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A Guide for Asynchronous Work and Driving Accountability Across Time Zones

The benefits of a global team are considerable, provided you can properly manage an async workforce

Hayden Cohen
Co-founder of HireWithNear, a hiring solution that connects US employers with talent in Latin America
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A Guide for Asynchronous Work and Driving Accountability Across Time Zones

As technology and communication become more and more sophisticated, businesses that are spread across various time zones and, by proxy, do asynchronous work is an increasingly popular working model. A non-aligned workday allows team members the flexibility to be digital nomads or, at the very least, work at different times and locations, without much need for real-time coordination.

This guide will explore the concept of asynchronous work, its associated challenges, and strategies for effectively managing asynchronous teams.

In This Article

What is Asynchronous Work?

Asynchronous work is a working model that doesn't require all team members to be online or available simultaneously in a set workday period. This model is particularly advantageous for remote teams scattered across different time zones. It provides flexibility, respects individual work patterns and preferences for deep work times, and can lead to enhanced productivity and a balanced work-life equation.

A remote worker reading emails while sitting on the floor at their home.

The Challenges of Managing Asynchronous Teams

While the model offers considerable flexibility and autonomy, asynchronous work also presents unique challenges. These hurdles are mostly to do with communication, response times, and ensuring accountability and productivity. All valid concerns when team members don’t share working hours with their managers.

Grasping these challenges is the initial step towards proficiently managing virtual teams and fully leveraging the benefits of an async work model. Let’s have a look at the main concerns, and how to address them.

Asynchronous Communication

The primary challenge in managing asynchronous teams is async communication.

Remote teams have a much harder time brainstorming, problem-solving, and collaborating than in-person teams because there are so few opportunities to riff off ideas. When team members are dispersed across different time zones, coordinating and communicating effectively can be even harder.

For example, a team member in New York might send a message to a colleague in Tokyo, but due to the time difference, they might not receive a response until the next day. This can easily slow down decision-making processes and lead to misunderstandings which further drag out the conversation.

To mitigate this and make communications as clear as possible, teams can utilize communication tools designed for asynchronous work, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. These tools facilitate real-time communication via text-based instant messaging and also keep a user-friendly record of all conversations, making it easy for team members to catch up on what they missed when they were offline.

As a lot can get lost in text, making a video explanation of a complex challenge or solution is often more effective than text-based communication. For instances like this, a Loom video is ideal. It saves time in the explanation of intricate concepts and can be replayed or re-shared so that the original correspondent doesn’t have to repeat themselves. Loom also integrates with Slack which puts all communication in one central location.

While these tools create the backdrop of effective communication, they are not a guarantee. For an asynchronous team to communicate well, timeous and courteous communication must be embedded in the organizational culture.

A simple rule of thumb is setting clear expectations about response times. For instance, you could establish a rule that all messages should be responded to within 24 hours. This gives team members enough time to give feedback, regardless of their time zone, and prevents anyone from waiting on intel for more than a day.

A remote employee checking her phone for team communication.

Accountability and productivity

Ensuring accountability and productivity in an asynchronous work environment can also be challenging. When team members are working independently, it can be difficult to know what they are working on, and whether their work is aligned with the organization’s immediate priorities. Managers can’t realistically monitor their team’s progress and ensure they are meeting their deadlines by checking in all the time, so it is necessary to have a single source of truth regarding what everyone is busy with, where they are in the process, and what comes next.

One way to address this is by using project management tools like Asana or Trello. These tools allow you to assign tasks, set deadlines, and track progress in one accessible space. This not only helps to keep everyone accountable but also gives you a clear overview of the team's productivity.

Besides ensuring that employees know what to do, these asynchronous collaboration apps also help to minimize unnecessary “communication pollution” and delays. For example, if one employee needs to know whether a piece of work is ready so that they may hand it over to a client, their first instinct may be to ping their colleague and ask. In an asynchronous team, waiting for confirmation may take hours or, if the person is online, break their workflow to respond.

A tool such as Asana negates the need for this communication as it is easy to see where each piece of work lies in the pipeline, and what the expected time for completion is.

Setting Clear Expectations from an Asynchronous Workforce

In the landscape of asynchronous work, clarity forms the bedrock of successful team management.

It becomes crucial to establish clear expectations concerning roles, availability and work hours, deadlines for tasks, and the tools and processes in use. Begin by setting expectations from the job description and onwards. This understanding will pave the way for a smooth and efficient asynchronous work setup and help remote workers exceed expectations in their jobs.

Clearly Defined Roles and Responsibilities

In an asynchronous work environment, it is crucial (but also very challenging) to make sure team members are aligned on what to prioritize, and who is responsible for which within the asynchronous workflows. If the parameters of each person’s responsibilities are unclear, unnecessary duplication of work and efficiency gaps are inevitable.

