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Asynchronously means better

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By Karolina Szor

7 min read

Instead of working remote, make remote  work for you. Why we chose to work asynchronously at Osom.

Remote work is what we nowadays call “the new normal” - and we all have heard this term numerous times at this point. Rather than scoff at it though, at Osom Studio, we see it as one hell of an opportunity! We leveraged our foundational remote-first policy (we were doing it before it was cool!) and put together a system that suits us all. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Allow me to get back to the beginning. 

Two years back, what everyone was saying about work going remote was mostly how it would threaten the life-work balance - in favour of the latter. While this zombie workaholic scenario turned out to have a grain of truth in it, from the get go we saw a much brighter side to the idea of working remotely. Namely, we felt it’d strongly democratize the working environment, move plenty of boundaries, and do wonders for productivity and satisfaction. 

Yes, it is the new normal. There’s no denying that. 

But what’s most important is to make it not just the normal, but your normal. If the mainstream framework doesn’t seem to work for you, why not go against it? That’s what we did – instead of deepening the work-life imbalance, overloading ourselves with pointless meetings, we remodeled remote work to fit our needs.

Rule #1: Moving all workload directly (and unreflectively) to remote does not work

In between all the ever-so-touching successful transition stories flooding the web over the past two years, a few skeptics remain. They still manage to find enough hope to await the apparently inevitable comeback of “normality”. „Normality”, for the uninitiated, is a 9 to 5 office lifestyle.

Why don’t they want to work remotely? Unfortunately, in most cases, this can be narrowed down to an erratic and completely mishandled introduction of said system. So where does it go wrong?

1. Meeting hell

Meetings are a pain in the neck either way, but when they constantly add up to an overwhelmingly packed schedule, all hell breaks loose. And going online hasn’t done that any favours. 10 people hide behind closed cameras and mics, and sit out hours of often pointless calls, sometimes not even prompted to say a single word.

 


2. Rigid hours

Some remote-working companies still opt for a rigid 9 to 5 schedule – everyone starts and finishes at the same minute. Punch in, punch out. They then choose to selectively ignore how the faster workers, who complete their tasks before others, spend time banging their head against the desk before they finally get to log out.

 


3. Home is where your heart is work is

Remote workers never leave work. The urge to just check the inbox is often too strong and tempting, while some go even further and install notifications on their private devices. If they get a task after supposedly leaving work, more often than not they struggle to say “no”. Mutual disrespect for out-of-work time builds up to permanent stress. In Portugal, whose remote policy is five steps ahead of others – bosses can get fined for contacting a worker beyond work hours.

Asynchronous communication is the answer

Back when literally everything seemed to be heading downhill back in 2020, Chris Herd of First Base HQ shared some precious trendwatching content on his Twitter. What really caught our eyes in the thread is the dawn of coworking. While one model makes place for the other, the days of working side by side truly are coming to an end. And while this is fairly obvious in terms of being in the office, syncing work remotely barely makes sense either.

The most precious outcome of the pandemic-forced transition is the new way of measuring productivity. It’s not time spent working anymore – it’s efficiency. Results.

Asynchronous communication is about working from home without pretending you're still in the office. It is full flexibility in planning your working time and a change in the approach to everyday communication and task management.

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So how do we do it at Osom?

The main idea is to respect other people's time. The key to it is effectively utilizing the tools that we are given. Instead of organizing a tremendous number of meetings, for example, we outline the task in text form and let the new task owner respond to it when they actually have the time. 

The rule of thumb here is: ask yourself it your task really is as urgent as you initially thought. If not, send a message and just wait patiently for a reply. If they’re not extremely busy, they’ll probably reply straight away without being pressed to do so - ASAP, STAT! If, on the other hand, they are currently swamped, asynchronous communication will prevent you from interrupting them. 

You’ll appreciate this change when you land on the receiving end of this process, trust me!

How to implement this approach?

 

1. We reduce the number of meetings to a bare minimum

Whenever it’s possible, we go for messages instead of meetings. The aim is to ensure that everyone has a chance to deal with a given problem at a convenient time. 

If a meeting is the only solution, we do our best to make it as to-the-point as possible. Each video call has a specific goal, described in advance to the participants so they have time to think and come back to the meeting with a ready solution. No symphonies of “mmm’s” and “uhhh’s” while trying to figure things out while on a call – we prefer to keep it short and simple.

 

2. We put emphasis on the quality of written messages

We diversify the communication tools we use to best fit our needs in all situations. Each one has a specific purpose and rules of use, e.g. what content appears in which communication channel, and how much time there is to respond. Our communication is transparent and structured, so even newcomers are well informed about what’s going on.

 

3. We trust our team to handle their job

First of all, there are no rigid working hours – everyone decides for themselves what time they start, what time they finish, whether they need a break. Smooth and frequent communication within the team is enough to avoid chaos. When your team members know when you’ll be gone, they’ll feel much more comfortable navigating without you.

That brings us to the crucial part: at Osom, everyone organizes their workday individually. It takes a lot of responsibility but also allows for full flexibility. There is no need to respond to incoming messages immediately – we can’t imagine someone being forced to stop what they’re doing as soon as they get a notification. A plan is a plan, it's sacred.

 

4. We allow our team to concentrate

It takes the human brain as much as 20 minutes to fully focus on something! Even small distractions can knock you out of this deepwork state of mind. In your past (office) life, you probably had at least a couple of situations where someone walked up to your desk to chat about definitely-not-urgent stuff only to have you lose your focus whatsoever. The same thing happens the moment you are bombarded with the sound of messenger notifications.


At Osom, we suggest - nay, encourage! - you to turn off notifications when you need to focus. At other times, for instance when you’re out and about grocery shopping, we put up a relevant status icon. Emojis facilitate communication, too!

Wrap-up - Remote is here to stay!

It does sound somewhat cliche, but remote work is the new reality and, as far as everyone is concerned, we’re not taking a step back anytime soon. 

That’s part of the reason we find it particularly important to ensure that everyone gets the most of this model of work, maximizing its potential. When played right, working remotely can lead to more free time than ever, losing no productivity on the way.

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