Why you should switch to async for your daily standups

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The modern workplace has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, with the rise of remote work becoming a defining trend. Your teammates now distributed and living in different cities, so you can no longer turn around, tap someone on the shoulder and see what they're working on. This shift has highlighted the critical importance of effective communication within remote teams as it's just becoming harder and harder to know on a day-to-day basis what your team is working on.

One common practice in traditional office environments is the daily standup meeting, a brief gathering where team members provide updates on their progress. This was easy when you all sat near each other, a quick shout could bring the group together to chat. But now, it's a bit more complicated.

With people distributed all over, your approach has to be a bit more planned and process a bit more intentional. Often teams end up with recurring calendar invites to do a standup in a Zoom call or conference call. This approach is fine, but it's not ideal. Requires everyone to be online at the same time, and often sit through updates that don't involve them. It benefits the manager often more than the individual contributor.

But what if you took this daily standup and made it so you could do it async? In this article, we go through the benefits and how to implement better standup rituals in your team by making them async.

The challenges of traditional standup meetings

The traditional daily standup, a staple in many office settings, involves team members gathering at a specific time each day to share updates. While this practice can be effective in fostering communication, it often becomes a part of the daily grind that disrupts focused work time. Spending 15 to 30 minutes daily in meetings, which may not always provide the most valuable use of one's time, can be perceived as a chore.

Furthermore, coordinating these daily meetings for a globally distributed team can quickly become a logistical nightmare, resulting in scheduling conflicts that are all too common. These conflicts not only lead to missed updates but also disrupt the carefully crafted work routines of team members, potentially affecting productivity.

Time zone challenges further complicate the matter, making daily standups impractical for global teams. Team members located in different parts of the world may be forced to attend these meetings during odd hours, often at the expense of their work-life balance.

Another common issue with traditional standups is the lack of focus. These meetings sometimes devolve into unfocused conversations, with team members veering off-topic. This lack of focus can be frustrating and counterproductive, as it detracts from the primary goal of sharing important updates and coordinating efforts efficiently. Given these challenges, it's no surprise that many remote teams are exploring alternatives like asynchronous standups to streamline their communication and save valuable time.

What are asynchronous standups? 

Asynchronous Standups are a flexible alternative to daily synchronous meetings. Team members submit their updates and progress reports at a time that suits them rather than meeting in real time. Like many apps you use with your remote team, asynchronous just means that communication happens but both parties don't need to be there at the same time.

Benefits of going asynchronous

  1. Time Savings: By eliminating the need for daily meetings, asynchronous standups save precious work hours. They can take less than a few minutes, and you don't have to sit in a meeting listening to updates from every team member.
  2. Increased Productivity: Team members can structure their workdays more efficiently, improving productivity. They're not disrupted during a focus time or when they're in flow.
  3. Enhanced Collaboration: Asynchronous updates provide a documented history of progress, facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  4. Global Team Synchronization: Teams across different time zones can synchronize effectively, eliminating the challenges posed by traditional standups. You can raise issues and blockers to the team and ask for assistance easily and clearly. 
  5. Sense of Accountability: Having a written record of your daily standups shows you whether or not you're doing what you set out to do each day. Not to mention, your whole team sees your work, and it helps keep teams accountable to each other, too.

Implementing asynchronous standups

Implementing best practices for effective asynchronous standups is crucial to making this communication method work seamlessly for remote teams. First and foremost, it's essential to establish a regular reporting schedule that everyone follows. This consistency ensures that team members are updated at predictable intervals, enhancing overall communication and coordination.

Encouraging team members to provide detailed updates is paramount. These updates should encompass progress, challenges encountered, and planned next steps. By providing comprehensive information, team members can stay informed about each other's work and contribute to solving any issues more effectively.

A great way to streamline the standup process and ensure that you get consistently effective updates from everyone is to use a template or a pre-set prompt. A common template used is asking three questions:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you going to do today?
  • Any blockers?

This becomes an efficient and clear way to reflect on your work the day before, set a path for today, and raise any flags to the team. This will keep you accountable to your team and vice-versa. 

Fostering a culture of feedback is another critical aspect of successful asynchronous standups. Regularly reviewing and commenting on team members' updates helps maintain transparency and ensures everyone is on the same page. Constructive feedback can improve communication and workflow, and your teammates will be more motivated to write standups if they know their standups are being read.

By making standups a core ritual in your team, you can encourage team members to stay connected and address urgent issues promptly. One of the challenges of remote teams across different time zones is that sometimes requests can take time to be met. If teams can stay on top of standups, you ensure that team members get assistance or deal with blockers in a timely manner. 

Effective communication continues beyond providing updates; it also involves being responsive and collaborative when the situation demands it. Going beyond standups and sending a message through your comms app (like Slack or Microsoft Teams) is essential if things are more urgent. While async standups keep your team updated and informed, going further and having communication naturally outside of that is important too. All of this helps maintain a healthy collaborative workflow for your team.

Overcoming common standup challenges

A significant aspect of transitioning to asynchronous standups within a remote team is recognizing and managing potential challenges. Resistance to change is a common hurdle when introducing new communication methods. Expecting some initial pushback and proactively addressing concerns through clear communication and practical training is essential. This might involve explaining the benefits of asynchronous standups, providing guidance on how to use the new tools or processes, and actively listening to team members' feedback.

Ensuring accountability is crucial to the success of asynchronous standups. Without a transparent system, some team members might neglect to provide updates consistently. To mitigate this, organizations can establish systems that track and remind team members to submit their updates on schedule.

You can set up standups and reminders in a Slack channel. This can be quite convenient because of the way Slack is already made to foster a conversation around your updates. Your team can go from standup to discussing immediately on one screen. You can use add-ons and plug-ins to help faciliate standups and reminders in a more structured way. Adding a Google calendar event to remind people can be useful too. As long as you have a place to track and add your standups to it, just having a calendar reminder can be quite effective. If you opt for a more robust solution, some project management tools and goal tracking tools have this built into their features.

Beyond daily standups

Beyond the implementation of standups, there will be places where standups will come short. While it can foster a good sense of communication and keep teams in sync, you still need communication through other channels to build relationships, team commraderie, and deal with more urgent issues. Not all matters can wait until the next scheduled update cycle. To handle urgent issues efficiently, it's essential to define clear protocols. Team members should know how to escalate urgent problems, whom to contact, and what to do when immediate action is required. These protocols ensure that the team can respond promptly to critical situations while still benefiting from the efficiency of asynchronous communication for regular updates.

For higher picture issues, it's important to build similar but less frequent rituals too. Check-ins and monthly reviews can be a similar to a standup, but cover a big picture view of how you're doing on a weekly or monthly basis. It's always good to step back and see how your daily actions help you make progress over time. Implementing these different types of feedback loops will keep your team connected on multiple levels and understand each other's role much better.

Standups can build a nice foundation for collaboration, but there is more work to be done to have an efficient and high-functioning team culture.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the transition to asynchronous standups represents a significant step towards optimizing communication within remote teams. By embracing this approach, companies can save valuable time, boost productivity, and foster a more balanced work environment across multiple timezones. Adaptability and innovation in communication methods are crucial for success as remote work evolves.

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Bryan Schuldt

Co-Founder, Tability

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