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The return of asynchronous collaboration

At Every Turn TakeTurns Blog
|  by
Christophe Barriolade
Christophe Barriolade
Co-founder & CEO
The return of asynchronous collaboration

Do you remember the days when working meant actually working? 

Back when your day wasn't consumed by instantly responding to real-time messages, perpetual Zoom meetings, managing “urgent” real-time notifications, or observing people make mods (live!) in Google Docs.

Back when everyone was more focused on the outcome, not how quickly people responded (or how “reactive” they were).

Or, back when working was more “asynchronous.”   When people got assignments and then worked “off-line”--using alone time to engage their brains, focus, and complete their tasks[1]. 

How did we get here?

The pandemic turbocharged the adoption of all kinds of real-time tools for good and ill.

On the surface, these easy-to-use tools allowed everyone to communicate more quickly and get the job done while operating remotely.  However, as Jevon’s Paradox[2] would predict, if something is made easier, usage (i.e., consumption) will go up.  Or, in the case of real-time communication tools way, way, way up.  So much so that simply playing this noise will give some folks sweaty palpitations. 

In some cases, these tools have created an incredible amount of dissonance, noise, and frustration within organizations.  Some describe  real-time messaging as the right tool for the wrong way to work.[3] Others point  out that “We chat too much, converse too little, and could all use more time to be left alone to do our jobs.”[4] And still, others lament  that they “... don't know how to get any work done when it's open.”[5]

What’s a possible solution to all this chaos: going async

What is async work?

Asynchronous work is basically the opposite of synchronous and real-time work. In synchronous work, multiple people work at the same time in a somewhat loose and unstructured way (think co-writing/editing a Google Doc). Learn more about asynchronous work.

In asynchronous work, two parties work in a more structured way with well-defined  responsibilities.  For example,  imagine a freelance writer working on a book for a client. There are two teams (or parties) with a common objective (complete the book!), and accountabilities/responsibilities (freelance write , client review/approve).

The structure and responsibilities mean that the parties can work at their own pace, on their own time–they can work asynchronously.  When a team works on a task, e.g., drafts a document, the other party is waiting. When the draft is shared, the other party can take over and review it. That doesn’t mean each party won’t use synchronous tools (e.g., Zoom, slack, etc.) internally, or when they need to meet or discuss something. 

The move back to async work is growing! 

In fact, I came across a series of interesting articles from a freelance writer (Amy Suto) who has written a series of articles on the future of work and how and why that future (at least for freelancers, consultants, many marketing professions, etc.) should be asynchronous.  As a freelancer, she’s trying to get more asynchronous with her clients (or “async”) so she can spend more time on quality work and less time on the noise and administration of collaboration thus improving her work-life balance.

Does this mean going back to email?

It’s true that email is an asynchronous tool and can foster asynchronous work. After all, when you send an email, your recipient has time to read and eventually reply. However, email has developed into a monster that has its own issues:

  • One project is spread across dozen of email threads making it hard to find anything
  • You cannot track versions of documents attached 
  • You never know whose turn it is to work in an email thread
  • And the list goes on

This is why we created TakeTurns.  We created a collaboration tool that is as easy as email but takes asynchronous collaboration to the next level. We believe it fosters collaboration without the chaos.

TakeTurns is based on the simple idea of structured collaboration. Two parties collaborate and take turns on documents and files until they're done with their project. This structure makes asynchronous work possible, and it has many benefits:

  • You respect the time of the other party but also take responsibility when you have something to do
  • You get visibility of who did what, like a full timeline of your collaboration
  • You always know who’s working, who’s waiting (no conflicting edits)

TakeTurns simplifies asynchronous collaboration but doesn’t replace people’s existing tools. Each party in  a collaboration keeps using the tool of its choice to edit documents.

Try TakeTurns: The Safer, Easier Way to Work with People Outside of Your Organization

TakeTurns is your one place to share, collect, and collaborate on business-critical documents and files with your clients, vendors, partners—or any external organization. It turns that clutter of emails, attachments, shared folders, and messages into a structured, secure, and transparent TakeTurns Flow.  Ready to improve how you collaborate externally? Try TakeTurns for free.

[1] Computer science professor Cal Newport characterizes this as deep work. It’s not just the kind of work that gives you “a sense of meaning and fulfillment in your professional life.”.  But it’s also the kind of work that produces value and requires some level of cognitive effort and focus. 
[2] Jevons Paradox is an economic phenomenon where increasing the efficiency with which a resource is used leads to an increase in the consumption of that resource. Or, by making it easier to send messages, real-time messaging tools like Slack, teams, and SMS has led people to send more messages, a lot more messages.  
[3] This article is worth reading. Newport points out that Slack has adopted the worst part of the way we use email today, writing, “e-mail …  ushered in a new mode of collaboration based on never-ceasing, ad-hoc messaging.”
[4] One of the more interesting complaints that Timothy Noah levies at Slack is that it “It crushes individual initiative.” He points out that “ the success of your company depends on workers showing initiative—which in turn depends on their getting away from the boss long enough to develop relationships with outsiders (sometimes known as “customers”), gathering a bit of information, and thinking matters through. Slack discourages such behavior by immersing hapless workers in conditions of managerial surveillance around the clock.”
[5] As evidence that real-time messaging has become a bit too heavyweight, we offer (for your consideration) this article by Justin Pot that describes how to configure Slack so you can get work done at work.

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