The future is async

The pandemic has taught us many things. One thing it has proven, is that many jobs can be performed anytime, anywhere. Especially software companies. The transition to remote work offers us many opportunities: living wherever we want, more productive days, less time spent commuting. It also poses challenges: having a good at-home work environment and establishing good communication.

As someone who took this opportunity to relocate from California to Colorado, I know live one time zone away from my job’s headquarters. This hasn’t been an issue because my company spans several time zones and several countries. I’m just another drop in the bucket.

One negative I did notice working throughout the pandemic was the increase in meetings. 1:1 requests went up, team meetings are now weekly and across multiple teams. Everyone needs a status on everything and they set up a meeting to get it. This becomes increasingly challenging with the diverse time zones. All of a sudden you’re having 7pm meetings on a Friday (yuck) and your lunch norm is politely asking if you can turn your camera off so you can eat food while the meeting happens.

Amazon.com: I survived another meeting... should have been an email - Funny  coffee mug by Donbicentenario - 11OZ Ceramic - Best gift or souvenir. SHIPS  FROM USA : Home & Kitchen
Source: Amazon product image

Solving this problem will require companies to make several changes:

  1. Set clear priorities. Without this, the company becomes highly reactive and every communication comes with a sense of urgency that seems to warrant a meeting.
  2. Have core hours. With teams spanning multiple time zones it’s important to set core hours where everyone can and should be available. Note: this does not need to, and should not span 8 hours.
  3. Unlearn everything you know about communication and relearn asynchronous. Just like we’re realizing people don’t need to be in an office building to be productive, we also don’t need to simultaneously be on a call to have good, meaningful conversations.

I’m going to hone in on item 3 because this might seem the most shocking. First, let’s look at when you should have a meeting. To me, a meeting is only useful if a decision needs to be made by a group or if a group needs to come together and creatively brainstorm. If it does not fall into one of those categories, then…and I cannot emphasize this enough…IT SHOULD NOT BE A MEETING. Plain and simple.

Asynchronous communication: here's what we know so far | Typetalk
Source: Typetalk

Now that we’ve established when you should have meetings, allow me to offer alternatives to the meetings we all currently have and dread.

  • Executive updates / Town Halls –> You know what would be just as fun? A blog written by your leadership with links to financial reports, data, or videos.
  • Demo’s –> This is self explanatory. A demo is just a video done live. So make it a pre-recorded video that is shared. “But Kayla, what if people have questions about the demo?” Ah. Yes. Allow me to introduce you to the world of video commenting where people can not only ask their own questions, but read questions from others as well.
  • Facetime with people you don’t see frequently –> This boils down to company culture and how you foster relationships. Consider having slack channels for more personal topics and hobbies. Start a book club. Have a Trello board where everyone posts a picture of what they did last weekend. Relationships are important and can be built asynchronously.

By investing in asynchronous communications we avoid waiting for people to join the meeting, waiting for people to work through technical difficulties, missing that really important tidbit because your dog decided now was a good time to start chomping on a squeaky toy. What do we gain? Consuming information at a time and pace that is convenient for us, being able to go back and reference something, increasing the likelihood of us retaining it, and as the communicator you are now able to wordsmith and perfect the art of your message.

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