Since COVID shocked us into working remotely, more and more people have come to understand that remote work alone is not the solution. Instead, we need to give people the freedom to decide when they work so they can freely regulate their work-life balance and thus increase their efficiency. And here async video meetings are key.
Slack has proven to be a very effective tool in this async wave, despite initial criticism from users who didn’t know how to mute notifications. Early critics also did not understand that you have to limit asynchronous communication to the essentials. Spam and noise block the work process, but this is a long-established culture in Slack teams.
So the asynchronous work culture continues to evolve. However, the many synchronous video meetings that are still taking place are tearing huge holes in people’s deep work and work-life balance. How can this be prevented? In this article, we examine the possibility of integrating asynchronous video conferencing into the Slack workflow.
How do Async Video Meetings for Slack work?
Integrating the timz-bot into the Slack workflow is as easy as can be. The admin of the channel goes to the Slack marketplace, searches for “timz” and adds the timz-bot to their Workplace.
Then they create a garden in the timz app and link it to their Slack workplace. It probably makes sense to give the workplace and garden the same name.
Next, team members can start creating flowers. With the simple command “create flower” each team member can record a short statement in any channel. The timz-bot will then send a notification to the channel that a new flower has been created.
Any team member can view and respond to the statement after they’ve signed up at timz.flowers. The notification for this response will be posted in the flower notification subthread.
timz.flowers can map complex group conversations, possibly even better than in synchronous video calls, where you only have a linear stream available and not branching like a timz flower.
With this simple trick, the team can suddenly switch to 100% async-only. The huge synchronous gaps in their calendars disappear. They can go fully into deep work mode and regain control of their work-life balance.
Of course, there will always be topics where a synchronous video conference makes sense. But we’ll soon see teams that are 99% asynchronous.
What Are the Use Cases for Async Video Meetings in Slack?
Most topics that can be discussed in a live meeting can also be discussed in an asynchronous video meeting. Some even better. For example, topics where it is better to think carefully before speaking are easier to discuss in asynchronous meetings. High-conflict mediations, for example. But, of course, also anything that requires research because you can easily integrate external knowledge into asynchronous video conferences.
Daily Standups as Async Video Meetings
We have now switched our daily standups to async because we have a very spread-out team. Some of the developers are based in South America and the Middle East, while our product owner, Katya, commutes between Berlin, Greece, and Indonesia. For all sides, it is very exhausting to be in live calls at the same time. That’s why we switched to asynchronous video conferencing.
Editor: Katya, why do you do daily standups?
Katya: First of all, we noticed that close contact with developers is very important to avoid accidental idle time when, for example, dependencies and blockers are there but not communicated. So you really need daily standups. We even did 2 standups per day because of that. This was also because part of the team is in South America and starts 8 hours after the team in the Middle East. For me, personally, that was very exhausting. My work-life balance was on the rocks.
Editor: How do you solve that now?
Katya: After building a tool for asynchronous video conferencing, we now do it asynchronously, of course.
Editor: What does that change?
Katya: You have to look at it on different levels. For example, I can just do my yoga again in the morning, which I couldn’t do for long periods because we were constantly having video calls at the most impossible times. It was really too much for me. On a personal level, it has a massive relaxation effect.
Editor: And on a professional level?
Katya: We had to change a few behaviours, of course, but then it works very well. I make my initial invitation video the night before. That means when the Asian team get up in the morning, they have already found the invitation. I address very specific topics: What about the Slack bot? How far along are you with the Miro integration? Any blockages?
Editor: And then what happens?
Katya: When I get up, the answers are already there. I test the app, then if I find things that the guys missed, I send a cures video. They answer from their perspectives, and the day runs totally efficiently because we don’t have a common call at all. The best thing is, when the South Americans get going, they immediately have documentation of what happened during the day. If they have questions, either I or whoever is still awake can respond.
Editor: How do the developers in South America find their way through the many statements?
Katya: Our whole system is designed for that. We assign labels. So, for example, if there is an urgent blocker, it will be named that way. You can also forward individual statements. So important statements are easy to identify.
Feature Grooming 2.0 as Async Video Meetings
Feature groomings are also very good in asynchronous video meetings. The product owner makes a small Miro drawing of a complex feature they want to implement based on a customer request. Then they make a screen recording where they comment on the drawing and zoom in to the important sections; they explain the features to the team.
Now, the different specialists react with their know-how. A lively but asynchronous video discussion develops. It’s easy to also invite the users who have requested the feature to get their opinion before the feature is implemented.
Strategic Brainstorming as Async Video Meetings
Asynchronous video meetings are also useful for strategic brainstorming sessions where partners come together who have never met in person. Since they see each other in videos, a feeling of closeness and familiarity is created.
This is a special effect of asynchronous video conferences—formerly anonymous teams suddenly unite to form a community of interest.
Virtual Advisory Boards as Async Video Meetings
In our increasingly complex world, we need knowledge and expertise to make good decisions. However, this expertise is usually not fully represented in the team. So we very often need external consultants.
With asynchronous video meetings, they can be integrated in a very cost-efficient way because they can respond to very specific problems. They don’t have to sit in meetings that last for hours. Sometimes, it’s enough to ask them about a single statement.
Still, the personal touch is not lost—the whole range of facial and vocal expressions is available, as in a normal video meeting.
What Are the Advantages of Async Video Meetings in Slack?
Anyone who wants to work consistently async will currently still find huge blocks of synchronous video calls in their calendar, which, after all, can now be made via Slack. If they abandon these calls, they run the risk of losing that personal connection. Text messages are not enough to build a personal bond. Anonymity results, and the team spirit is lost. For async-first teams, it is particularly important that they simply see each other in person from time to time. With asynchronous video conferences, this spirit is there immediately.
Spoken Messages Are Better for Some Areas of Complexity
Our evolution has trained us over millions of years to decipher spoken information and moving faces. Some messages can be expressed faster in a short video than in a text. For other levels of complexity, text is better. Complex doctoral theses are certainly very good in text form. So are short messages. In between, however, there is a range of complexity that can be transmitted more quickly as a spoken and recorded message.
Flower Threads Are Very Effective
When a conversation splits into subthreads, the Slack system quickly reaches its limits. There is only one subthread level, so the conversation cannot branch out.
In contrast, timz’s flower paradigm allows for two-dimensional branching. This structure is much closer to the neural structure of the human brain than the linear list structures of most text-based messenger apps. It is much easier to project complexity onto the structure of a timz flower than into the linear course of a text thread.
Asynchronous video conferencing, as provided by timz.flowers, is the missing link for an async-first workflow. Users can eliminate the huge blocks that were reserved for synchronous live calls and around which they had to build their daily schedules.
But asynchronous video conferencing also has its own specific advantages. Async meetings are more than a mere replacement for synchronous meetings. They serve as a repository of information, a data centre, and a link between disparate systems. For example, timz.flowers can be used to connect Slack to Miro via timz. This creates a very smooth stack.