Synchronous vs Asynchronous: Leveraging Time to Maximize Productivity

By Kristen Harris

We’ve been helping clients hire for and elevate their marketing teams since 2005. Saying the structure of work has changed since we started is a major understatement. Remember when you were hired for a job and assumed that you would be going to that company’s office every day to work? Yeah, me too. For many roles, especially in the creative industry, that is no longer the case.

Whether you’re adding someone new or deciding how your current team will work going forward, there are so many questions to answer. Is the work synchronous or asynchronous? Is the role remote, hybrid, or 100% in the office? Are there shared schedules, or is each work schedule entirely up to the individual? How will teams coordinate and communicate? And so much more…

First, let’s break down the concept of Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Work. Essentially, this is a succinct way of saying, “does everyone work together all at the same time or independently on their own schedule?” This terminology has been common in the learning space for quite some time, and now we see it starting to be applied to work as well.

An entire role may be synchronous or asynchronous, or specific duties of the position may fall into each category. We are really seeing this come into play as companies figure out hybrid schedules and flexible work models. 

A few examples:

  • A business that serves the public needs its front desk administrator and client counselors onsite from 9-3 to serve clients = synchronous work.

  • Those same client counselors have to enter notes and follow-up tasks into a system every day. This work can be done anytime before 9 or after 3, as long as it’s completed daily = asynchronous work.

  • A creative team has standing team meetings, project brainstorm sessions, and weekly client calls = synchronous work that the team must do together at the same time.

  • This creative team also protects two days a week as “no meeting” days, providing uninterrupted time to work on client projects = generally asynchronous work, although team members might reach out to each other on the fly to brainstorm or collaborate.

  • A design firm schedules all their meetings on Mondays and Thursdays and asks everyone to be in the office from 9-5 those days = synchronous workdays.

  • Other than Mondays and Thursdays, this design firm has no set work schedule or office hours. They allow team members to work on client projects whenever they want throughout the week as long as they meet all deadlines = very asynchronous schedules.

  • The design firm has three contractors responsible for executing specific tasks by Friday afternoon each week and do not attend any meetings = completely asynchronous roles.

As you can see, roles and tasks can be synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination of both. And it can range from a bit of synchronicity (work-from-home Fridays to wrap up tasks for the week) to extreme asynchronicity (completed work submitted on Mondays with no requirements on schedule throughout the week).

The more variables there are, the more difficult this can be to manage. It’s essential to be clear and get agreement on all expectations upfront. 

  • Decide what your company requires. Ultimately, you have to complete the work and delight the customers your company exists to serve. Decide what work must be synchronous and set that schedule. Then determine how independent and asynchronous the rest of the work can be. There’s no wrong answer; you have to decide what is best for your business or team.

  • Be clear and specific. State your expectations clearly, whether it’s with a new hire or your current team. Most people can and will work within the guidelines you’ve set. When we see issues, it’s usually because someone was unaware of policies, not intentionally ignoring them.

  • Set communication expectations. People working asynchronously generally respond to messages, provide information, or submit finished projects during their work hours–which may not align with yours. You don’t want someone contacting you in the middle of the night, and vice versa. Asynchronous work aligns well with asynchronous communication methods like email or Slack. Synchronous communication may require people to be available during specific hours via video, phone, chat, or in-person.

  • Leverage time blocking. Rather than peppering meetings, work sessions, and other synchronous activities throughout the day or week, group them into time blocks to create and maintain flow. For example, if all meetings for the day are between 9-12, your team will be in a “meeting mindset” for that time block. Then they can switch to a more creative mindset for a block of afternoon brainstorming sessions. It’s easier for people to get and stay in a mode, rather than switching back and forth all day.

  • Tap into individual time clocks. In the book WHEN: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Dan Pink takes a deep dive into the best time to do practically everything in life. For example, in this fun graphic you can see that some people are “larks,” others are “owls,” and a few are “third birds.” Once you set the required synchronous activities, you will get better productivity if you allow people to work when they are freshest and most energized. Win-win!

The beauty of utilizing this synchronous-asynchronous work concept is the ability to work together when needed and independently when possible. It allows us to tap into our team’s best ideas, energy level, focus, and productivity–all positives for both the individual and the company. 

Want to chat about this workplace challenge and others we’re seeing related to creative hiring? Looking to build or elevate your marketing team? Give us a shout; we’d love to hear from you!