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Do you really need a Head of Async?

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(Image credit: Image Credit: Bruce Mars / Pexels)

There’s no denying that the pandemic has exposed the cracks in modern work. After nearly two years of working from home, employees have gained flexibility and autonomy on the one hand, while on the other, they’ve been left feeling burnt out, isolated, tired, and distracted. 

So, while remote work can be incredibly empowering, it’s very difficult to get right - best demonstrated by the tech overload unintentionally caused as bosses sought to relieve pressure on remote teams by throwing more and more software (opens in new tab) at them. Now plagued by an ocean of digital distractions, forty-three percent of workers say they spend too much time switching between different tech tools at the cost of their productivity and wellbeing.

Under pressure: The head of remote 

In an attempt to prevent a burnout crisis, many companies hired a Head of Remote to alleviate the logistical challenges posed by remote work and improve the employee experience. However, as the workforce adapts to a more flexible model, mixing remote work with in-person collaboration (opens in new tab), the scope of the Head of Remote is not only being stretched, but has also become unclear. 

Many Heads of Remote are hired to develop and maintain a strong remote culture, but it’s easy to underestimate how many problems they end up trying to solve for modern businesses. Coordinating remote teams, centralizing information, and streamlining operations for teams scattered across time zones, locations and apps is a tremendous challenge. The advent of hybrid working is only making this more acute.

The goal many are working towards is building a work environment that allows for asynchronous work. This is the art of working to your own schedule that benefits productivity, wellbeing and engagement, and it matches workers’ preference to have more autonomy and control over their working lives. Our own research (opens in new tab) has shown that 75 percent of workers want to work either completely or at least partially to their own schedule, and as the ‘Great Resignation’ has taught us, employees are more than willing than ever to quit their jobs if they no longer feel their priorities are being met. With almost one in four workers in the UK planning to change roles in the coming months, business leaders need to set themselves up for success and start implementing workplace policies that meet the evolving needs of the workforce.

Implementing “async” work

Working asynchronously gives workers autonomy over their schedule and enables them to balance moments of uninterrupted deep focus with live collaboration as appropriate to their role. 

Companies don’t need a Head of Async to make that happen. This is a responsibility that can be taken on by leaders across the board, from the CEO and COO, to Operations and People teams.

The overall shift in company mentality is important, because - although powerful - asynchronous collaboration is not something that can be switched on without careful thought and planning. 

To set an organization up for success with asynchronous working, a clear plan designed to bring visibility, structure and trust to the workforce needs to be implemented.

1. Make work visible and accessible

A recent report (opens in new tab) Qatalog launched with Cornell university found that, for 7 in 10 people, finding the basic information needed to do their job is overly time-consuming. Worse, workers waste 5 hours a week just trying to find things at work, and report having to interrupt at least two people for help each time.

An internal source of truth for work happening across the organization helps to solve this. Companies should invest in a central repository where workers can do things like track goals, collaborate on projects, find teams, and record decisions.

If information is transparent and accessible, employees can contribute to adjacent projects and share their ideas easily without always having to resort to meetings or chatter on messaging platforms. 

2. Bring a clear structure to your organization and its work

Workers today spend a lot of time doing ‘detective work’ trying to figure out what’s happening across the organization. They’re spending a lot of time trying to find the right person they need to collaborate with on projects, or how a certain workstream relates to a company goal. Add in the fact that teamwork is spread across a disconnected plethora of apps, from wikis like Notion through to project management apps Asana, this adds up to a lot of wasted time trying to figure out how to get stuff done. 

Employees should ideally be able to ‘walk the virtual halls’ of the office with ease. It used to be the case that they could go into a real office and absorb everything going on around them and connect the dots, but that no longer applies. Employees working asynchronously need an internal source of truth that organizes everything about work in a clearly defined structure so that they can, for example, easily contextualize why a team is working on a project or why a decision was made about deprioritizing a goal. This cuts out that “detective work” and lets people work easily on their terms (i.e. asynchronously).

3. Invest in a culture of trust

Lastly, if async is to succeed in the modern workplace, leaders should invest in a culture of trust, where colleagues have faith in individual expertise and mutual confidence in one another to get the work done, even when they can’t see each other in person. 

Our research highlighted a concerning trend in the world of work today, 63 percent of workers believe it's harder to build trust with their colleagues in a remote environment. This isn’t a sign that things should go back to the way they were, however, because those same employees are suspicious about the motivations of employers that want to bring them back into the office - with only 2 percent believing it would be in their best interests. 

To build an environment of trust, you must take a deliberate, considered approach to async - heeding the previous two pillars, and encouraging a shift in mindset at a cultural level. If a team member prefers to work at night, for example, colleagues must trust that they’re working effectively and completing their tasks in their own time, and restrain from questioning their personal choices. Managers also need to take care to show employees that they recognize their achievements, 

When thoughtfully planned, the future of work looks bright

With the number of job vacancies at an all-time high, trust and flexibility are more important than ever as companies fight to win the war for talent. 

It will be the companies that invest in technology and policies to support thoughtful roll-out of flexible working that will be successful in hiring and retaining talent, instead of those who are just slapping ‘flexibility granted’ onto their job adverts. 

If they really want to build and retain a happy, healthy workforce, employers should think carefully about the rollout of asynchronous work - and before running out to hire a Head of Async, look to your existing team. Async isn’t rocket science, but it does take commitment - something you might find more readily internally.

Tariq Rauf, founder and CEO, Qatalog (opens in new tab)

Tariq Rauf

Tariq Rauf, founder and CEO, Qatalog