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Buildkite 2021 Predictions: Why Asynchronous Operations Will Be the Foundation of the New Future of Work

vmblog 2021 prediction series 

Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2021.  Read them in this 13th annual VMblog.com series exclusive.

Why Asynchronous Operations Will Be the Foundation of the New Future of Work

By Keith Pitt, CTO of Buildkite

For the past few decades, digital transformation has been a major catalyst for innovation and a competitive differentiator for early adopters. But when the pandemic forced companies to transform overnight, many found that their workplace systems and processes were not prepared to support a fully-digital and remote workforce.

Now that it's clear that society is never going "back to normal," many employers are making permanent shifts in their policies to fit the new world of work and the evolving role of "employee." But these policy changes will also require a significant shift in how companies operate and how individuals and teams work together.

Making distributed teams work requires a foundation of asynchronous communication, or processes and platforms that enable people to communicate and connect across global time zones. This style of working not only improves team collaboration, but fosters community, reinforces trust, and helps avoid employee burnout. Asynchronous operations will be a pillar of the "new" future of work.

My company, Buildkite, is made up of 26 "Bikkies" spread across six time zones and we've been operating asynchronously since our inception in 2013. Here are a few reasons why I think this style of working will be on the rise in 2021 and beyond:

Helping distributed workforces collaborate

When it comes to managing distributed workforces, many businesses were forced into a trial by fire this year. Location simply isn't as important of a factor for employees anymore - and that isn't going to change post-pandemic. Research shows that major business hubs like San Francisco and New York experienced an exodus this year, with many people moving back to their hometowns. People - and employers - have come to realize that jobs can be done effectively regardless of location and traditional office environments.

Traditional, synchronous communication, which required people to be face-to-face to communicate in real-time, is faulty in a remote work scenario. Though asynchronous work may happen at a somewhat slower pace, the quality of work is better. People are allowed the time to thoroughly and critically think through decisions and projects, leading to more clarity and less misunderstanding.

Businesses are gradually understanding that productivity largely depends on employee engagement, and tools that enable asynchronous communication play an important role.

Connecting as humans first, employees second

Asynchronous operations isn't only about getting work done - it can also help establish trust within teams and cultivate corporate culture. Implementing a team communication app that allows employees to take a break from their work and engage about topics that interest them is a great way to do this.

When you do have that rare synchronous time, the best use of it is to connect as humans to reinforce the trust and context required to work asynchronously the rest of the time. One way Buildkite has achieved this is by skipping strict agendas and inviting a professional communications coach to facilitate a few of our team all hands meetings.

Preventing employee burnout

Despite businesses' efforts to improve employee engagement and experience overall, burnout will happen when there is a lack of work-life balance or there are mismatched expectations between the employee and the employer.

The typical 9-5 job does not exist right now - in fact, I don't believe people are meant to sit in one place for eight hours a day. Instead of attempting to balance everything at once, asynchronous operations enables employees to tailor their work day to their personal schedule, engage with teammates at a deeper level, and reduce stress all at once.

For companies looking to adopt some new business practices for the new way of work, here are a few best practices for asynchronous operations:

  • Project Management and Communication Apps - Find a chat app that best suits the work your team is doing and also allows employees to connect on a human level. The tool must be timezone friendly, so your team members don't have to sift through hundreds of messages when they wake up. Additionally, make sure the tool doesn't track employee activity - this is a small, but important way to promote asynchronous communication and avoid setting an expectation of real-time deliverables.
  • Long-form Written Communication - Using internal blogs and comments, instead of rapid-fire Slack messages, to communicate with team members helps get top-of-mind questions asked immediately, that can then be answered later. This gives folks an opportunity to sit on an idea and respond in their own time.
  • Recording Videos - Rather than trying to schedule a meeting across timezones to discuss a project, seek out a video tool that allows you to record yourself walking through the task and then share it with the assigned team member. This boosts productivity by reducing the amount of time spent in meetings.

2020 has driven change in all areas of life - including in the way people think about work. As we shift mentality from live-to-work to work-to-live, asynchronous operations can help set businesses up for success.

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About the Author

Keith Pitt 

Keith Pitt is the co-founder and CTO of Buildkite, the fastest way to reliably test and build software at any scale. 

Keith was previously a lead engineer at several Australian developer-first companies including Envato, Qantas and Pin Payments. He also built, launched, and sold Desktoppr to a private purchaser before teaming up with his Buildkite co-founders. 

As a big believer in the power of putting the right tools in the hands of developers, Keith is always looking to find ways to make software faster and more enjoyable. 

Outside of work, Keith is a proud new father, Perth resident, retired magician (don't make him pull out his South Australian Young Magician of the Year award), and grower of avocado trees.
Published Monday, December 14, 2020 7:52 AM by David Marshall
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