A few months ago, when I was responding to a group email that my boss’s boss was part of, her autoreply noted that she was in Hawaii and working on island time, but she would get back to us during her work hours. Sure enough, when I emailed her, I received a reply at the end of my working day and halfway through hers. So, a few weeks ago, when I had the chance to tag along to a resort in Maui, I got the go-ahead from my boss to try the same setup.
It worked beautifully. I credit a few simple practices: setting up an autoreply laying out for my colleagues what my working hours were and what our time difference was, clustering my meetings in a five-hour period where my colleagues and I were most likely to be online at the same time, and breaking up my day so the afternoon was mine for beach time, then returning to work for in the evening where I could really whip through those tasks that require lack of interruption.
Paradoxically, asynchronous work hours require more up-front communication, coordination, and structured processes among colleagues than sitting in the same place at the same time would. It brings a new level of mindfulness to the workday. This up-front planning pays off: a Slack U.K. survey of office work found that people had three more hours per week for work thanks to a drop in real-time meetings, and 64% of workers said working asynchronously boosted their productivity thanks to not having to wait for others to complete their tasks.
Asynchronous work became more mainstream during the remote work swell of 2020, as workplaces were forced to shift from a "work is what happens when we're all in the same place at the same time" model to a "work is what happens wherever our people are" model. If physical presence wasn't required for work, why would synchronous office hours be? A lot of workplace leaders in white-collar enterprises are slowly teasing out a new definition of work, one in which the outcome of someone's labor is not so closely coupled with a worker's schedule or location.
I'm a little bummed not to be in Maui this week. But the lessons from a week of working asynchronously can, I hope, sustain a work style that boosts both personal and professional results.
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