It is, therefore, crucial to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each member of an asynchronous team. Granular clarity in what work belongs to each person helps to avoid confusion and ensures that workers complete tasks that are aligned.

A good way to define responsibility is to have each person’s expectations published in accessible onboarding documents or in your project management tool. Make sure to update these definitions whenever there are changes in the team or the project. By making each team member’s responsibilities visible to all, you create accountability between team members.

A remote employee on an asynchronous team working from their kitchen at night.

Availability and Schedules

Even though asynchronous work allows for flexibility, it's still important to have some idea of when your team members are available. This can help to schedule meetings or occasional synchronous work, such as collaborative work sessions.

You can ask your team members to share their general availability or to mark their working hours in a shared calendar. This way, everyone on the team will have an idea of when they can expect to reach others. It is good, if you can, to have specific times set when the whole team is available for a quick Zoom call, or at the very least online. This can be a weekly or monthly occasion where it is possible to address the whole organization at once.

Task deadlines

In an asynchronous work environment, deadlines are crucial. They help to keep everyone on track and ensure that the work is progressing as planned.

When setting deadlines, make sure to consider the time differences between your team members. A work schedule should be set in a way that it's achievable for everyone, regardless of their time zone.

Tools and Processes

Having the right remote team management tools and processes in place is critical for managing an asynchronous workforce. This includes communication tools, project management tools, and document-sharing tools.

For communication, tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams can be very effective. For project management, tools like Asana or Trello can help to keep everyone on track. For document sharing and collaboration, tools like Google Docs or Dropbox can be very useful.

Make sure everyone is aligned on your organization’s use case for these tools. For example, are Asana tickets marked as complete when a task is done, when it is signed off by a manager, or when the client is invoiced? Do all collaborative documents belong on a specific shared Google Drive, or does each employee work on their own drive and provide access to documents as they need input?

Driving Accountability Across Time Zones

In the context of asynchronous work, the importance of accountability is amplified, particularly when team members are dispersed across various time zones. It is necessary to develop methods of nurturing a trust-based culture and maintain regular check-ins to uphold responsibility. These strategies will ensure that every team member remains accountable for their tasks, regardless of their location.

Trust is a key element in driving accountability across time zones. When team members trust each other, they are more likely to be accountable and deliver on their commitments.

Building trust in an asynchronous work environment can be challenging, but it's not impossible. One way to foster trust is by being transparent and open in your communication. This includes sharing updates about the company, the team, and the project, as well as acknowledging mistakes and learning from them.

One way to ensure complete transparency is to track time and productivity. For instance, tools like Time Doctor or Toggl can help to ensure that everyone is spending their time effectively and makes it clear how much time each team member is spending on their various tasks.

A remote team manager checking in with thier employee via a video call.

Regular Check-Ins

Regular check-ins are also important for driving accountability across time zones. These check-ins can be done through video calls, phone calls, or even emails. The key is to have a regular schedule and stick to it.

During these check-ins, you can discuss progress, address any issues or concerns, and provide feedback. This not only helps to keep everyone accountable but also helps to build trust and rapport among the team.

Synchronous Communication vs. Asynchronous Communication

Communication serves as the binding force that keeps teams unified, which is increasingly important if you have a distributed team. The mode of communication adopted by teams can have a big impact on their productivity, collaboration, and overall success. This is where the notions of Synchronous (real-time) and Asynchronous (delayed) communication come into the picture.

Synchronous communication involves interactions where all participants are present simultaneously. This could be an in-person meeting, a telephone conversation, or a video conference. Conversely, asynchronous communication does not require the simultaneous presence of all participants. For example, emails, forum discussions, and pre-recorded video messages.

Both real-time and delayed communication have their roles in a remote work setting, and comprehending when to employ each can significantly boost a team's efficiency.

Benefits of Synchronous Communication

  1. Quick Feedback: Synchronous communication allows for faster feedback, which can be crucial for decision-making and problem-solving.
  2. Enhanced Collaboration: Real-time communication can foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration, especially during brainstorming sessions or complex discussions.
  3. Relationship Building: Face-to-face interactions, whether in-person or via video calls, can help build stronger relationships and trust among team members.
  4. Clarity: Immediate responses can help clarify doubts or misunderstandings on the spot, reducing the chances of miscommunication.
  5. Engagement: Synchronous communication can lead to higher engagement levels as team members can actively participate in discussions and voice their opinions.

