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Why #asyncfirst Matters – Reflections on a Global Swing

Have you ever seen the #asyncfirst (async-first) badge on the profiles of LinkedIn or AngelList users? Want to know what’s behind it? Let’s find out. 

Honestly, who isn’t totally amazed at how quickly and smoothly the whole world was able to switch to remote work in just a few months? If someone had told the actual scenario beforehand, it wouldn’t have been believable. So, while millions of companies around the world are moving to remote-first mode, let’s take a look at the next wave to come, “#asyncfirst”. 

Of course, the step towards a remote world only really makes sense if you also consistently continue in the direction of async. The masterminds of the digital revolution, the CEOs from Silicon Valley and the big web startups, know this.

So we watch as Ryan Hoover, the charismatic founder of Product Hunt, consistently pushes for an async movement on Twitter, as many others do too; for example, in this tweet on the article “Asynchronous” Working in 2021, where the author describes the necessity to go async.

#asyncfirst video conferencing

{You can find Sahil’s tweet here}

One of the movement’s early advocates is Doist.com CEO Amir Salihefendic. He has been giving talks for years about the need to move to an asynchronous work culture. Here we see him in 2018 giving a talk explaining why “synchronous communication is venom for remote teams”.

The movement is also represented in websites such as weareasync.com that are explicitly driving the agenda. Of course, there is a clear commercial interest among the players. However, this is more an indicator of the importance of the movement. There is obviously a real need, as customers pay for the services of the many companies behind it. The upcoming #asyncfirst work culture has profound implications for people’s lifestyles and society as a whole.

An #asyncfirst Culture Has Deep Social Implications

First, I would like to talk about the microcosm, about the changes in the personal lives of workers, which then have repercussions on companies as well as on society.

Personal Freedoms

#asyncfirst video conferences

Let’s take a look back at the puritanic past of the United States or the heritage of Catholic Europe and the many regions that were under its influence. We see that the pursuit of a fulfilled and happy life was rather frowned upon. Life had to be hard and laborious. Ora et labora was the predominant motto, not only of St. Benedict but somehow of Christianity in its entirety. Pray and work and think of no other happiness than the hereafter.

Accordingly, the Western world comes from a tradition where the modern attributes of a self-determined life were suspect. My parents and grandparents talked about “regulated working hours” as the only acceptable way to live a decent life. Whoever did not submit to an employer’s regulations of working hours had a difficult life in the 20th century. Although this mentality is still widespread, the wind is gradually changing now. 

Advanced team leaders understand that a team with higher remote readiness is much easier to manage and works much more cost-efficiently. 

Modern team members, on the other hand, understand they have a much better life when they nano-balance their life and work. With the freedom to decide when to work and when to take care of their family or personal interests, they now have the freedom to live their lives beautifully. They can enjoy a much richer life experience than only working and praying.

Insertion: Invitation to Diverse People

I know that I am taking a very Western perspective here, as I’m from Germany. But I would like to explicitly invite people from all cultures and orientations to participate in this thought process. I would like to learn from which work tradition people from all over the world are coming. What is your experience? How were you and your parents raised? Do you also feel that something is changing in this area right now? Let’s exchange and enrich each other’s perspectives.

Freeing Up Your Calendar: Nano-Balancing Work and Life

#asyncfirst video conferencing

At the heart of the #asyncfirst movement are workers’ calendars. With remote work through COVID, the impression was that workers now have more possibilities of self-determination. But if you look at their calendars, they are still crammed with mandatory appointments – synchronous video meetings. 

In a way, this increases stress for people. Before COVID, they would go to the office, and everyone in the family knew that you couldn’t just interrupt there. Workers had their private lives locked out by this separation, and they could focus on their work undisturbed. But now they sit at home and have to somehow reconcile their work and private lives in much finer rhythms.

In this situation, professional live meetings take priority and dominate the schedule. Everything else has to be meticulously built around them. This seems like an unsolvable problem today. However, players in the #asyncfirst culture now offer asynchronous meeting tools, as we do. But not many workers know about these options yet. Many of the tools are young and still in beta.

The target object of the #asyncfirst movement is the worker’s calendar. This must be free of constraints. Workers should regulate their working day in a self-determined way, finding the ideal balance of a fulfilling private life and a maximally efficient working life. No team leader can do this for them.

Here, a primal capitalist principle is at work – that of supply and demand. Market players are best able to regulate prices themselves. This self-regulating mechanism can also be applied to the working hours of employees and freelancers. They know best themselves when they work deeply and generate value that their contract partners on the demand side need.

New Lifestyles Emerge With the #asyncfirst Culture

#asyncfirst video conferences

The so-called digital nomads, the Bali hippies who enjoy their mango shake on the beach with their laptops, were somehow pioneers. They were the projection foil for the fantasies of millions of workers who secretly told themselves, “I want that too!” The Bali hippies perhaps made a completely underestimated contribution to workers accepting the switch from office to remote. 

