The volume of meetings has increased by 13% since pre pandemic times. When working remotely, the tendency is to replace impromptu pop-ins and hallway chats with scheduled meetings. But are all those meetings really necessary (or even the most effective) for meaningful collaboration?
As organizations reframe the way they think about work and the workforce, there’ll be a bigger focus on how to make sure employees are engaged, included, and aligned. But the reality is that bad work habits are hard to break. Even if companies are making the shift towards async and moving away from a meeting-heavy culture, it isn’t going to be an overnight change for most. In an increasingly distributed, modern work world, both sync and async are critical components for effective collaboration, personal balance, and productive focus time in hybrid work settings. But how do companies learn to operationalize and optimize the balance of async vs. sync time when they’re new to the hybrid work game?
Recently Loom co-hosted a friendly “game show” with Miro, where our expert contestants dove into common workplace scenarios and explained how they can be executed effectively synchronously or asynchronously. During the session, we shared specific situations and insights on how to work smarter and avoid the grind of back-to-back meetings––including how to discern when meetings are truly necessary, versus what work might actually be better suited for async collaboration. As we talked through the various activities, we started surfacing some recurring themes of how to thrive in a hybrid environment. You can learn those and more in the session recording, or read on for key takeaways.
Async work requires culture changes and investment in training
When it comes to async communication, there is as much to unlearn as there is to learn.
Communicating asynchronously requires you to rethink time management, create long-term planning (especially when shifting away from a traditional model of work), be more thoughtful, and use specific tools made for successful async communication. Some tools you may already be familiar with include Loom, Miro, Slack, and Google Drive.
But rather than a mix of various apps in your tech stack, async works best when there is company-wide alignment and understanding of which platform to use, and how and where to share communication. If your organization has no standardized method of documentation, that’s where you need to start––by taking a look at the effective tools your company relies on for transparent communication.
And transparency is key. Because communicating asynchronously won’t be an instant change–– learning how to communicate in async environments is a new behavior, a muscle that needs to be trained. And in order for folks to be able to rely on teammates to be responsive and contribute asynchronously, transparency is critical to building that culture of trust and reliability.
While the upfront investment of time and strategy may seem daunting, it is worth it: communicating well asynchronously helps create major improvements in efficiency, collaboration, and teamwork.
Shift to hybrid work has shined a light on improvements needed for the workplace
Experimentation and iteration are some of the most important factors to successfully working in hybrid or async environments. While individual factors like the size of your team, nature of your work, and level of distribution will all play into your team’s unique async needs, those team needs will inevitably change over time.
The need for empathy is a key part of that experimentation too. Being more empathetic and aware of people’s time and what they’re going through can help teams determine how much time they spend on projects. It's important to identify and work with people based on how you'll get the best response or engagement from them, and not always diverting to a sync meeting, for example. This supports the concept that what seems “efficient” might not always be “effective.” For example, grabbing time on someone’s calendar to discuss a question or review a document in real time might feel like the most efficient way to handle an issue. However, that person might need time to digest the document in order to best give you constructive feedback. That’s why it’s important to understand that just because taking an action like scheduling a meeting might seem efficient doesn’t mean it’s the best route to a solution––and it’s important to consider your team members’ work style and approach.
Additionally, we are becoming more aware that “standard” communications practices at companies can be exclusionary to broad groups of people. In addition to becoming more inclusive, companies should also take a look back at current operating practices and see if they are worth bringing into the Modern Workplace.
Take the time to build your strategy thoughtfully and empathetically, and then adjust and refine iteratively as you learn in regular intervals. This one step will put your team on the path to unlocking flexibility, balance, and productivity at work.
Sync vs. Async: How to choose
Many workplaces have had to completely revamp the way they ran meetings when the world suddenly went remote. And while it may take time for some to get into a default async mindset, the majority of hybrid companies are beginning to embrace it.
There are a few considerations that will factor into selecting an async or sync approach to communication. Some questions to consider include:
How many participants are involved
How much back and forth interaction is required
The urgency of the message,
The complexity of the topic
If there’s a risk of misinterpretation
One of the easier ways to start moving into an async default is often to operate with a remote-first mindset. Try designing every piece of communication as if everyone were unavailable––how would you deliver a project if every single person on your team was asleep right now?
A few of the key examples Loom and Miro shared for when to default to sync or async include:
Brainstorming: Loom’s Head of Product Marketing, Julia Szatar, covered that we tend to want to default to sync for brainstorming sessions; however, we must acknowledge that in any workplace there are two types of thinkers: those who are energized by thinking on the spot, and those who may need more time to feel creative and generate their best ideas.
Async brainstorming unlocks the ability to give more people voices in a creative process that typically favors the loudest voice in the room. Through running brainstorming sessions asynchronously, extroverts and introverts alike achieve the space, time and flexibility to process their thoughts in the way that they work best.
Performance Feedback: Miro’s Head of GTM Product Marketing, Melissa Halim, covered that when giving constructive feedback - it’s best to dedicate sync time. Given the nuances of delivery, tone, and reception, crucial and constructive conversations are just that – conversations – and require meeting in real time.
Team Alignment: Particularly in distributed work environments or when addressing alignment at scale across varying departments and levels of seniority - regular updates are best given asynchronously. Julia discussed how Loom takes a scaled approach to information sharing through regular async readouts across our OKRs.
Sharing Looms paired with the context of a Miro Board or Notion document allows contributors and approvers alike to process, engage, and interact on their own time, and supplement those readouts with sync time as needed to make decisions or address nuanced questions.
Problem Solving: Melissa shared that when addressing complex problems, the team at Miro defaults to delivering a pre-read or pre-Loom before meeting synchronously. By giving collaborators their own space to ideate solutions and digest information before coming together, sync conversations become more productive, efficient, and decisive.
However, one of the ways we see these meetings fail is through lack of aligned purpose for the allotted time and group. Having an agenda is fundamental. Take it further by being clear on the problem that needs to be solved together through active discussion by gathering open questions that need to be addressed or identifying what information is missing to make a decision.
As difficult as it was for many of us to shift to hybrid, we have learned a lot in the past couple of years that has helped us shine a light on improvements we need to make as we build successful Modern Workplaces. We’ve also noticed a shift in people’s mindset. The default had been synchronous work resulting in endless meetings but the pendulum is swinging more toward asynchronous work as the default.
Just like the shift to remote work, this shift to asynchronous work isn’t easy. It requires cultural changes, investment in training, and empathy. And as we continue to experiment and iterate, it will take a little more consideration and planning from individuals to recognize what mode of communication best serves us in a particular scenario.
If your team is looking to create your own etiquette around whether to use sync and async at work, read more about how Loom decides when to use sync vs async and Miro's guide to learn more about how to balance sync and async tasks, how to build an async culture, and recommended tools.