For remote teams, the word “collaboration” sparks mental images of gathering virtually to sketch out designs, plan projects, or brainstorm ideas. Yet a good deal of team collaboration doesn’t happen in real time. We collaborate asynchronously whenever we solicit feedback by email, edit a team Google Doc, or leave a project update on Slack.
We often talk about Whiteboards as a real-time collaboration tool, but a digital whiteboard is also the perfect hub for asynchronous collaboration. Create a tidy collection of separate whiteboards sorted by team, project, product, or other theme. Store all your documentation on the relevant boards to create a single source of truth.
Work in real time or asynchronously using our library of 100+ templates. Create, import, and manage Jira issues on the board as you work alone or with the team. All Jira updates sync automatically in Whiteboards and vice versa, keeping your asynchronous collaboration up to date as other team members weigh in on their own time.
Explore Whiteboards for free today, and read on to learn strategies for collaborating asynchronously with your team and get practical asynchronous collaboration examples.
What are the benefits of asynchronous collaboration?
Asynchronous work isn’t the answer for every process, but building smart asynchronous practices can strengthen remote teams in several ways:
- Higher quality feedback. Agile feedback loops improve when everyone has the necessary time and space to process information and gather their thoughts. Asynchronous communication also lifts up quieter voices that can get drowned out in face-to-face meetings.
- Increased productivity. Fewer meetings and less real-time messaging means more time in “deep flow” work mode. Asynchronous collaboration creates space to stay focused for long periods on writing, coding, designing, and intricate problem-solving.
- Better documentation. Documentation increases transparency and accountability, and all asynchronous communication creates a paper trail of potentially valuable information. More documented exchanges means less relying on our memory to keep the details of that lunchroom conversation straight.
- Greater flexibility and autonomy. Flexible work schedules are in high demand. Well-structured asynchronous collaboration gives remote teams access to a wider talent pool and respects the work-life balance of the current team, increasing morale and productivity.
Again, asynchronous collaboration isn’t a silver bullet. Face-to-face meetings are important, so it’s always about establishing a balance.
Essential groundwork for asynchronous team collaboration
To do async well, build a solid foundation of consistency and transparency. Follow these practices to decrease time spent in meetings or just improve your current async collaboration:
Optimize your knowledge management strategy.
Create a single, well-organized source of truth, and you’ll minimize the need for interruptive messages asking where to find such-and-such information. Our own product, Whiteboards, is an excellent option for your knowledge management hub.
Create as many separate whiteboards as you need and label them clearly. Store meeting templates and all other documentation on the appropriate board. Each whiteboard is its own infinite two-dimensional plane, so storage and organization options are endless. Enlist team members with good digital housekeeping skills to establish an intuitive system for information storage and communicate it to the team.
Questions like “Where do I find that demo about beta testing documentation for Project X?” should become obsolete. It’s on the Project X whiteboard, in the zone labeled “demos,” and it’s named “beta testing documentation” because that’s what it’s about!
Create a clear communication plan.
We can feel pressure to respond to all messages immediately, even non-urgent ones. Build new cultural norms around asynchronous communication with a written team communication plan. Document the following information clearly and keep it updated:
- Individual communication schedules. Each team member writes down their time zone, work hours, and time management strategy. For instance: “EDT, generally work 7-3, morning is my deep focus time, I check messages around 7, noon, and end of day.”
- The team’s real-time collaboration schedule. This might be the Scrum Event schedule plus any other planned meetings. Add any meetings outside the normal cadence as far in advance as possible to support individual time management needs.
- Guidelines for how to communicate what. Keep communications on as few platforms as possible. Designate one method for urgent communications – for instance, an “urgent” Slack channel where you tag relevant people when posting a message. Team members can mute all other notifications to limit distraction.
Put this information all in one place and make it easy to find, per your documentation strategy.
Use tools that support real-time and asynchronous work.
Streamline your tech stack to optimize asynchronous collaboration by using fewer and better-integrated tools. The basic scaffolding of your asynchronous collaboration can be as simple as:
- a robust Agile project management program (such as Jira)
- a communication app for group chats and private messages (think Slack)
- a visual collaboration tool with project management integration (try Whiteboards!)