Since the image of these hippies was exploited for advertising purposes, we can hardly bear it today. It seems flat and cheap. Nevertheless, an #asyncfirst work culture allows people to define their own lifestyles. They don’t all have to sit on the beach in Bali. Especially as that’s starting to annoy the Balinese, and they are now starting to kick out some of these hippie influencers.

How much time have people lost driving to work every day? In the life balance sheets of the 20th century, it was years for many people. Every day, two hours – it all adds up. But all this time is freed up for other things in a remote world. In an #asyncfirst culture, the worker can freely allocate these novel blocks of time. Some people learn a craft, study, play sports, cook, read, or finally spend more time with their children.

Now they can live in cheaper, yet nicer neighbourhoods. This has a positive effect not only on people’s happiness but also on rents in the cities. And it creates a healthy village culture in the countryside because the trend of hyper urbanization is mitigated as people return to village life. 

Or they can develop nomadic lifestyles – travel, discover new cities, countries, friends and partners. Life becomes more permeable, less restricted. People’s experiences become richer; they are more inspired. They meet more interesting people, speak new languages and move to more beautiful places. Perhaps they are less depressed, less burnt out.

We won’t see some of those effects immediately, as the current COVID restrictions are holding them back. But when these things happen on a wider scale and an #asyncfirst culture takes effect, it will have repercussions for societies.

A Family-Centric Lifestyle Is All of a Sudden Possible

#asyncfirst video conferencing

In the 20th century, an endless culture war raged over the role of women, which is still not over today. One reason, of course, is that a working culture with forced presence has a direct impact on the lives of families. One of the two parents has to look after the children. We all know who was forced to stay at home in most cases. 

Suddenly, many modern families have additional options. An #asyncfirst culture helps to resolve this smouldering conflict because both can take care of the children. They have sovereignty over their scheduling. 

Today, a true family-centred life is possible. Children are growing up under very different conditions than they did just a few years ago, with much more contact and bonding with their parents. When Generation Alpha is grown up, 20th-century office conditions will seem as alien to them as 19th-century mine work. Unimaginable, outside their world of experience. 

What effects will a family-centred lifestyle have on social ties between parents and children? 

We don’t know, but we do know that an #asyncfirst culture increases the number of options for many people. And that is desirable, as Heinz von Foerster stated in his ethical imperative: “Act always so as to increase the number of choices.” This is exactly what is promoted by an #asyncfirst culture, the freedom of choice for millions of people or more.

Rural Dwelling or the Lure of the Beach

#asyncfirst video conferencing

If I take a look at rent prices in the big cities, I wonder why people go along with it. Why do they pay these exorbitant prices? At the same time, they put themselves in danger of getting lung cancer from particulate matter. 

Well, the answer is complex. A part of it is that the more interesting jobs are in the city. So there is a kind of knotting effect in cities. Because the more interesting jobs are there, young, well-educated people move there, and because they can be found there, companies locate there. Among other effects, this spiral leads to exorbitant rents. 

COVID’s remote cut will likely have a mitigating effect, as we see today in Manhattan’s dropping rents from December 2020. When the #asyncfirst wave arrives, it will ease even further. People will be able to choose where they live. What does that mean for small towns, for rural settlements, and for the big cities? Will we now see a trend to de-urbanization?

Of course, this, in turn, has implications for the political debate. Where do the subsidies for house construction go? On the side of the environmental parties, there are efforts to promote dense housing. They aim to avoid the destruction of landscapes by roads and climate pollution through oversized housing. How will these two opposing trends collide? 

We don’t know. But we do know that it is good to increase the freedom of choice.

The Effects of an #asyncfirst Culture on Companies

Have you ever done the simple math of what a one-hour meeting of 10 employees with an hourly rate of $100 costs? Well, that’s simple, it costs $1000 – every time! If your employees now do 3 such meetings a day, 5 times a week, that adds up to a handsome $765,000 per year. Can you perhaps save some of this money or use it more effectively?

Meetings are tiring in many cases, which is why the infamous zoom fatigue has spread in remote teams. It’s the new pandemic within the pandemic. In an #asyncfirst culture, employees need to find more efficient ways than sitting in meetings all the time. If you give them freedom, they will find those ways.

Wanna Have a Top Performing Team? Go #asyncfirst Now!

Freelancers and coworkers in #asyncfirst companies are growing in their remote readiness. They are empowered to manage their time freely, perform independently, and always have the company’s best interests at heart. 

This is every company’s dream, you may say. Unrealistic? Yes, it is, except for those companies that have understood that this is the new trend. And that this is exactly what many of the best workers want today. After all, anyone who is smart doesn’t want to be locked up in office detention or constantly sitting through forced appointments. Those who are smart will increase their remote readiness and become top async contributors to your company. 

