Remote & Async Work 13 min

Why you should be working asynchronously

Written by Marcelo Lebre
February 12, 2024
Marcelo Lebre


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Distributed teams need distributed processes. When employees no longer share an office, they cannot continue to work together under the weight of outdated systems. A change in environment must be followed by a corresponding change in operations.

What does that change look like? 

Maximizing productivity and efficiency in a remote environment means rethinking the outdated need for employees to clock in and out simultaneously. 

If the old way of doing things was synchronous — happening in the same place at the same time — then the present and future work is asynchronous — happening in all places at all times.

The data backs up the need for an asynchronous shift. The Remote Workforce Report 2023 found that 44% of companies are currently increasing their international hiring, which means more people are working together across more time zones.

Companies that hire across international borders enjoy higher retention rates, greater productivity, and more cost-effective teams. However, those benefits come at a cost.

These organizations often experience new challenges in process management and internal communications when hiring globally. This happens when the need to onboard international employees outpaces the structures in place to support those employees.

Asynchronous work is the solution. Remote, with more than 1,000 employees across 70 countries, has built a highly efficient, fully remote organization following async principles. Our company is living proof that working asynchronously is not only possible but preferable in a world where teams include individuals from all across the globe.

Here, we will describe what asynchronous work means, how to structure async process management, and how to maximize productivity and efficiency with a distributed workforce.

What is asynchronous work?

Asynchronous (async) work refers to the practice of working on a team that does not require all members to be online simultaneously. When teams work asynchronously, individuals can maximize their productivity without waiting for others to complete tasks. The key to asynchronous work is creating processes that allow employees to work autonomously and providing employees with the trust they need to do so.

An even, swift, and nimble pipeline produces exactly the right quantity of output for its requirements, and all its stages are balanced in terms of efficiency and speed, resulting in no waste of time or resources. This is inspired by the Toyota Production System 3Ms methodology: more about that here.

Asynchronous practices allow workers to organize the order in which tasks are executed to align with their own timetables. In an asynchronous company, communication is not expected to be immediate, meaning workers can fine-tune work to reduce pressure on themselves and their colleagues.

What is the difference between asynchronous and synchronous work?

Asynchronous work maximizes production by decoupling work from synchronous communication. Synchronous work tethers progress to communication, forcing teams to halt progress on projects when one of the team members is unavailable due to different work hours or time off.

  • Asynchronous work does not require employees to be online at the same time.

  • Asynchronous work relies more heavily on documentation, transparency, and trust.

  • Synchronous work slows down projects by placing artificial barriers to productivity.

  • Synchronous work is more common in office environments than in remote work structures, but it’s still not optimal there.

  • Asynchronous work puts more trust in employees and their ability to perform.

Ultimately, companies that embrace async working can move projects forward much more quickly than their competition.

How to manage asynchronous workflows

Managing async workflows requires companies to rethink what it means to measure their productivity and trust employees. To that end, asynchronous collaboration relies on three main tenets: multiplexing, communication, and action.


Humans exist in a synchronous world; we are bound by time, moving forward one second at a time. However, how we do things (or put something together) has a huge impact on the outcome of our pipeline. It’s all about planning.

Synchronous work planning

Typical (synchronous) planning relies on kicking off things in bulk. On its own, it’s not a terrible thing to do. However, a system will go as slow as its slowest element. In this case, any delay will be propagated through the pipeline, as each stage depends entirely on the step that precedes it.

This image represents a three-terminal software development pipeline organized with sync planning. To deploy a feature, we need tasks A, B, and C to be completed. Given how these tasks are planned for and distributed, we will require nine work hours per deployment cycle. This is great for atomic tasks but very slow otherwise, as we’ll only be able to deploy every so often.

Asynchronous work planning

Async planning relies on breaking tasks into smaller tasks as much as possible and releasing Minimum Viable Changes (MVCs) as frequently as possible. This technique relies on the hypothesis that shipping less but more frequently allows you to measure success and counteract any negative feedback as fast as possible. It also allows more fine-grained control of resource allocation, as we’ll be able to perform more tasks in the same amount of time (due to their reduced size).

In this example representation, by separating tasks A, B, and C in (A1, A2, A3, B1, etc.), we achieve three times as many deployments as in the previous example (M1).

