Sync Async: What’s asynchronous work and how is it helping teams deliver greater value sooner


Instead of tackling the mammoth task of improving meetings, greater progress on important work can be made by adopting more asynchronous work.
Business woman describing strategies to two colleagues.
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Working together at the same time, in the same meeting or on the same online call is synchronous work. In a world where remote work has increased for many, the default is usually to synchronous work.

It’s characterised by colleagues saying ‘let’s meet to talk about this’, ‘when can we catch up’ or receiving a meeting invitation requesting a meeting with at least one other person, at the same time.

Meetings, interviews, catch ups, workshops and quick chats (when are they ever quick?) are examples of people gathering in sync, at the same time.

Synchronous work is important; there is no arguing that. It provides connection with others, communication and information exchange, deep conversations and decision-making opportunities.

But synchronous work is also a wasteful way of working in the evolving world of modern work. Too many meetings are slow, passive and unproductive experiences.

When schedules are already full of too many meetings, back-to-back meetings with no breaks and little time for deep, focused or considered work, it’s worth looking at what can be done better.

Instead of tackling the mammoth task of improving meetings, greater progress on important work can be made by adopting more asynchronous work.

This is work done individually or at a time and in a way that suits the individual. It still involves communication and collaboration with others, but doesn’t require the ‘now’ of a meeting.

Teams successfully adopting more synchronous work use tools like:

  • uninterrupted blocks of time
  • shared documentation
  • visual online collaboration tools
  • chat, messaging and email, and
  • task boards.

Then when people really need to meet to talk, problem solve, create or decide … they do.

The key is to default to asynchronous work first, then determine when it’s best to bring people together to work at the same time.

Thrive on progress not meetings

Making these changes can sometimes cause concern for those who thrive on meetings. In some cultures, meetings, quick chats or catch-ups are how work is done. Getting an answer to something now, direct from someone who knows, is preferred to waiting or working on another task until you hear back. Meetings can feel like important progress is being made or that connections and trust is growing; but this is not the only way to work in today’s new ways of working.

Choose active over passive contributions

Time spent in passive mode in a meeting – quietly, not contributing, listening – highlights the reason why synchronous work like meetings can feel so wasteful.

Adopting more asynchronous work tools – for example, collecting input via an online collaboration canvas prior to the meeting – can help make better progress, sooner, and generate a higher quality of ideas and contributions. 

People have individual preferences for how they like to work: for some, sharing and exploring ideas verbally is preferred, while others prefer quiet time to write, read, and explore their thoughts.

A blend of synchronous and asynchronous work is how progress can be made and inclusion fostered and improved.

Meeting less delivers better results

Asynchronous work is not removing meetings entirely but rather reducing meetings. Research  revealed 75 companies who introduced between 1 and 5 meeting-free days a week, gained improvements in communication, engagement, satisfaction and autonomy. Problems like micromanagement and stress reduced too. While it might not seem possible or reasonable, meeting less frequently delivers better outcomes.

Sync and Async

The move by more businesses to default to asynchronous work first gives them opportunities to carefully consider when, how and why to bring people together synchronously. When people do meet in real time, online or in person, that experience needs to deliver benefits or the meme of ‘this meeting should have been an email’ will extend to ‘this work should have been async’.

Team members are discovering they can work individually on tasks and then ‘hand over the baton’ relay-race style to colleagues, maintaining momentum and making better progress.

Get started

The message is all about getting started: start on the task before a meeting is scheduled; start collecting your thoughts or start sketching out a plan before the group meets.

And get started trying out tools, applications and documentation to bring more asynchronous work to how you work.   

Better progress is the best motivation around. Otherwise, purpose suffers, the efforts we put in lose meaning and our working can seem life less fulfilling. Having more time to complete work, and work in ways they prefer, is a great contributor to work satisfaction and a major element in the true meaning of ‘flexible work’.

Lynne Cazaly is a work futurist and expert in new ways of thinking, leading and working. She is a keynote speaker and 10 x author. Her most recent book is Sync Async : Making progress easier in the changing world of work. Find out more at