3 min read

Getting Started with Async Collaboration: Flip Your Communication Pyramid

Async Collaboration

We used to spend all our time managing email.

Now we do the same in our messaging tool.

It's not the fault of these tools though as I've been saying the last 5+ years.

We do that to ourselves. We crave immediacy and distraction. Nir Eyal talks about internal triggers in his Indistractable book.

Why This Matters

We're supposed to be knowledge workers.

We're supposed to be creating knowledge. We're supposed to better serve our customers. We're supposed to be creating apps, digital products, re-inventing manufacturing, solving the last mile, or changing healthcare.

Instead, we're both fighting against our tools and becoming subservient to them.

The Solution

To get started with async collaboration—a calmer, more focused work environment—it's time to flip your communication pyramid.

We need to think first. We need to take the time to provide the context we have with our co-workers and collaborators. Because jumping straight into a channel not only interrupts coworkers. It disrupts them. They have to spend the time catching up to everything you've thought about.

Need More Help?

If you feel overwhelmed or want to put strategies like these in place faster, book a 30 minute call or explore my advisory offering.

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How does this work?

The shift comes in having a shared understanding across your group, team, business unit, or organization about the philosophy of how you should work. That includes what your tools are and when to use them.

If you need some inspiration, look at how meticulous the guides from Basecamp and GitLab are on how they work and communicate.

You need to unlearn your bad habits. One of the biggest mindset shifts is as follows:

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Don't default to starting a thought in your messaging tool.

Tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams were created for real-time discussion and not for every thought that comes into your mind.

Oversharing and instantaneous sharing in your messaging tool is akin to vomiting all over your coworkers.

The flip is to start with your documentation or knowledge creation tool first—Google Docs, Confluence, Notion, Almanac, etc.—and move down the stack from there.

Why focus on these kinds of tools?

They offer you the chance to process and wrestle with your own thoughts, perspectives, and conclusions, before interrupting and disrupting others. You can self-edit and prioritize information as well as highlight items you've tried, considered, experimented with, or otherwise investigated.

By the way, there are two different kinds of documents—and good and bad documents—but I'll tackle these items in future conversations.

As an example, let's say you want to ask someone about a Jira ticket, Trello card, Asana task, or comparable. So you jump into Slack or Teams and mention a coworker or two.

But why?

Instead, add a comment and mention right in the place that has the context: the ticket, card, or task. This maintains the conversation in one location versus splicing it into multiple silos.

It also saves a conversation and disruption.

Since there's an existing "home" for this information, your coworker can come back to that when it's relevant to them. They can finish up their current task and work their backlog, queue, or to do list.

What's Next

Slack and Microsoft Teams are successful for a reason. I'm not advocating to eliminate them in this article. We just need to be more purposeful with them.

If you desire to allow makers and creators to actually make and create, you need to help them eliminate meeting and messaging overload. That's why you increasingly see companies either publishing their how they work guides or post jobs looking for help with defining their remote and distributed work approaches.

More generally, many best practices to enable remote or async work are simply just good practices for knowledge workers in general. So flip your communication pyramid. You'll begin seeing better work, whether you're hybrid, remote, or back in the office.