Location, location, location– that’s what we leaders are telling the pandemic changed irrevocably about work culture. Work from anywhere! Work from home! Work from a tropical island (as long as it has reliable internet!) But what many missed was a far bigger and more important need for workers: Time flexibility matters more than location flexibility.
Particularly after two years of Zoom meetings and “you’re on mute” exchanges, it’s taken for granted that we’ll have colleagues who won’t be in the cube next door. What’s just as important is enabling asynchronous work– the ability of employees to work when they’d like.
If you’re like my company and you have staff spanning time zones, you need to make asynchronous work a priority. And like my workplace, you might find that doing so improves productivity, increases flexibility, and adds to employee satisfaction.
Those aren’t just anecdotes from Picsart, the company I lead. We surveyed 2,000 employed, nationally representative adults in the US, and asked them about their work preferences, entrepreneurial undertakings, and creative pastimes. An overwhelming majority–84 percent of workers surveyed–said they are more likely to work for a company that can operate asynchronously. Crucially, this preference spans generations, with 90 percent of millennials, 80 percent Gen Z, 82 percent Gen X, and 79 percent of Boomers all reporting they’d be more likely to work at an asynchronous company.
Here’s why this matters: The market for talent has never been more competitive. Job openings are at an all-time high, and employees aren’t just choosing where to work based on comp alone. They want to work for firms that embrace flexibility and non-traditional work hours–not as something they have to do as a response to an international crisis, but as something they want to do because it’s in everyone’s best interest.
But how to do this successfully? Here are five lessons from my experience that can help other organizations looking to build a successful asynchronous work culture:
1. Working on your own time doesn’t mean working all the time.
People shouldn’t feel pressure to keep up with colleagues in London and Los Angeles. Meaning: Just because your company works at different times doesn’t mean people should work all the time.
This is a genuine risk with asynchronous work. Thankfully, there are ways to manage it. A simple trick: Designate times when everyone is offline, regardless of time zone. At Picsart, every third Friday is a day off for all of our employees for them to do whatever they want outside of work. This has helped to create a safety valve, and it has sent the signal that no one is expected to be able to respond to their global colleagues at all hours.
2. Prune meetings.
Meetings can be a productivity killer, but that goes double if you’re an asynchronous work culture. The reason? A meeting that starts in the morning on the east coast could be untenable for colleagues in the Middle East, and vice versa.
An asynchronous culture actually forces the hard question: Exactly why are there so many meetings on the calendar, and what purpose do they serve? Because time zones make calendar overlap more difficult, the quality of meetings can increase, because they become more limited.
But that must be a deliberate process. You can eliminate meetings, and even establish entirely meeting-free days. For my team, that’s every Friday. For those meetings that are essential, consider recording them, and then sharing the recordings so that people can catch up on the content on their own time.
3. Encourage individuals to enact boundaries.
Decisions about time are deeply personal, and companies can only do so much in setting cultural expectations and workplace guidelines. That’s why it’s important to encourage employees to create their own schedules and boundaries. Make it okay for people to block off time on their calendars.
Often, it’s hardest for leaders and managers to do this. Those in leadership sometimes feel the need to do more or be more available. Dispense with that. Advise people at the top to set the tone by taking time for themselves and putting clear guardrails on their schedules. Once leaders do it, others will too.
4. Use a culturally-informed approach.
Time isn’t just a quantity– it has a cultural quality. If you have a diverse team and employees in different countries, build a culture of respect for country-specific and religious holidays.
This sounds easy to do but it’s often the first thing that’s overlooked when building an asynchronous organization. Calendar software sometimes has default holidays–all of which reflect US conventions. Communicate clearly about upcoming holidays, events, and country-specific days off, and then build expectations that teams in those places or people who celebrate those occasions will be offline.
5. Establish a culture of personal accountability.
In some ways, the prerequisite for asynchronous work is a team that can get its work done, no matter where it is or when it works. That requires personal accountability–meaning promise-keeping at the employee level about what work is ahead and when it will be done.
Make it a habit for employees to communicate their individual goals on a regular basis. That way, their success can be measured objectively, and not clouded by “the way things have been done.” If a team member has clarity around their goals and their managers do too, there’s less stress about what hours are applied against those goals. In other words, trust people to work–but work to build trust across the organization.
When it comes down to it, the changes over the last several years–the freedom to work where and when team members would like–comes down to trust. A team that is trusted to manage itself can adapt to other external shifts, whether worldwide pandemics, supply chain disruptions, or a colleague that moves halfway around the world.
For some companies, that trust exists already. If you’ve established agreed-upon norms around productivity, accountability, and respect for time, for instance, then an asynchronous work environment will feel second nature. If you haven’t, hopefully some of the steps above can help not just to create a schedule that enables flexibility and aids in recruiting, but one that improves the organization’s output and efficacy–and builds trust at the same time.