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Being remote is not enough: is your company async?

by eelco

Remote work has been one of the biggest changes in how we work. From more focused work and fewer meetings to the removal of commutes and being greener (by lowering gas consumption). Let's also not forget the positive impact being able to spend more time with your loved ones has. I don't think the tech-sector needs yet another term, but here we are: 'async work' or 'async companies'.

Remote work history

Working remote is really nothing new. Already in the 1970s were there 'teleworkers' or 'telecommuters'. Most known is probably the story of Jack Nilles who worked for NASA. For him it meant solely working from home. Your shiny, lightweight MacBook did not in the slightest exist back then, so working from coffee shops, trains, planes and the beach (argh 🙀) was not possible.

Remote work today

Estimations vary, but currently, between 23% and 37% of workers are working remotely some of the time. With more awareness within companies like yours and technology getting better year after year, it's likely this number is only going to increase.

The positive effects from remote work are great. From being more focussed on work (no coworker who disturbs you, no meetings) to more happiness by spending less time commuting and spending more time with your loved ones.

But while being remote has all these great benefits, often companies still require one to “be available between 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday”, within the company's time zone, i.e. where mostall employees live in. All of them then 'live' in their communication tool starting at 9 am and leaving at 5 pm. And then let their team members know when they are 'afk' or going for lunch. This doesn't sound much better than working from an office, except the fact that one can do this in their PJs.

Be free in whén to work

No human is the same. Some do their best work early in the morning, others get their creativity boost at night. Some like to go to the gym before lunch. Others like to go for a run later in the afternoon.
Much of information work involves a lot of thinking. And precisely that doesn't have to happen behind a computer screen. Thinking is done better while walking or while riding your bike.
Enforcing people to work between 9 am and 5 pm really limits them. Don't require anyone to work any set number of hours, neither 32 or 40 hours per week. Instead focus on a shared goal for the company: where do you want to be three months, six months and 12 months from now. All the work that is done is with these short and long-term goals in mind. This shared goal-working will make for greater meaning, instead of seeing all the done tasks as standalone entities without the bigger picture in mind.

You might think and say your company is already async, since you are remote, but are you really? Is it part of your company culture? Do you set the example for this?

Break out of the “always on” mentality

Don't expect any employee to be always available or even between a set timeframe on weekdays. From the get-go hire smart, independent people that enjoy the work they're doing. Don't have daily stand-ups, don't have weekly meetings and stop using communication (chat) tools. All three are a waste of time and don't help put the focus on the things that really matter. Only hold meetings when something needs to be discussed and have a clear agenda. Replace Slack by tools like Twist or Basecamp. While both have direct messaging (chat), the focus is more to communicate around subjects in threads instead.
While switching to another service again might be a lot to ask; your employee's happiness is worth way more.

“Disabled notifications should be the default.”

If one is not working, one shouldn't 'check-in'. Make disabling any notifications the company default. Away from work should really mean away from work.

How about mission-critical things?

How to handle events like an outage or bug that impacts many of your customers? If notifications are disabled, how does one learn about these bugs, except the moment they get to work again? Obviously, there's no one answer to this as it heavily depends on the size of your business.

But I need to know when stuff gets done?

No. Stuff will get done. Work on the shared goals of the company.

How would I know one has worked enough hours?

You hired smart people. They won't do the minimum amount possible. They enjoy the work they do and want to have that satisfied feeling after a working stint. Seeing they made progress towards that bigger goal, gives them great satisfaction. They don't work for the money alone.

Boost happiness, productivity and health

An async company will make for happy and motivated people. They find joy and meaning in the job, but know that 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy'. They are more healthy and are more likely to stay longer with your company. What this means for your company should be clear for any seasoned entrepreneur. Make the number of years employees are at your company your personal goal.

“Make the number of years employees are at your company your personal goal.”

Face to face is still important

Meeting your team members is always important, and most remote companies are aware of this. With async companies, this is no different. Meeting 2-3 times a year should be sufficient to learn the real face behind those written texts and emoji. Based on the number of days you have with each other, I would add to limit the amount spent on doing work together and to especially not discuss any business-topic on a micro-level. Talk about the human side of things, share experiences, routines and other things that make you happy with how you work. Learn and listen, don't force any topic, but let it flow naturally though.

Concluding words

An async company is, by definition, a remote company. But it's pushing its employees' wellbeing to another level. Your business is important, but it can't function without your coworkers.
As stated earlier, I don't think the tech industry needs yet another term, but the tech industry has the biggest number of remote workers. It's now time to take it a step further by being async: putting the employees first.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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