Breaking free from the 9-to-5 workday: Why the future of collaboration is asynchronous

Business leaders from Auto Trader UK, Sendle and FREE NOW share how asynchronous working in Slack helps their teams work faster and more efficiently.

Author: Christine Kent 20th July 2021Illustration by Peter Thomas Ryan

Ask your friends and family what they missed the most during the pandemic, and you’ll hear, “Concerts. Hugs. Travel.” Pretty much no one says, “That really long commute.” Research bears this out: According to “The Remote Work Tech Effect,” half of the survey respondents would look for another job if they were required to work full-time from the office, without the flexibility to work remotely. Many of us were happy to be freed from long morning commutes as we worked remotely, and we aren’t in a hurry to get back to a 9-to-5 world since we’ve figured out how to stay productive, yet work flexibly.

As business leaders explained during Slack Frontiers 2021, an immersive event on the future of work, the thing they feared—that productivity would sink during the pandemic—didn’t happen. People worked when they wanted to work and didn’t need offices or conference rooms to get the job done. It turns out that the old “rules of work,” like being in the office together at the same time, are no longer relevant. As Slack users have discovered, asynchronous work is still very much work, even if communication among colleagues doesn’t happen at the same time. 

How Slack enables async work

Email has traditionally been the way we’ve worked asynchronously, and as the pandemic took hold, organisations added in video conferencing for that “in-person” feeling. But email isn’t collaborative, and we’re all suffering from “video fatigue”: In a bid to work synchronously, we’re now stuck staring at each other (and ourselves) for hours a day. We need something that bridges between email and Zoom, and isn’t tied to the 9-to-5 mindset—and that’s Slack.

Take Slack search, for example. You can find answers without waiting for people halfway around the world to wake up. Or let’s say you work in marketing but you have a question for the operations team and have no idea whom to ask. At Slack, if someone in the marketing team has a question for the operations team, it’s as easy as popping over to the #operations channel and placing a request visible to the entire department. 

Instead of scheduling a synchronous meeting to share a progress report, you can record a quick video update and share it on Slack. You’ll give back time to coworkers as well as yourself and avoid the loss of productivity caused by context-switching—that is, dealing with the interference of calls and video meetings that get in the way of your projects.

Logging conversations and decision-making in Slack increases productivity for Auto Trader UK

Enjoying a collaborative work environment is relatively easy when everyone’s working in the same manner, explains Russell Warman, head of infrastructure at Auto Trader UK. “Previously, we’d have 100% of people in the office collaborating,” Warman says. “Then we went to 100% of the office working remotely. So there was always a way that people felt included in the conversation.” 

But going forward, employees at Auto Trader UK will have the choice to work at offices or remotely, or a mix of the two. “The challenge is how do we make sure that the people working remotely feel connected and part of the conversation?” Warman says. “We don’t want to fall into a habit of having a conversation across the desk and maybe not including the person that’s working remotely.”

During the pandemic, Slack became the persistent message tool among teams, and Warman expects that usage to continue. Slack conversations can often be a precursor to a call or a meeting—but if employees can get the info they need through a Slack exchange, and skip the meeting, so much the better for their productivity.

Slack channels that are shared across Auto Trader teams, like one for infrastructure and product development, ramp up progress on projects in ways that even in-person meetings can’t. “We use a lot of shared Slack channels to really drive up collaboration, whether it’s troubleshooting pipelines that haven’t run or applications that are failing to deploy,” Warman says.

“We use a lot of shared Slack channels to really drive up collaboration, whether it’s troubleshooting pipelines that haven’t run or applications that are failing to deploy.”

Russell Warman Head of Infrastructure, Auto Trader UK

Async work helps FREE NOW work faster and more efficiently

Eckart Diepenhorst, the chief people and communications officer at Hamburg-based FREE NOW, the mobility service provider, likes the ability to read conversations in Slack on his own time.

“I look after my young children in the afternoons and can’t join decision-making conversations,” Diepenhorst says. “So people do their work in Slack in the afternoon, and then I can catch up in the evening. Slack enables conversations that don’t happen at the same time, which will help people to have their productive time at all different times of the day.”

Diepenhorst and his colleagues also use Slack to share materials for study and analysis before they move on to meetings. “In my case, I might have to read in the evenings,” he says. “Then we meet only to discuss questions and come to a conclusion. So working asynchronously has made us faster and more efficient.”

“Slack enables conversations that don’t happen at the same time, which will help people to have their productive time at all different times of the day.”

Eckart DiepenhorstChief People and Communications Officer, FREE NOW

Creating a united team with Slack

Video meetings or phone calls at 6 a.m. or 10 p.m. are challenging, but they’ve been a fact of life for organisations spread across several time zones. For Sendle, Australia’s first 100% carbon-neutral parcel delivery service, Slack and asynchronous work have largely eliminated the need for meetings at odd hours.

“Slack is used wall-to-wall at Sendle, which means everyone uses Slack channels,” says Nicole Olver, Sendle’s chief people officer. “We use Slack to collaborate within and across teams, develop new products, provide network and customer support, share company-wide communications, onboard new team members and collaborate with industry partners in a secure environment.”

Teams at Sendle treat Slack as a searchable living archive of relevant messages, files, channels and people across the company. 

“If an employee leaves, you’re still able to look back over the information or data they might’ve shared and use that,” says Eva Ross, Sendle’s chief marketing and customer officer. “That’s very different to the world we used to be in.” 

At Octopus Energy in the United Kingdom, Slack has been part of the async culture since the early days of remote work—and will continue to be post-pandemic, says CEO and co-founder Greg Jackson. Slack will also help keep the company productive as Octopus Energy offers flexible work options to employees.

“A flexible working environment provides incredible opportunities—some will live that digital nomad lifestyle, and some will want face-to-face time with their colleagues,” Jackson says. “Work is such an important part of people’s lives, and as a business, we have a responsibility to make it a better experience. It also happens that when we do, we get better business results.” #


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