Align these tools with your communication plan, documentation plan, and each other. For instance, coordinate your Slack channel names with the names of your individual whiteboards. Store all your relevant documents, presentations, videos, demos, templates, and meeting notes on Whiteboards for a comprehensive visual collaboration map.
Confront the challenges of asynchronous collaboration head-on.
There’s always some tradeoff between async and real-time collaboration. Address the likely downsides of increased asynchronous work, and find solutions proactively as a team:
- Team-building obstacles. Less face-to-face time means less sense of other team members’ presence and energy. Even for introverts, this can be a minus in the trust department. Leverage your retrospectives and real-time check-ins as team-building time. See our Guide to Remote Team-Building Activities for strategies to foster stronger team connections.
- Communication difficulties. Written communication makes great documentation, but tone can be hard to read in this context. Short, businesslike replies might feel abrupt to the emoji and exclamation point crowd. Also, some people really prefer talking to writing messages. Discuss communication styles openly to avoid hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Normalize audio messages amidst the written flow, for those who prefer speaking over writing.
- Work silos. Sometimes we’re stuck and need spontaneous collaboration to get unstuck. Over-emphasizing autonomy can make people afraid to “disturb” their team members. They may delay asking for needed help if they begin overthinking whether their problem qualifies as urgent. Consider building rotating “on-call” hours into the team communication plan. Take turns being the point of first contact for team members facing a blocker. See if the two of you can resolve the issue, or agree together to use the team’s designated urgent communication channel to get more help.
5 key strategies to leverage asynchronous collaboration
Consider these asynchronous collaboration examples to envision how your Agile team can gain flexibility and autonomy without sacrificing needed real-time collaboration:
1. Do the asynchronous parts of meetings ahead of time.
Effective asynchronous collaboration reduces meeting duration and improves meeting productivity. Start out by eliminating the parts of meetings where you’re all working separately anyway. Add the template for your upcoming meeting to the virtual whiteboard, then share a link with brief instructions about what to do before the meeting.
For instance, your meeting will use the 4 L’s Retrospective template pictured above. Team members need to bring four pieces of input: what they liked, lacked, learned, and longed for in the last Sprint. Why scramble to organize your reflections into these categories at the beginning of the meeting when you can do it ahead of time?
Besides shortening total meeting time, asynchronous meeting prep:
- gives team members time to clarify questions with the facilitator pre-meeting
- elicits more thoughtful feedback
- reduces stress for those who require more time to process
- avoids boredom for the fast processors who finished their answers in 30 seconds
- keeps the meeting energy flowing by eliminating down time
From brainstorming to project planning to retrospectives, every meeting runs better when teams show up prepared. Aim for meetings where no one’s doing work during the meeting that could just as easily have been done before (or after, for that matter).
2. Experiment with making some meetings fully asynchronous.
Time zones and conflicting work schedules often constrain real-time meeting capacity for distributed teams. Meanwhile, many employees find that excessive meetings are impeding their productivity. So which of these meetings needs to happen in real time?
Adopting async meeting prep, as discussed in the previous section, might lead you to the answer naturally. Did you end up essentially having some of your meetings before you assembled because you did the work asynchronously? If so, that meeting is probably a good candidate for asynchronous collaboration.
Discuss the blend of asynchronous and synchronous collaboration that specifically suits your team. Don’t limit your assessment to scheduled team meetings. Ad-hoc meetings can also interrupt the workflow. Pinpoint common communication redundancies and other team frustrations by having team members answer these questions:
- Which types of collaboration truly benefit from real-time interaction?
- How might we move other meetings to an asynchronous model?
- Where do you feel you’re wasting time or energy? What’s at the root of this?
- Can we optimize scheduled meetings to reduce the need for real-time communication in between? What would help with this?
Survey the team ahead of time, soliciting asynchronous feedback. Compile the input and note any recurring themes. Hold a real-time brainstorming meeting to address challenges and find solutions. Adapt the MoSCoW Prioritization template to sort your proposals: which meetings and other collaborative activities Must, Should, Could, and Won’t be asynchronous?
Answers will vary a lot depending on your team’s context and collaboration style. How long has the team worked together? How well do team members know each other? Where are they generally on the same page? Which types of decisions require more negotiation?
