have time to think and consider their response, which means your organization is more likely to benefit from real creativity and ingenuity. 

This approach also breaks down silos and increases visibility. If everyone is working in a shared document, they can see what other people have contributed, build on one another’s ideas, and understand the rationale behind decisions. 

4. Levels the playing field

Asynchronous working levels the playing field for all employees. Take meetings as an example. Real-time meetings can unintentionally exclude people for a variety of reasons. 

People may be reluctant to contribute in person because they:

  • are an introvert who feels uncomfortable speaking in group settings
  • don’t feel comfortable speaking within a hegemonic culture that doesn’t reflect their identity
  • are neuro-diverse and perform better in less direct interactions 
  • prefer to reflect and collect their thoughts rather than speak off the cuff
  • aren’t participating in their native language and need longer to compose their thoughts 
  • Simply have stuff going on at home that makes it hard for them to contribute at that specific moment in time - such as dealing with illness or bereavement 

Async working provides the framework and tools for everybody to bring their best selves to work - whatever that looks like, wherever and whenever it might be. 

Async doesn’t always work (and that’s ok)

Of course, not every approach works for every business or activity. There are cases where async work isn’t suitable. For example:

Single thread working 

Async working is perfect for organizations with multiple streams of work because you can switch from Project A to Project B, C or D while you wait for colleagues to make their contributions. However, if you work exclusively and intensively on a single stream of work, async isn’t ideal. Waiting on contributions from colleagues can become a bottleneck to progress, which in turn impacts your schedule, costs and - ultimately - profitability. 

Urgent deadlines

Even if you are working in multi-thread landscape, you shouldn’t take the async approach when you have urgent deadlines. It’s important to use your judgment and balance different approaches with what the situation demands. If something needs an urgent decision, it’s important to make it. 

Interactive sessions

Whilst on-demand video and shared documents work for async communication, sometimes you need to get interactive. For example, if you’re delivering training and want to be able to answer questions as they’re asked. In this situation, you might need to use a tool like Zoom instead of Loom. 

Just remember the principles behind async work when you’re organizing it and try to make it as accommodating and empowering as possible for people with different timezones, work patterns, and approaches to work. For example, organize multiple smaller sessions to offer people a choice of attendance options. 

Runn’s golden rules of async working

Your approach to async will be unique to your business. But in our experience, it works best if you follow these two golden rules. 

  1. Keep it simple

To set your people and business up for async success, you’ll need to provide a framework and guidelines. But keep it simple. Governance should be a sail, not an anchor. Think about how to implement async with MVB - minimum viable bureaucracy. 

  1. Keep it small 

Async working can scale to any size of company. To keep projects moving, try to keep project teams small. In our experience, collaborating and collating feedback works better if you’re working with five teammates rather than 50. 

  1. Cascade the culture 

The reasons for async working - and its benefits - need to be embraced by senior leadership and cascaded from the top. Otherwise, there’s a risk that people won’t actually feel comfortable to take the opportunities afforded to them - like flexible hours - for fear of being judged. Lack of uptake can then be mistaken for lack of demand, which can mean reverting back to historic ways of working.

And I think we can all agree - nothing moves forward by going backward.

Want happier, more engaged employees in your project-based business. Discover how Runn resource management software can help keep your talented team working in the sweet spot.

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