By the end of the nine hours, we may end up with the same number of deployed features. However, by multiplexing our tasks with async task distribution, we are able to release subsets of our tasks, thus validating their impact and rolling back or reassessing the next steps. We’ve reduced the iteration time to a third of the original planning.

This methodology allows us to multiplex tasks, combining them to produce results faster.

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Good communication is key to the success of any system (human or machine).

There are many types of communication: an email, a message, a voice call, a video call, or even a “let’s go get a coffee.” Each channel has a different impact on productivity, and picking the right one is as important to the production pipeline as any other task we can perform.

What is synchronous communication?

Synchronous communication or real-time communication is the communication type we are most inclined to because it’s easier and more comfortable, in most cases.

A conversation (usually) requires at least two people. An engaged conversation can take multiple forms:

  • In-person meetings

  • Synchronous meetings via video or voice call

  • Discussions over coffee

  • Chatting at lunch

  • Messaging someone and expecting an immediate response

All these are great options for things that can’t be done in any other way or are way harder to do asynchronously, such as performance reviews, strategy discussions, interviews, or one-on-ones.

However, meetings can be expensive — they take employees away from other tasks and can get in the way of deep work. As such, it’s best to use them when they’re needed but not overuse them. Meanwhile, asynchronous communication can replace most meetings. 

In the example below, two developers are working on their tasks and need to complete a set of tasks before deploying:

In this case, a meeting about a tech requirement interrupts both devs for a fixed amount of time and, soon after, another call about what someone should do next.

This is definitely not the best use case for sync meetings. The interruptions delay all work, and no deployment is done. If we think about the efficiency of our pipeline, it was undoubtedly uneven and anything but swift.

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication empowers independence. It focuses on ensuring that a task and its effects are independent of whoever planned or executed that task.

Asynchronous communication brings/enforces some long-sought best practices, such as:

  • Good documentation

  • Written procedure

  • Messaging over calls

  • Respect for interruption-free work slots

Let’s go back to the example of two devs working on a set of tasks — Tasks A, B, and C. But this time, let’s envision them resorting to asynchronous communication.

In this case, asynchronous communication is performed through messaging and well-written documentation. Even if the end goal of the message exchange is spread throughout the time, the impact on the workflow is negligible — which translates to more time and energy spent on execution.

Asynchronous work and being “in the zone”

When you’re engrossed in a book and get interrupted, it typically requires a few moments for you to regain your previous level of concentration.

Humans can’t transition seamlessly from complete immersion in one task to full engagement in another without experiencing some loss of focus. 

The example below shows a time-based chart, where Time and Productivity are the axes. This depicts the timeline of a backend developer who gets interrupted twice — first by a frontend developer about the payload of an API request and a second time by a new team member about setting up the project’s database locally.

The backend developer spends some time focusing on the task at hand (1) and later transitions to a state of focus (2). This state (2) is what we want to maximize and where we get the best out of our creative and powerful brains.

Then, when interrupted, the developer spends some time addressing the question from the frontend developer (3) to then get back to the task (1). Unfortunately, as the developer begins focusing again (2), a new interruption occurs (3).

If you’ve read this far, I’m sure this is all very familiar to you.

Now, the cherry on top is the concept of “flow”(2). Wikipedia’s definition (more here):

In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being “in the zone," is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in the activity. The person experiences energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does and the resulting loss in one’s sense of space and time.

If being totally focused is hard, getting into the flow is even harder. The more you stay focused, the higher the probability of getting into the flow. However, if you have trouble keeping focus, then forget about flow.

Asynchronous communication is powerful here, as it shields people’s time and focus while reducing meaningless real-time sinks.

These interruptions happen less frequently when you communicate via asynchronous channels. And when the total time you’re able to immerse yourself in deep work is longer, the chances of getting into the flow are much higher.


This is the very last tenet of going async. It’s not about procedure; it’s about attitude. It’s about caring about yourself as a professional and where you’re going as a whole.

There are many times when work isn’t ready for us to tackle — when tasks aren’t planned, decision-makers aren’t online, etc. In these times, successful teams execute, even if they later have to refactor and adapt. They don’t waste time waiting.

“Always default to action” is a mantra we keep on repeating at Remote. This means that if you need to do something and no one is there to help you out or to point out what to do next, then you use your common sense and pick something up yourself.

Imagine there are three tasks; however, only two are perfectly described, so you need to wait for a product manager to be available to define what’s required for the third.

