Remote Doesn’t Work – 5 Ways To Move To Asynchronous Operations

June 16, 2023

Welcome to Practical Magic! A productivity and intentional living newsletter with quick, actionable tips that automate, delegate, or speed up your work.

Read time: 5 minutes

I’ve seen a lot of companies pushing to “return to office.” Have you noticed?

I understand why. I sympathize with the struggles leaders and managers are dealing with as they feel a loss of collaboration, learning, and accountability in their workforce.

But that is because many people do remote work wrong.

Shutting down your office and expecting people to operate in the same capacity is a sure way to find faults in remote work and then write off its merits.

In order for remote work to be effective, you have to fundamentally change how you operate.

You have to invest time – and often resources – to reshape your work around remote-first operations.

As someone who has worked in roles that are entirely remote or had flexible work-from-home policies for the past 11 years, this “new world” isn’t my first rodeo. (And it’s been such a privilege to have this experience!)

I think remote is actually the wrong term to focus on. In order to make remote operations your secret sauce, you need to focus on asynchronous work.

What is asynchronous work?

Asynchronous work is the ability to get work done without having to be in “the room” together. See: Zoom meetings.

A great way to kill productivity and needle-moving work is having 4 hours of meetings everyday – talking about the work that needs to get done.

People resort to meetings because it’s what they’re familiar with and it feels productive. It’s easier than investing time or money to build more asynchronous processes and policies for the long-haul.

People know this by now. But they don’t change. Because it requires behavior change.

I’ll be honest here – getting this right takes time (think: months). But the impact of a well-oiled remote asynchronous team is massive.

While ingraining this within business operations takes time, you can start moving in this direction quickly and build on from there. Here are 5 ideas to get started:

5 Ways To Move To Asynchronous Operations

1. Create a culture of documentation.

This is the most important thing you can do as it removes the need to “ping” or schedule a meeting to complete work. And it’s never been easier to create quick SOPs!

  • Old Policy: We’re moving fast so documentation isn’t needed yet. It’s the responsibility of one person or the manager to own documentation.
  • New Policy: Every task and process gets an SOP. It’s the responsibility of every team member to create an SOP for their work if one doesn’t exist. We use a central knowledge repository to store and organize this information.

2. Use asynchronous communication tools as the default.

Store all your information in tools like project management softwares or other collaboration platforms. These should store clear and concise written updates by team members where others can view and collaborate. Include links to videos (i.e. Loom) to explain more complex items.

Using messaging tools, Slack or email, should be the exception when information may be lacking, but not the norm as it still requires another team member to be “on” and answering to unblock work.

  • Old Policy: Progress andupdates are given during our recurring meetings.
  • New Policy: Everyone is required to provide detailed written updates within our tools. All meetings require an agenda. Team members need to invest the time to pre-read updates and come prepared.

3. Set the standard as autonomy and self-management.

You have to set the standard for your team. What is expected of them as a remote-first company? Provide clear expectations and guidelines, and then give individuals the autonomy to complete tasks in their own time and in their preferred manner.

If they can’t meet these requirements, and you don’t have the capacity to train someone with potential, you need to let them go as it’s not the right fit. There is amazing talent out there looking for remote-only work.

  • Old Policy: This person isn’t performing well so I’m going to setup more meetings every week for check-ins.
  • New Policy: Clear, written expectations for how we work remotely as a team have been set. These
  • standards are part of how we evaluate performance.

4. Establish clear goals, priorities, and deadlines. 

I see people skip this step a lot. Setting goals and metrics is the best way to know that work is still getting done and establishing trust in your team (so people want to work with you). Updates not completed? Missed deadlines? Metric declining? You have tangible results to point to vs assuming no one is working just because you aren’t seeing everything behind the scenes.

Let people do their best work on the schedule that makes sense for them. As long as we’re holding people accountable, and only keeping team members who can meet these expectations, trust your team to do good work.

  • Old Policy: I haven’t heard from this person in a few hours, they must not be working.
  • New Policy: I don’t care if someone gets a task done at 9pm. I care that it’s done by the date that was set and any blockers or issues communicated ahead of time.

5. Don’t feel pressured to make it “fun.” 

In 2020, I was still working at a startup. Pre-pandemic, regular happy hours were a common occurrence. (Truthfully, I love bonding with colleagues so I enjoyed these!) Come 2020, businesses were trying to recreate the feeling of community and culture by doing the exact same thing…just virtual. The result? Zoom happy hours. Not fun. Exhausting. The last thing anyone needs.

You know what is fun in a remote world? Flexible work hours, autonomy, less meetings, and the occasional GIPHY. We don’t need to put lipstick on a pig here. We need to recreate new ways of doing things.

  • Old Policy: Recurring meetings to create bonding and sense of community.
  • New Policy: Clear policies and expectations so that my team feels empowered, experiences more freedom, and we continune to win together.

Always in your corner,


Systems Strategist & Fractional COO

More Practical & Magical Finds ✨

Three things I’m reading, watching, or learning this week.

  1. 📖 Free Time by Jenny Blake. I’m 1/3 through this book and recommend it to anyone looking to cut down on busywork and build small, efficient teams.
  2. ⚙️ I’ve been using Spark Mail App for about a month (the free version) instead of Gmail. My favorite feature is automatically grouping notifications and newsletters together so it doesn’t clutter your inbox. I love being able to see client emails front and center.
  3. ☕️ I gave up coffee about 3 months ago (skin & sleep issues) and this time my willpower has stuck! Mainly because I found a replacement that I really enjoy drinking every day. I feel better than ever. My favorite is their Rasa Ritual Simple Pack. (You can use code ALEX14205 for 15% off.)

If you implement any of these tips or learn something interesting, I’d love to hear from you! Just reply to this email or connect with me on social.

👋 Find me on LinkedIn or Instagram 👋

Want to free up 10+ hours of your week? Here are a few ways I can help:

  • Book a 1:1 strategy call with Alex and get the answers you need to get unstuck and move forward with confidence in your systems.
  • Book an Operations Strategy Day. Part consulting, part implementation. I make magic happen in your operations with a full day’s sprint! Walk away with more hours in your week.
  • Monthly Strategy & Support: Let’s make the magic happen – monthly! As your virtual COO, I’ll manage your key initiatives and back-end operations (i.e. launches, systems & processes, business ops). (Currently at capacity. Join the waitlist here.)

P.S. The best way you can support this newsletter is by forwarding to a friend. Did someone forward this to you? Subscribe here.