Remote can be synchronous, too!

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When speaking with different people about their reasons for moving back to office-work or about their concerns about remote work, it often boils down to that they do not believe, that asynchronous works.

Interestingly, another group of people appears to be unhappy, that they work remotely but are not asynchronous enough.

How does this fit together?

Co-located can be asynchronous, too!

There appears to be a misconception about in-office work. People who work simultaneously in the same place work synchronous, right? Wrong!

There are countless reasons why co-located people can still work asynchronously. Being it different meeting-schedules or the simple fact that they sit next to each other, coding down requirements alone everyone on their branch, not talking besides in their lunch break. I call this asynchronous.

Even though, it might seem easier to work synchronously in a co-located team, it does not happen automatically. It is just easier to miss the fact, that these teams work asynchronously because they look synchron.

Asynchronous as the default?

Without effort, work often happens asynchronous. This is even more true in remote teams, especially when you throw time-zone-differences into the equation. There is just no reasonable way to work synchronously if one team member is sitting in India and another one in Hawaii. At least not long-term.

Thus, it is important to decide, how you want to work as a team. Do you like working asynchronously? Are you really productive, when doing so? Would you miss the synchronicity?

How does “synchron” look?

For me, synchron means, to work on the same thing at the same time. This can be done by team- or pair-programming, or by even collaboratively editing the same code-base simultaneously while constantly exchanging thoughts and information.

This can be done in co-located teams, but sometimes even better in remote-teams, as everybody has their setup and all sit at the same distance to each other.

Thus, I would argue that remote work can be even more synchron than co-located work, if you want it.

How do you want to work?

Synchron or asynchron is not a matter of co-located or remote, it is more a matter of how you like to work.

I cherish a synchron working style. I feel my team is much better aligned, and I feel a higher degree of belonging, when closely collaborating. The same is true for other members of the team. Thus, we put significant effort into working together. Be it by adding blockers to our calendar for collaboration, or just by not moving to Mexico and thus have more time-overlap with a Europe-based team.

In reality, we have a mix between synchronous and asynchronous work in our remote-team.

There will always be a mix

I believe that not all work needs to happen synchronously, as it is more important to allow people some flexibility in their working schedule. Some start early, some start late, others might need to take some time during the day for personal errands. Thus, there will always be asynchronous work to some degree. And that is okay.

Furthermore, synchronous work can be more exhausting than asynchronous work. Constantly communicating is exhausting. Thus, I also enjoy some quite-time where I can just work on something alone without constantly expressing my intent or listening to ideas.

It is essential, that people know, how they like to work and set borders, that are healthy for them. Ideally, people in a team share similar preferences regarding their working-mode, as this can be a considerable point of tension, if team members are on the opposite sites of the spectrum.

Summary

The debate about asynchronous or synchronous work has nothing to do with where people work. Just co-locating a team that works asynchronous would not synchronise the team members. Distributing a team that enjoys working synchronous will likely not make it asynchronous.

How are you working in your team? What is the ratio between synchronous and asynchronous work? Let me know here in the comments or via LinkedIn or Twitter.


This blog post is based on my own opinion and experience. It is inspired by what worked for me and my team in our context. I recognize, that your context is different.
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