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Async — the promise vs. the reality

Picture this. After a lengthy interview process, you’ve finally landed the job of your dreams with a company that seems to truly value you and your time. It’s completely remote, giving you the freedom to schedule your work around your needs — whether that’s childcare, traveling, or maybe you’re just a night owl. You imagine what it would feel like to take a spontaneous afternoon off to go to the beach, no longer chained to your desk 9 to 5!

But after your first week, reality sets in. While you’d hoped to start work at 10am, your boss starts pinging you most days from 8am, demanding to know where that report is or whether you’ve received that email. You have non-stop meetings scheduled most days, and you wonder why half of these couldn’t be done on email or Slack. And when you finally have some down time to get out of the house and go for an afternoon stroll, your boss messages again, questioning why you’ve set your status to “Away.” The only free time you truly get to live your life is when everyone else goes offline — after about 5pm.

No, this isn’t Hell. This is the modern workplace. And this experience is becoming increasingly common, with many companies talking a good game on flexible working, but failing to deliver.

Why async is still far from being a reality

Although async is often touted as the more productive successor to the 9 to 5, for most people it’s still a distant reality. Of those of us who have heard of it, fewer can claim to actually be doing it. Our recent Killing Time report, produced in partnership with our friends at GitLab, found that only 9% of over the 2000 knowledge workers we surveyed were able to work asynchronously all the time. 

Worse, there was a clear pattern of privilege when it came to who was working async, with C-Level Executives three times more likely to do so than junior workers. 

Those of us who started remote working with entry or even mid-level roles can probably all relate to that feeling of needing to be online at all times. In fact, some employers actually demand it. And that is exactly what needs to change.

Work has trust issues

In a Qatalog survey of 2,000 knowledge workers, it found that 63% of workers said it was harder to build trust between colleagues when working remotely. Research from Microsoft also revealed that while 87% of remote workers report feeling productive at work, only 12% of leaders claimed to be fully confident in their distributed staff. Clearly something isn’t adding up - and that something is trust.

So it’s all well and good for companies to encourage and enable remote work — it’s expected that a quarter of all jobs in North America will be remote by 2023. But these workers won’t experience real freedom created by asynchronous working until a culture of trust is established by their employers.  

At present, it appears as though bosses are happy to take advantage of these new freedoms and work async themselves. But they are unwilling to extend that same flexibility to their staff because they don’t trust them. Until bosses start encouraging employees to create their own schedule (and normalizing it), it’s unlikely that those at entry-level will ever have the confidence to work asynchronously.

Async works differently for everyone

While it may take some getting used to, leaders need to realize that creating an asynchronous culture (that actually lets their employees work when they want) will only add long-term value to a business. 

One of the huge advantages of async is that it’s more inclusive. You could have a team of working parents, early risers, and mid-day swimmers, all collaborating productively on the same project. Which is why the promise of it is so desirable. Having a truly diverse workforce demands that employers trust their team — regardless of whether someone needs to take time off to do the school run or for a long run.

How can we make the present async?

It’s clear that async is the future. But most of us could benefit from it right now. So, what can we do, as individuals, to make sure that what’s promised in job interviews is actually delivered in reality?

For one, setting boundaries should be a priority. If your company touts async work, delete Slack, Teams, or any other work related tool, from your phone to ensure that your time is truly your own. Or, if that’s not practical, change your settings so that you don’t get notifications from those apps outside of your preferred working hours. 

Another simple trick is to set your working hours on your Google calendar to avoid meetings being scheduled outside of your work day. And, if you feel comfortable, communicate these boundaries directly to your boss to make sure that you’re both on the same page.

But ultimately, the onus should be on bosses to ensure that async work is able to happen without any barriers — whether they be technological or cultural.

Want to find out how Qatalog can facilitate an asynchronous workplace culture? Book a call with our Customer team here.

holly-pittaway
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