Experiment with asynchronous meetings and discuss how it went. If something’s missing, you can always go back!
Pro tip: For asynchronous meetings on a Whiteboards template, take advantage of the comments feature. Mention coworkers to tag them, and manage your notifications to ensure you receive updates when they’re convenient for you.
3. Let some stakeholders attend meetings asynchronously.
Not everyone needs to be at every meeting. For instance, a large-scale troubleshooting session might need all hands on deck. For smaller issues, the team might trust a few members to handle the problem.
Screen-record your Whiteboards meeting so other stakeholders can view it at their convenience. Those who weren’t present might only need to scan the meeting notes. If they’re concerned about the outcome, they can view the process that led to it. They can also comment on an item on the template and mention a coworker to communicate a specific question or concern.
Asynchronous meeting attendance can also benefit larger cross-functional teams. For instance, certain development meetings might hold relevance to the marketing team lead, but they’d generally be attending as an observer. Documenting all development meetings gives marketing visibility into the process if and when they need it.
4. Consider asynchronous daily check-ins.
For geographically distributed teams, a synchronous daily check-in can be prohibitive. And while Scrum loyalists may object, some remote teams are abandoning real-time Daily Standups in favor of asynchronous check-ins.
A good asynchronous check-in system can also support real-time check-ins. Create a Daily Standup whiteboard and add the Daily Scrum Meeting on a Timeline template. Add team member names and video streams, and expand the template if your Sprints are longer than two weeks.
Each remote team member adds their report whenever they begin their workday. They might also import a relevant Jira issue to their column to provide context. The team reads each other’s notes before the synchronous team check-in. Everyone is ready with any discussion points, keeping Daily Standups brief and focused.
Experiment with this and you may find a balance between real-time and asynchronous standups. A tight-knit, experienced team might cross-reference their work on a chart, confirm continuity and lack of blockers, and delay meeting until the following day. Meanwhile, use the comments feature to ask for minor clarifications on any issue.
Either way, your daily self-reports and comments are documented, creating a valuable reference for Sprint or project retrospectives.
5. Go asynchronous with education and status updates.
We watch videos on YouTube to learn new skills at home. Why not use a similar strategy for work? Videos let everyone digest new information at their own pace. We can pause, repeat sections, and skip around to review the content and identify any specific follow-up questions.
Replace real-time demos with recorded ones. Let’s say you’re the Jira admin and you want to implement a standard team annotation practice in Jira. Select the relevant whiteboard (or start a new one), then import or create a sample Jira issue. Show the team how to manage the issue, step by step.
Use Whiteboards’ Loom integration to screen-record your demo and narration (accompanying video of your face is optional). Embed your demo on the whiteboard for permanent reference, then cross-post to Slack or your central group communication platform. Invite team members to watch, give a thumbs up to show they understand the new process, and post any questions.
Alternatively, create a Whiteboards slideshow presentation with the Frames tool, and the team can click through at their convenience. Whatever your message to the team, don’t waste meeting time viewing demos and presentations that are better absorbed in an asynchronous setting.
This goes for team or company status updates, too. If there’s a significant announcement that requires an extensive Q&A, hold a meeting. Otherwise, execs and managers can present their messages on video and provide employees with a point person for individual follow-up questions. Basic rule of thumb: if it’s a monologue, not a dialogue, probably go asynchronous.
Whiteboards for real-time and async collaboration
To work well asynchronously, you’ll need tools for robust project management, async group discussion, visual collaboration, and strategic documentation.
Let Whiteboards support your collaborative process. Get 100+ customizable templates for all types of remote team collaboration. Create unlimited whiteboards to store your documentation. Use the infinite whiteboard plane to visually organize your files, videos, presentations, and templates.
Best of all, enjoy seamless Jira project management with Whiteboards’ native two-way integration. Import and manage existing Jira issues, or create new issues from virtual sticky notes. Edit issues in Whiteboards just as you would in Jira, and all changes sync instantly.
Whiteboards-Jira integration keeps your work synced up even when your team is working asynchronously. Try Whiteboards for free today and keep experimenting to find the asynchronous collaboration balance that drives your team’s success.