In the scenario presented, we have two developers: Dev 1, who tends to default to action, and Dev 2, who tends to default to waiting. When faced with the principle of always defaulting to action, Dev 1 proactively chooses to work on another task, even if it’s less critical than the one he’d initially intended to tackle. In contrast, Dev 2 waits for the project manager to further clarify the task at hand.

While this example may seem anecdotal, it’s far from exaggerated. In fact, such behavior is quite prevalent in many work environments.

At Remote, if you really need someone to help you with your next task and you really can’t pick up anything else, well, it’s better to use that time to take care of yourself. You could instead go to the gym, walk the dog, or watch your favorite show (yes, even if it’s in the middle of your working day).

This implies better judgment; of course, some tasks are very sensitive, and if you’re not sure about those, then you can pick up something else. It’s not about ignoring risk. It’s about taking charge in a controlled way.

Benefits of asynchronous work

The advantages of asynchronous work extend beyond mere convenience, offering tangible gains that can significantly impact an organization’s bottom line. 

Here are a few benefits it provides:


Asynchronous work empowers employees with the freedom to set their own working hours, aligning them with their peak productivity periods. This flexibility is not just a perk but a significant factor in job satisfaction and retention.

According to 2022 McKinsey research, flexible working arrangements rank as the third-most sought-after job feature, after higher pay and better career opportunities. This indicates that the modern workforce values the autonomy that comes with asynchronous work, making it a compelling strategy for companies aiming to attract and retain top talent.

Increased productivity

The asynchronous work model minimizes the disruptions caused by synchronous communications, like meetings and instant messages. This environment fosters deep work, allowing employees to concentrate fully on tasks without experiencing constant interruptions.

This benefit of asynchronous work is further highlighted by a 2022 study commissioned by Sony that revealed that a third of employees believe asynchronous work leads to more purposeful and less distracting communication. By reducing interruptions, employees can accomplish more in less time, thereby boosting overall productivity.

Inclusivity for global teams

Asynchronous work is particularly beneficial for companies with a global footprint. It accommodates teams spread across multiple time zones, whether they consist of digital nomads or independent contractors situated in different parts of the world. In addition, async work ensures that no one has to compromise their work-life balance to attend meetings or collaborate on projects.

Embracing asynchronous work can be an inclusive approach that respects the diverse lifestyles and time zones of a global team.

Cost and resource efficiency

Asynchronous work significantly reduces the need for synchronous meetings, which are often time-consuming to organize, attend, and follow up on. 

Employees engaged in unnecessary meetings often multitask about 70% of the time, which leads to inefficiencies. Large companies, in particular, could save nearly $100 million annually by eliminating these non-essential meetings. The saved time and resources can be redirected toward more productive work.

Employee well-being

The flexibility inherent in asynchronous work contributes to better mental health for employees. They gain more control over their schedules, which can alleviate stress and reduce the risk of burnout. In fact, it’s well known that remote workers are happier and healthier than their in-office counterparts.

Further highlighting this benefit is a 2023 study indicating that 61% of knowledge workers believe asynchronous work minimizes burnout. Additionally, 84% stated that it lessens the stress caused by micromanagement.

By prioritizing employee well-being, companies create a healthier work environment and improve their overall job satisfaction and performance.

Start implementing asynchronous work practices to ramp up productivity

Asynchronous work provides the foundation upon which distributed companies are built. Teams with people across multiple time zones cannot afford to waste precious hours waiting for those rare moments when schedules align. Switching to async is not just wise — for companies with remote workers, it’s imperative.

But async is not just for remote teams. Why should workers who share an office create unnecessary roadblocks for themselves? When everyone works asynchronously, everyone can perform at peak efficiency, regardless of where or when they perform their duties.

Async work is how high-performing teams get more done with fewer interruptions, higher efficiency, and greater reliability, based on the key concepts we have covered here:

  • Async work should be used more often than sync work, as it provides better resource management, reduces waste, and optimizes productivity.

  • Multiplexing your tasks and reducing scope allows you to deliver faster, test your hypotheses sooner, and achieve success with higher confidence.

  • Communication should generally be async and only occasionally sync for things that require you to do so. Keeping this rule allows workers to focus on tasks longer and concentrate on best practices like documentation and writing proper procedures.

  • Always defaulting to action (within reason) helps the whole team move faster, reduces time waste, and increases ownership.

What are your thoughts on asynchronous working? I’d love to hear from you! Find me on X/Twitter.

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