Asynchronous work: 3 strategies to make it more effective

Post-pandemic, employers increasingly offer work location flexibility as an attraction and retention tool, which, experts say, can also help expand the talent pool’s diversity. However, such flexibility also presents a challenge for HR leaders, who are now tasked with helping all employees prosper in a distributed work environment where colleagues are spread across multiple time zones and locations.

- Advertisement -

Collaboration software provider Atlassian,  for example, has long relied on a distributed workforce, allowing employees to work from home, in one of its 12 global offices, at a mix of both or from a location that is neither their home nor the office. Remote work, hybrid work and workplace flexibility are all potential dimensions of distributed work—the umbrella term for employers allowing employees to work away from a central location—and each has distinct considerations for employee experience and workforce productivity.

Perhaps surprisingly, 65% of U.S. employers today have a diversified work environment, up 14 percentage points from a year ago, according to the Q1 2024 Flex Report by Scoop Technologies, a hybrid work planning tools provider. That would include:

  • Remote work, when employees complete their tasks away from a central office, typically at home, a co-working space or a coffee shop;
  • Hybrid work, when employees share time between working remotely and at a central office, based on an employer’s requirements; and
  • Flexible work, which refers to employees’ preferred work location, schedule and hours.

All three often lead to asynchronous work, when employees work independently of one another across time zones and hours of the day.

Based in Australia, Atlassian has had dispersed workers for nearly 20 years since opening its first U.S. headquarters in 2005. It now operates in 13 countries with over 11,000 employees, says Avani Prabhakar, who oversees global talent for the company.

Avani Prabhakar
Avani Prabhakar, Atlassian

Prabhakar says that before the pandemic, approximately 8%-10% of Atlassian employees were distributed. To bolster that experience and continue offering the flexibility employees became used to during the pandemic, in 2021, Atlassian launched its Team Anywhere concept, allowing all employees to choose the location where they want to work.

- Advertisement -

Atlassian’s distributed environment largely finds employees collaborating online versus working side-by-side with each other every day.

Today, more than 40% of Atlassian’s employees are designated as remote workers, who live two or more hours away from an Atlassian office, Prabhakar explains. In 2020, 14% of the company’s new hires were remote workers; last year, that figure rose to 54% in 2023.

Despite that, more than 80% of Atlassian’s total workforce visits a company office at least once a quarter for team connection, company belonging or to collaborate on projects.

“We always believed that the future of work is going to be distributed, with or without the pandemic,” says Prabhakar. “The pandemic just accelerated that path for us.”

Atlassian’s Team Anywhere design is driven by a desire to offer employees more work flexibility, increase its diverse talent pool and innovate with the collaboration products that Atlassian develops, Prabhakar says. Since the company isn’t focused on where work gets done, she adds, it allows a deeper focus on how work gets done—with teams tracking prioritized projects, key results and quarterly learnings—highlighting the need for an effective asynchronous work strategy.

3 HR strategies for asynchronous success

To support a distributed workforce, HR leaders need to ensure managers are providing equitable experiences for employees, regardless of where they are located, Prabhakar says. To achieve this, Atlassian uses guidelines for asynchronous work. Drawing on these, and the company’s long history with a distributed workforce, Prabhakar offers fellow HR leaders these suggestions to drive success with a distributed workforce.

Consider collaboration time before hiring

HR leaders should develop hiring guidelines for each team that include how much collaboration time is needed in a given workday, including how many time zones can be crossed to allow for that collaboration, Prabhakar says. Atlassian, for example, allows for up to four hours of collaboration time during a work day. As a result, its guidelines call for team members to be co-located across no more than two time zones, she says.

For example, hiring a team member in New York and one in Sydney, Australia, would not work because there is no overlap in their workday, Prabhakar says.

“You have to be very intentional about how your teams are organized. You have to think about this and drive it right from the start of the employee lifecycle,” she says. “It takes some muscle to build.”

Default to online presence

HR also needs to provide meeting guidelines to ensure a level playing field for remote and on-site workers, Prabhakar says.

Record videos from your screen for asynchronous work

Rather than schedule a meeting where team members gather to see a slide deck and presentation, employees can record a video of their presentation using such tools as Snagit, Zight or Atlassian’s Loom. This allows team members to watch at their convenience rather than at a set time.

HR leaders can also suggest to managers they use such video recording software as a continuous communication tool with their employees, Prabhakar says, noting it offers more benefits than just allowing managers to share information with the workforce.

“It’s been a crucial tool for our people managers,” Prabhakar says. “[It’s] driving much higher improvements in manager connection and recognition than written updates.”

Employees who receive such video recordings from their managers are twice as likely to feel connected to their supervisors as those who don’t, she says, pointing to research on Loom from Atlassian’s Team Anywhere Labs.

To make distributed work a success, Atlassian took the three tenets of work—what employees are working on, how they are working and where they are working—and narrowed it to two, Prabhakar says.

“We removed the third component of where you work because it’s less important,” she says. “We are putting more emphasis on how work gets done because that’s where the magic lies in all of this.”

Learn more about helping managers build an effective distributed workforce during Build A Connected Culture in the Age of Distance and Distraction at HRE’s Elevate People, Ignite Change conference, April 24-26 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

Dawn Kawamoto, Human Resource Executive
Dawn Kawamoto
Dawn Kawamoto is HR Editor of Human Resource Executive. She is an award-winning journalist who has covered technology business news for such publications as CNET and has covered the HR and careers industry for such organizations as Dice and Built In prior to joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected] and below on social media.