As many employees move back into the office, one thing is clear: the old way of working probably isn’t coming back. Even before the pandemic, organisations were moving toward digital HQs like Slack. But, now that many workplaces are hybrid at least for the short- to medium-term, it’s no longer a question of whether your business will engage in asynchronous work. It’s a question of whether your business will do asynchronous work well.
Along with thriving in a hybrid working environment, there’s also the issue of meeting fatigue. Workplace wellness is top of mind for many employers and Zoom fatigue is a real phenomenon for many.
So, inspired by 23,000 of our colleagues overseas, Salesforce Australia and New Zealand’s Technology, Marketing and Product (TMP) team decided to go meeting-free for one week in early 2022. The results? We’re sending fewer emails, we’re more discerning about when a meeting is necessary, and some of us might have even discovered a little more appreciation for the role of the meeting.
Whether you want to try your own meetingless ‘async week’ or just want insights for better collaboration, here are some of the biggest lessons we learned.
Lesson 1: Asynchronous working needs clear parameters — and some wiggle room
At first, the idea was met with equal parts exhilaration and nervousness. On the one hand, there was the prospect of uninterrupted time for deep working — on the other hand, there were lots of collaborative projects that needed to keep moving. No matter which way you looked at it, though, there were lots of questions about how an asynchronous week would work. What was expected? What if an important stakeholder wanted to meet, since not all business units were participating in the project?
One thing that worked well for our async week was establishing some standards but also some flexibility. The general guidance was: try to work with no meetings as much as you can, but they aren’t completely off-limits. For instance, if I needed to have a meeting with our CEO on something urgent I would choose to do it!
We were also sensitive to employees working remotely or needing to check in with their managers. Social isolation is just as much of an issue as meeting fatigue, and we didn’t want to inadvertently make anyone feel even more disconnected. A bit of wiggle room will help everyone evaluate each situation and employee as unique rather than applying a blanket solution that backfires.
Lesson 2: Async weeks work best if they’re organisation-wide
While flexibility was key, it’s worth noting that not everyone in our region participated. The experiment was limited to the TMP part of the business, largely due to many other teams not being able to cancel meetings with customers or other external stakeholders.
The impact of going meeting-free will never work equally for every team or role, so we’re certainly not saying that you should require employees to cancel time-sensitive meetings that customers are depending on for support. However, by only trialling an async week in one part of the business, we quickly saw the limitations — depending on how many stakeholders they had in other parts of the business, not everyone was able to experience the full benefits.
My recommendation? You don’t need to force async weeks on every team, but you can use what you learn to work more efficiently with them. And that can benefit your teams for even longer than a single week.
Lesson 3: Clearing calendars made space for deeper work
We’ve probably all had days that are so jam-packed with back-to-back meetings, it feels like there’s no time to do any solo work. It might not be surprising, then, that many team members said they felt async week gave them more time to keep work moving along.
These unbroken stretches of time didn’t just give people time to clear out task backlogs, though. Employees also reported that the lack of interruptions enabled deeper, reflective thinking.
Of course, we still need meetings and check-ins to work collaboratively — but some of our other lessons show how to balance the benefits.
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Lesson 4: We diversified how we communicate and remembered there’s a world of options beyond meetings
When you can’t jump in a meeting or on a video call to sort something out, you start getting creative with communication. And once you start getting comfortable with those options, you’re better equipped to know when a meeting is necessary and when it really isn’t.
For instance, we made great use of video and audio recordings, which are particularly useful for things like status updates. Previously, a lot of our asynchronous updates would have been done through the written word. Now, people are much more comfortable recording and sending a quick status update via video. Our video tool integrates with Slack, so we can now seamlessly send updates and messages.
Most of these tools predated our async week, but it was still a great way to challenge everyone’s ‘muscle memory’. We’re now far more likely to use all of the tools at our disposal rather than defaulting to typing out an email or setting a meeting — and that means we can still make space for deeper work, without sacrificing the collaborative benefits of checking in with one another.
Lesson 5: Meetings are still the most efficient option for some types of work
While some types of communication — namely status updates — can be done through audio, video or written messages, certain kinds of work still benefit from teams syncing up and getting together.
We found this was especially true for highly collaborative work like planning or brainstorming. We experimented with asynchronous ways of tackling that work, like creating videos or content that was meant to be viewed/read before the meeting. But, generally, we found it was quicker and easier to just meet in person to talk through ideas — there was less double-up and less risk of someone missing information.
Lesson 6: It’s not about banishing all meetings, it’s about learning which channels are right for different work and different teams
Arguably the most positive result of our experiment is that we’re more in tune with how to marry asynchronous ways of working with traditional approaches. We’re far more mindful about not having meetings just for updates or “where are you up to with this?” conversations — they’re now more action-oriented. Even in leadership meetings, you’re accountable to do the pre-reading, which we then discuss together.
It’s not just that we’re doing a better job of evaluating when meetings are necessary, meetings themselves are more productive. Using all the tools in your communication toolbox helps create more time and space for the collaborative work that’s much harder to do asynchronously. But it also helps to preserve those highly beneficial stretches of uninterrupted solo work.
My suggestion is to give an async week a go (we’re trialling another one ourselves in May!) — not only could it foster great efficiency and collaboration in a hybrid working environment, it might just give you a new appreciation for meetings.
Want to cut out meeting fatigue and succeed from anywhere? Learn how to work more productively by using Slack as your digital HQ.