So what does this mean for companies that are early adopters of the #asyncfirst culture? Well, they get the smartest and most independent, self-responsible workers. These companies will thrive because they have the savviest team members who also cost them the least because of the higher efficiency of asynchronous work.

GenZ no longer identifies with the old-fashioned sync mindset. Read the article “I’m not fit to be an employee”. Angelique Slob, CEO of hellomondayclub.com, gives a clear warning: Beware of the talent drain if you don’t join the movement now!

Global Staffing for #asyncfirst Companies

Now when companies focus on #asyncfirst in their recruiting, they are abandoning the old mindset of constant control. Team leaders don’t have to walk around behind workers’ backs to observe exactly what they’re doing. 

Rather, the recruiting process has produced excellent and trustworthy candidates. There is, of course, an important question about how recruiting works in an #asyncfirst company. It’s done consistently asynchronously and remotely. A candidate’s digital savviness is the first important filter. In the second cycle of recruiting, only candidates who can move confidently through modern async tools get through.

We do this consistently with our contributors. All applications are discussed with the candidates asynchronously in Flowers. Since the tool is still new, each candidate has to learn it anew. Anyone who can’t do that is not a candidate for us from the start. 

When a capable candidate logs in, we simply forward them to the appropriate team. In the asynchronous dialogue, self-responsibility, responsiveness and skill set quickly become apparent. Smart candidates know how to behave in a new tool.

Innovation Triggered by an #asyncfirst Culture

But we are also seeing much-needed innovation trigger effects from an #asyncfirst culture. We all know that innovation is racing. This means that technical conditions are constantly changing. 

I would go so far as to say that the entire COVID response was only possible because the technical conditions for remote work were in place. This response has even accelerated the pace of global change. Everything has changed in just a few months. 

This constant acceleration of the environment poses an existential threat to companies that are not fast enough. This is exactly why they should switch to #asyncfirst if possible. 

More and more important knowledge is located in heads outside the company. We call this “distributed knowledge”, and the degree of distribution is constantly growing because of the rapid pace of change. Companies that can relocate this knowledge the fastest and cheapest at the moment of need will thrive. Those are the #asyncfirst companies.

We experience this with the virtual advisory boards in our company. When we have an acute need for knowledge, we bring experts from outside into our Flowers. These experts inject their knowledge selectively and are paid for it at an hourly rate. We can pay relatively high hourly rates because the injection is sometimes completed in a few minutes because of the efficiency of asynchronous meetings. 

It does not matter where the experts live or are located. They do not need to attend any lengthy kick-off meetings and do not need a briefing. They get an invitation to participate in a Flower. They analyze the context of the Flower and contribute with short and concise statements. Case closed. Payment happens.

This way, KOLs, customers and stakeholders of all kinds can be integrated into the production process easily and with minimal costs. Time-consuming scheduling is no longer necessary. Compare that to the cumbersome processes of an office-first culture. #asyncfirst companies will win the race in the long run.

Dematerialization of #asyncfirst Companies: Purpose First

The #asyncfirst trend promotes a second hidden trend, the dematerialization of companies. Indicators of this process are not only the falling rents in Manhattan. Rather, we are looking at one of the most successful projects of the internet, Wikipedia, a pioneer of this trend. 

The internet encyclopedia is highly dematerialized, with millions of editors working voluntarily from home. Through post-COVID remote work, more companies will dematerialize. Why rent expensive offices when you can do even better without those costs? Big companies such as Zapier, GitHub and Automattic have been remote-only for years already. 

Many knowledge workers’ understanding of their roles will also change. They are learning that the best way to live a comfortable life is to be able to process complex problems. They offer this ability gig by gig, following their individual interests and delving into topics that appeal to them. 

They become high-quality and as-unique-as-possible data processors on a functional level. Harari describes this function in his understanding of dataism, where the node with the most unique processing results is the most valuable. 

The traditional understanding of patriarchal companies is changing. Formerly, most companies were in a lifelong relationship with gigantic hordes of subordinate workers. This is now changing in areas that are characterized by cognitive work. To attract high-value workers, companies must either pay high hourly wages or serve a higher purpose, as Wikipedia has already exemplified. 

Both become possible in #asyncfirst organizations. Because they have lower basic costs, they can more easily turn to higher purposes that were previously impossible to fund. But they can also pay higher hourly wages because of the extraordinary efficiency and effectiveness of the #asyncfirst culture. We will see all kinds of hybrids of those types of organizations emerge.

Implications of an #asyncfirst Society

The COVID shock has brought a change of times. Although our lives have changed tremendously, we do not even see yet the long-term effects of this event. But one thing is clear, the megatrend to desynchronize work will intensify. 

