The power of async in managing stress in the hybrid work era

Working asynchronously can overcome new types of stress that have emerged in the hybrid work era, such as burnout, toxic productivity, and the need for validation. Companies with the right set of technological tools and workplace processes will be better able to better support their staff, diffuse productivity pressures, and ensure employees maintain better work / life balance in the modern hybrid workplace.

Many crumpled papers on desk of a stressed male employee

It’s a story we all know too well by now: a business introduces hybrid work and its workforce rejoices for the flexibility... only to face a whole new set of stressors.

Hybrid work at its best eases work-life balance, enables greater autonomy over one’s time, and improves both productivity and morale. But without the right tools, processes, and leadership in place, hybrid work can exacerbate workplace challenges like burnout, cross-functional silos, loneliness, and toxic productivity. 

But with hybrid work on the table long-term across almost every sector, tackling ill-managed workplace stress should be at the top of business leaders’ agenda. 

Progress toward an aspirational yet sustainable “new normal” requires a rethinking of how, when, where, and why we work. It also requires a wholly new set of work norms, mores, and expectations, as well as a new category of tools—like async video—to make it possible. 

The many facets of async

Asynchronous (async) work is one antidote to meeting fatigue, productivity blockers, and work/life balance. It encourages people to stop defaulting to synchronous work practices — like Zoom meetings, “chatting at lunch”, and a rigid 9-5 working day — that don’t always allow people to work optimally in hybrid settings. 

Putting time aside in your calendar for dedicated meetings is a challenge. Our recent survey reported that office workers are wasting an average of one hour and 42 minutes per week just on scheduling and rescheduling calls — costing businesses in the U.S. $1.85 billion dollars weekly. It isn’t easy to find an appropriate slot within everyone’s unique workday, let alone when the team is distributed across multiple time zones. However, working asynchronously gives people the opportunity to share updates, participate in training, receive feedback, and conduct other collaborative activities at a time that works best for them. 

When people aren’t fully engaged in a scheduled real-time interaction, they’re unable to retain information and meet their teammates expectations. Some people work better in the morning, others work better after shorter meetings — causing inefficiencies and miscommunication if the scheduling isn’t ideal for both parties. Tainted by these experiences, managers fall into the trap of micro-managing that’s provoked by a lack of trust. But, async work adds a layer of trust and respect between employers and their employees. By trusting the person who’s receiving the information to digest it at a time that works best for their individual working style, both the work and the employer-employee relationship benefit. According to MIT Sloan Management’s report, reducing meetings by the equivalent of just one day per week drove a reduction in micromanagement of 33% and stress by 26%. 

Along a similar thread, async work also facilitates improved workplace culture. Thanks to its ability to create a sense of cohesion and community - built on trust and respect - async work has proven to be an effective method in boosting engagement amongst a remote workforce. As the MIT Sloan Management report discovered, reducing meetings by just one day per week drove a 28% increase in engagement, 45% increase in communication, 15% increase in cooperation, and a 48% increase in satisfaction. It creates an environment that champions stronger interpersonal connections and cultural incentives - which, in today’s hybrid world, is more important than ever. 

The need for async 

When deciding if utilising asynchronous workflows is the right thing to do for you and your business, you need to look no further than the impact hybrid work is having on today’s workforce. 

The lack of structure in most hybrid work settings can lead to miscommunication. Loom’s recent study found that 91% of office workers have had digital messages misunderstood and/or misinterpreted at work. In addition, 20% say that miscommunication and/or misinterpretation has caused them to get reprimanded, demoted, or even fired. These employees are spending a significant amount of time worrying about potential misunderstandings, causing them to overthink and ‘check-out’ of their work relationships and interactions. 

According to Gallup, employee engagement in the US saw its first annual decline in a decade, dropping from 36% engaged employees in 2020 to 34% in 2021. This has also accelerated The Great Resignation movement that emerged during the pandemic. 

When engagement levels dip, voices can get lost. A recent Catalyst survey found that one in five women said they have been overlooked or ignored by colleagues in video calls. It’s therefore important to make sure everyone receives recognition to feel valued and supported and to avoid turning to toxic productivity to prove worth. 

Even though more teams are working across numerous locations and time zones, business leaders need to provide an environment of psychological safety, diversity, equity, and inclusion in hybrid environments. A McKinsey report on hybrid work found that the likelihood of employees going out of their way to help a colleague if they work in an inclusive organisation jumped by 90%, while the likelihood of employees staying with an organisation if it’s inclusive increased by 47%. The widespread adoption of hybrid work has complicated the struggle to build and maintain such cultures - an area where async work can work its magic. 

There is also the need to facilitate genuine interactions in distributed settings, and allow these interactions to scale organically as workers take accountability for solving feelings of stress and anxiety. Culture is no longer only a top-down incentive, but something that can also be driven and encouraged by people across the business, especially when employees are empowered to do so.

In that vein, people are beginning to crowdsource solutions to common challenges and adopt a peer-inspired approach to sharing ideas and experiences. For example, Loom’s fully hybrid workforce has embraced an async approach to building connection with their colleagues, by sharing garden tours and even original songs via async video. All of these evolved without corporate incentives in place, but resulted from a company-wide appreciation for the creativity and experimentation that async video stimulates.

The video opportunity

With clear communication, employee engagement, inclusivity, and authenticity threatened by hybrid work pressures, businesses must use a medium that enables people to capture and deliver key messages asynchronously. 

81% of office workers say their workplace currently uses async video to give individuals a more effective channel for expressing personality, tone of voice, and point of view on distributed teams. This comes as nearly one-third of workers say the majority of digital work meetings could be replaced by recorded/asynchronous video.

Async video helps capture the personable elements of humanity that are typically lost with synchronous communication. People can infuse the human aspect of communication that they would normally get from in-person conversation - facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc. - in a format that is easily scalable, shareable, and informal. While this benefits inclusivity in the workplace, it also limits miscommunication thanks to greater clarity and authenticity.

Designing light-lift ways for more nuanced, expressive interaction is essential in building connection and affinity. Digital communication tools have empowered some employees to thrive and show their personality more than in a traditional office setting, and 58% of office workers say that showcasing their personality at work helps engage and motivate them. Encouraging employees across time zones and teams to share a bit about themselves via video – work related or not – can go a long way in this new aspirational era of modern work. 

Async video also allows for efficient documentation of ‘gold-dust’ knowledge in a way that’s easily comprehensible and personalised. When this information is readily available and accessible, it helps people’s ability to perform which, in turn, helps minimise feelings of stress and pressure. 

An outlook for the hybrid future

A workday where you have freedom and flexibility to start and end on your own time has been a dream long before the pandemic even accelerated the desire. With async work in play more frequently across organisations that dream is now becoming a reality. 

Harnessing this moment will take open, flexible leadership around new processes, tech, and norms. That’s how you unlock net-new superpowers for your teams and companies.

Emily Busse is the Director of Communications at Loom where she leads internal communications as well as external PR, social, and content strategy. Prior to Loom, Busse led communications & PR programs for a diverse set of fast-growth startups and enterprise SaaS companies at LaunchSquad. She has also worked as a reporter, covering local news in Iowa and as a freelancer in San Francisco.