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Home   >Collaboration 101

What is Asynchronous Collaboration?

October 4, 2023

Asynchronous collaboration, also known as asynchronous work, is an approach to work in which team members collaborate without having to be in the same place at the same time—either online or in-person. The participants can create, review, and edit shared documents or contribute to tasks and projects according to their own schedules. The most effective async collaborations use tools that provide structure, coordination, and participant management.  

This asynchronous approach was the norm for most work, especially professional work, for quite a long time. In fact, it’s still the norm today when working with external parties. Think about your last contract negotiation – it was probably performed asynchronously.  One party drafts the contract, hands it off, and then the other party reviews and makes revisions. This "effort, interval, effort, interval" sequence is typical of async collaboration.  

It’s worth pointing out that the synchronous approach was largely limited to in-person interactions until advancements in telecommunications technology (conference calls, video conferencing, instant messaging) made every-day, all-day zoom meetings and endless Slack threads possible.  

What are some benefits and advantages of going async?

There are a number of advantages, including:

  • Deep work made possible - Deep work, as described by productivity expert Cal Newport, is any work that requires focus and considerable cognitive effort. Much of the work professionals do is deep work. Asynchronous collaboration naturally complements deep work by helping professionals carve out the uninterrupted blocks of time they need to focus (i.e., it gives them time to do their job). Being able to concentrate and focus often results in higher quality work and improved productivity. 
  • Flexibility -  Team members can work when they're most productive or when it's convenient for them, which is especially beneficial for remote teams or teams spread across different time zones.  When working with 3rd parties or people outside your organization, flexibility is a requirement. After all, it’s impossible to mandate that a sales prospect or customer be available when your team wishes to work synchronously.  
  • Inclusive decision making - Gives everyone an opportunity to review and contribute, even if they aren't available for a real-time discussion. Increasing transparency and inclusivity can lead to more robust negotiated solutions, which is especially important in tough change management scenarios. 
  • Documented discussions - Using a platform such as email or TakeTurns creates a track record, or history of what happened during the collaboration (i.e., who did what, when, and why).  History is extremely important for collaborations with external parties around business arrangements where reaching a meeting of the minds—and documenting it—is critical. 

What are some challenges and disadvantages of going async?

Despite the advantages, asynchronous work can present challenges:

  • Tool complications - Email, by far, is the most commonly used tool for asynchronous collaboration. While it’s commonplace email has security and confidentiality, organizational, and attachment versioning challenges. 
  • Loss of spontaneity - Certain kinds of work are more effective when performed synchronously: brainstorming, decision making discussions, and resolving conflicts sessions benefit from that immediate back-and-forth exchange. 
  • Potential for misunderstanding - Misinterpretations can arise in written-only exchanges because of the lack of non-verbal cues. 
  • Risk of detachment- Without periodic synchronous interactions, team members might feel disconnected from each other, leading to reduced team cohesion.

To mitigate these challenges, asynchronous collaboration often needs to be complemented by synchronous (real-time) collaboration methods in many work environments.

Tips for effective asynchronous collaboration

  • Set clear expectations and guidelines - This includes defining who is responsible for what, when tasks are due, and how team members should communicate with each other.
  • Be responsive - While you may not be able to respond to messages or requests immediately, make an effort to check in regularly and provide feedback when possible.
  • Be mindful of time zones - If you're working with people in different time zones, be mindful of when they're most likely to be online and available.
  • Encourage open communication - Encourage team members to ask questions, share ideas, and provide feedback.
  • Use the right tools and platforms - Choose tools that are easy to use and allow for seamless collaboration. This could include asynchronous collaboration ready tools such as TakeTurns, document edition (Google Docs), file-sharing (e.g., Microsoft OneDrive, ) or project management tools (e.g., Trello, Click-up). This is especially true with the increasing shift towards remote work, flexible schedules, and hybrid teams made up of both employees and external contractors, partners, and consultants.  

For more excellent advice on how to go async, check out this eBook from TakeTurns

Download TakeTurns Guide to Asynchronous Work

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion, while asynchronous collaboration offers undeniable benefits, especially in our current digital and remote work era, it's essential to recognize its limitations. By blending both asynchronous and synchronous methods, teams can harness the best of both worlds, fostering a productive and cohesive work environment.


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