Benefits of Asynchronous communication

  1. Flexibility: Asynchronous communication allows team members to respond at their own pace, respecting individual work patterns and time zones.
  2. Thoughtful Responses: With no pressure to respond immediately, team members can take the time to craft more thoughtful and detailed responses with intentionality.
  3. Reduced Interruptions: Unlike synchronous communication, asynchronous communication doesn't interrupt an individual’s workflow, allowing for better focus and productivity.
  4. Record Keeping: Asynchronous communication tools often have a record of all exchanges, making it easy to refer back to previous conversations or decisions.
  5. Accessibility: Regardless of time zones or schedules, team members can access the information when it's most convenient for them.
  6. Scalability: Asynchronous communication is more scalable for larger teams or organizations, as it doesn't require everyone to be available at the same time.
  7. Work-Life Balance: By allowing team members to respond in their own time, asynchronous communication allows employees to set their own schedule for communication and deep work time. The control this allows can contribute to a better work-life balance.
A manage conducting a team meeting from her home office.

Effective Meetings Across Time Zones

Conducting effective meetings across time zones can be a challenge, but with the right strategies, it's definitely achievable. Here are three strategies that can help:

  1. Schedule at a convenient time for everyone: Use a tool like World Time Buddy to find a time that works for everyone. If this is not possible, consider rotating meeting times so that everyone has to wake up early or stay up late once in a while, not just the same people every time.
  2. Have a clear agenda: Make sure to have specific objectives for the meeting and share the agenda in advance. This helps to keep the meeting focused and efficient.
  3. Record the meeting: Record the meeting and share the recording with those who couldn't attend. This way, they can catch up on what they missed. AI tools like Otter record and transcribe online meetings in real-time. Otter also emails a summary of the meeting to employees who could not be there in person, which makes it easy to catch the headlines when they come back online.

How to Know if You Had an Effective Meeting

If you can answer 'yes' to all of these questions, then you've had an effective meeting.

  • Was the meeting's purpose clear and well-defined?
  • Was there a well-planned agenda?
  • Were all participants prepared for the meeting?
  • Did the meeting start and end on time?
  • Did everyone have an opportunity to contribute?
  • Did the discussion stay on topic?
  • Are any decisions made clear and actionable?
  • Are follow-up actions assigned to specific team members?

Building a Culture of Accountability with Asynchronous Team Management

Establishing a culture of accountability is crucial for the success of any team, especially in the context of remote asynchronous work where team members are distributed around, unbound by a traditional 9-to-5 schedule. However, as Harvard Business Review suggests, you should aim for building accountability with compassion, not fear.

Top 3 Strategies to Build Accountability with Asynchronous Teams

  1. Establish Transparent Expectations: Ensure that every team member comprehends their responsibilities, the timelines for delivery, and the quality benchmarks. Make sure to get buy-in from them. This can be achieved through comprehensive project plans, consistent check-ins, clear communication, and by going over expectations when you are onboarding remote employees.
  2. Provide Regular Feedback: Feedback can assist in keeping team members aligned and informed about their performance. This can be facilitated through individual meetings, performance evaluations, or even casual conversations. The emphasis should be on providing constructive feedback that aids team members in enhancing their performance.
  3. Acknowledge and Reward Excellence: Appreciating and rewarding commendable work can motivate team members and make them feel valued. This can be facilitated through consciously providing recognition, and rewards that are appropriate to your online culture. Virtual gifts for your remote employees, public acknowledgment, bonuses, and so forth drive engagement in your remote team and aid in retention. The focus should be on ensuring that the rewards are performance-based and not distributed arbitrarily.

How to Set KPIs with an Asynchronous Team

Establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with an asynchronous team can be somewhat challenging, but it's certainly feasible. The focus should be on output rather than input. Instead of measuring the number of hours team members are working, measure what they are producing. This could be the number of tasks completed, the quality of their work, or their contribution to the team's objectives.

When establishing KPIs, ensure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This will ensure that each team member’s goals are clear, realistic, and aligned with the organizational priorities.


Working with a team that's spread out over different time zones and follows an asynchronous work model can seem tough. But with the right plans, tools, and a strong focus on building trust, it's definitely doable and can lead to great success. By making sure everyone knows what they need to do, using technology to keep everyone connected, and keeping track of work progress, your team can realize the benefits of asynchronous work and reach its full potential.

Embracing best practices for asynchronous work is especially important for HR managers, as they play a crucial role in shaping the future of work culture and ensuring team success.

Hayden Cohen
Co-founder of HireWithNear, a hiring solution that connects US employers with talent in Latin America
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Hayden Cohen is an innovative entrepreneur and the Co-founder of HireWithNear, a platform focused on connecting US businesses with remote global talent primarily from Latin America​​. Hayden has consulted for many companies and written extensively about HR, remote recruiting, and building high-performing remote teams. 

Hayden studied Finance and Music at William & Mary University in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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