Championing Workplace Equity Through Asynchronous Work

A person works on a laptop with a dog in their lap

As a leader, I firmly believe that my team is happy and productive only when each individual can bring their best selves to work. Leaders are responsible for creating an environment where each team member feels heard, valued and fulfilled. Here’s the thing, though: it is not easy to achieve because everyone shows up differently.

It is crazy hard to attain true equity in the workplace. People work differently. People relate to each other differently. People have different personalities and work in different geographical locations. The list of complications to achieving the ideal goes on. Some team members are always-present type-A professionals who engage loudly; others are introverts who hang back and listen. Some can participate and brainstorm at a moment’s notice; others prefer to internalize, research and prepare before voicing their opinions. Some are morning people; some are night owls. Some work better in groups, some – alone. If leaders don’t consider everyone’s working styles, we risk decreasing engagement, productivity, and innovation and alienating or losing top talent.

Remote and hybrid work has made this issue even more pronounced during the pandemic. Employees feel disengaged, isolated, and burned out.

Asynchronous work has been the secret weapon of some of the most successful leaders worldwide, and remote/hybrid work truly highlighted its advantages.

Effective leaders are time ninjas.

They use their knowledge of their team members and work style preferences to decide what work must be done synchronously (meetings, group discussions) and what work can be done asynchronously (shared docs, video feedback, email). According to research, 83% of employees prefer an asynchronous approach to work. In addition, the same research found that removing 60% of meetings increased cooperation by 55% and decreased the risk of stress by 57%.

Time ninjas – the truly great leaders – pay attention.

I have been a huge fan of asynchronous work for a while. But in the past five years, I have rebalanced my team’s workload to heavily favor asynchronous communication.

A person working at a home office, there is a bulldog sleeping on the floor.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. Opportunity for equal engagement. Not everyone will feel comfortable voicing their opinions in real-time; some prefer quiet time to reflect and collect their thoughts. In the meetings, the loudest voices tend to take over. In asynchronous communication, however, everyone has equal time and opportunity to engage and offer insight. It helps quiet people stand out and contribute in meaningful ways.
  2. Accountability. The loudest voices might stand out during meetings, but asynchronous feedback allows all rockstars to shine. When teams collaborate asynchronously, transparency increases. It is easy to see who contributes effectively, consistently and thoughtfully. That, in turn, increases managers’ and peers’ trust in each other. Not only that, this approach holds people accountable for their work and impact.
  3. Increased feedback effectiveness. If you haven’t tried providing feedback through video, you are missing out. In my opinion, it significantly increases feedback effectiveness and impact. Using tools like Snagit, you can easily – and quickly! – record your feedback while simultaneously displaying the document on screen and turning your camera on (or not if you prefer audio-only). This makes feedback more human and detailed while significantly reducing the time it would take you to type it out. Once you start using this approach, you will get addicted, and your team will appreciate this method of feedback delivery.
  4. Higher clarity and fewer misunderstandings. When your thoughts are recorded and transparent to other team members, the drama, the excuses and the misunderstandings decline significantly. There is much better clarity on direction. There are more collaboration opportunities and ways to bring along all relevant stakeholders.
  5. Increased employee satisfaction and reduced anxiety. Flexibility on when and how to complete work is extremely important. Have meeting-free days. Record meetings for subsequent playback to allow colleagues to catch up later, especially if they are in very different time zones. Ask employees about their chronotype to understand who an early bird is and who is a night owl. Make allowances for their family situations. Asynchronous communication significantly increases productivity and loyalty when employees know they can manage their work on their terms.

This approach becomes essential when your employees have synchronous limitations such as autism, sensory processing disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Asynchronous work requires a bit of planning, however. Don’t be one of those managers who demands hyperresponsiveness and constant fire drills. With a little forethought, leaders can create an environment of high efficiency and creativity. Prioritize that!

Another caution I will leave you with is this: beware of the double standard. Lead by example by using the same tools you are asking your teams to use and following the same behaviors you expect from them. The emotional fallout of the double standard is destructive, deteriorating trust that is necessary for a team’s success and meaningful employee engagement.

We live in the age of employee empowerment. The best talent will not stick around if leaders don’t offer high levels of flexibility and opportunities to be heard and contribute. As Adam Grant said, “great collaborations don’t involve constant contact. They alternate between deep work and bursts of interaction.” Asynchronous work is a great equalizer. It allows for everyone to shine in their own unique way, promotes equity in the workplace and creates a culture of trust, innovation and inclusion.

Ekaterina Walter

Ekaterina Walter is a globally recognized business and marketing innovator, international speaker, author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Think Like Zuck (2013) and coauthor of The Power of Visual Storytelling (2015) and The Laws of Brand Storytelling (2018). Her two decades of experience as a brand marketer and storyteller includes a blended perspective of Fortune 50, start-up, and nonprofit environments. Ekaterina’s thought leadership has been featured on CNBC, ABC, CNN, WSJ, Forbes, TechCrunch, and Fast Company, among others.

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