Of course, this trend has its roots far in the past. While Ford’s assembly lines and the shifts of industrial companies were characterized by total synchronicity, sometime in the ’90s a new kind of communication tool kicked in: email. In the 2010s, professional messengers such as Slack and Discord came into play. And now there is a whole async industry with companies such as GitLab, Zapier, Buffer, Doist, Miro, and many more. 

Society as a whole is learning to break free from the constraints of synchronous work – individual lifestyles are gradually becoming possible. 

What influence does this have on the production of uniform, scaled industrial products? How do eating habits change when a relevant set of people use their time for cooking instead of commuting? How do related industries change? How does public health change? How does the medical system change in light of this? 

We don’t know, but we do know that much of this will change. Now is the time to shape it. These massive shifts are attractive opportunities for young, dynamic companies. GenZ and GenAlpha have a world of  opportunities ahead of them. And guess whether that world will be office-first or #asyncfirst?

The Gross Happiness Product in #asyncfirst Societies

The small nation of Bhutan has introduced Gross National Happiness to assess legislative initiatives – they value how happy their population is. 

Some Western politicians have been amused by this because they naturally assume that happiness depends only on gross domestic product. This simple assumption is questionable if one follows the research of economist Simon Kuznets, who has found that people’s happiness decouples from income above a certain level. People become unhappier with too much money.

Now, the question is whether Gross National Happiness is growing in societies with an upcoming #asyncfirst culture due to the effects described above. What do you think?

Time-Bound Jobs

An important question is how the lives of people whose jobs function exclusively in a time-bound manner will evolve. Surgeons, nurses, police officers, cashiers… 

The answer is difficult. Will the understanding of work in the future continue to be that people learn a single profession and then practice it for the rest of their lives? Or will increased flexibility help to change the bus driver’s life whose spine was subjected to constant vibrations for 40 years. 

I don’t know, but I do know that it’s good for people to have more choices. 

The bus driver can supplement his skill set after a few years of driving and do another job. When we see how autonomous driving is developing, it could be recommended anyway. Autonomous technologies will take over many jobs. We have to be prepared that growing productivity, in combination with artificial intelligence, will eliminate huge areas of work. 

Human work will shift further and further into the realm of cognitive design services. Only humans can formulate what they like, what interests them, and what they want. 

I also sense that a nebulous and frightening area is opening up here. But there are so many options to shape this area positively for the benefit of all. I know for sure that an #asyncfirst culture is a very good step in that direction.

Mitigating Effects on Climate Change

Although the #asyncfirst culture requires a lot of computing capacity on the internet, I believe it will have a significantly positive eco-balance. Less commuting, fewer flights, higher efficiency in all processes, even less live streaming of meetings. Of course, there will also be rebound effects, but the overall balance will be positive. I believe that the #asyncfirst culture is coming at just the right time to help improve the eco-balance of work. 

As the German poet Hölderin said beautifully, “Where the danger grows, so does the saving.”

The Innovation Society: The Jack-in-the-Box of Knowledge Acceleration

Now, I’ve hinted above at how much more innovative companies are that implement an asynchronous culture. They can relocate distributed knowledge more easily and at a lower cost. They can more easily integrate diverse knowledge holders into their innovation process. All the people who work in such companies learn asynchronous knowledge-creation techniques.

These skills do not remain in the companies concerned; they become the general cultural technique of society. The jack-in-the-box of knowledge acceleration jumps out of its box for everyone. 

I expect the function of social media to shift further in the direction of a public knowledge generator. Today, we often experience social media as hate reactors. Political camps fight each other, and conspiracy theories run rampant. But I see the potential for a new social media, where the aim is to accelerate knowledge-building processes. Asynchronous working techniques form the basis for this. 

How will this affect our political decision making? Will we make smarter political decisions in a more innovative society? I don’t know for sure, but the option gives us orientation today. Let’s try to make it come true with better asynchronous products.

Conclusions for an #asyncfirst World

This brief outline of my view of a possible #asyncfirst culture helps my partners and me navigate the turmoil of our times. Why do we do what we do? Why do we make asynchronous products such as timz.flowers or offer services such as hellomondayclub.com or editacuja.com.br in Brazil? Because we believe in the power and duty of humanity to actively shape the future. 

We recognize this positive trend, and we have been working hard on our products for many years to make the world a little bit better. First of all, in the world of work, but I am convinced that this will also affect other areas. 

That’s why we want to introduce and maintain the #asyncfirst hashtag and invite everyone to join in. 

Here you can find a flower garden on the topic:

{Flower about “Antifragility” in the #asyncfirst garden in timz.flowers. Here you can access the garden}

List of Key Advocates of the #asyncfirst Movement

Here’s a list of key advocates of the #asyncfirst movement: 

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