In a world dictated by calendars and schedules, people are conditioned to operate in synchronicity — a manner in which two or more parties exert effort to be in the same place (either physically or virtually) at the same time. Asynchronous communication is the art of communicating and moving projects forward without the need for additional stakeholders to be available at the same time your communique is sent.
In an all-remote setting, where team members are empowered to live and work where they're most fulfilled, mastering asynchronous workflows is vital to avoiding dysfunction and enjoying outsized efficiencies. Increasingly, operating asynchronously is necessary even in colocated companies which have team members on various floors or offices, especially when multiple time zones are involved.
Asynchronous communication is a significant differentiator in a world where businesses are increasingly remote. GitLab's Async 3.0 initiative seeks to more clearly define and operationalize asynchronous communication.
In Async 1.0, GitLab operated largely async through shared observed behaviors as a small team. In Async 2.0, we began to build a playbook and define when synchronous and asynchronous was appropriate. In Async 3.0, we will define best practices and intentional operations. We believe this will:
While GitLab has a bias towards asynchronous communication, a strategic balance between synchronous and asynchronous is useful for achieving maximum efficiency. Working asynchronously is not a goal unto itself; rather, being considerate and opting to move a discussion or project forward asynchronously when feasible creates more space for synchronous moments.
Highly capable asynchronous work still allows for, and includes at appropriate moments, some synchronous discussion. Async is very powerful for GitLab, but not an absolute — especially if at the expense of our values.
|Weekly announcements||Engineering Management creates a weekly announcement video and slides to be viewed async, at a time convenient for each team member.|
|New team member introduction||New team member creates a 2-minute video introduction, introducing themselves to the team which can be shared in meetings / Slack channels|
|Backlog refinement / planning poker||Team collaborates via a GitLab issue (or Epic, or merge request, if more relevant), tagging the appropriate parties with specific requests. If the volume of information is above 1,000 words, ensure that a
|Capacity planning||Team updates a shared Google Sheet monthly.|
|Team members who are unable to attend sync meetings||Meeting organizers should affix a Google Doc agenda to each meeting invite prior to sending. Team members invited to the meeting should update the meeting agenda and questions async, or pre-record a video with information to be shared (linking the video in the agenda).|
|Quarterly team results recaps and celebrations||Corporate Marketing (
|Monthly finance accruals||DRIs (Directly Responsible Individuals) in respective departments set a monthly personal reminder to update ongoing Google Sheets with the latest financial accruals, tagging their finance partner(s) in the doc if there are questions.|
|Project sprints and milestones||Growth Marketing (
|Broadening coverage during PTO||Team members may assign a
|Preparing for meetings or interviews||GitLab's PR teams (
|Editing communiques and content||GitLab's Content (
|Weekly team kickoff/standup sessions||Corporate Marketing (
|Missed deliverable retrospective||Engineering Package Group utilizes async deliverable retrospectives through GitLab issues labeled
|Blocked calendars and non-linear workdays||You are encouraged to block your work calendar to ensure that family and friends come first. This comes in many forms, from blocks to engage in fitness or meditation, to caregiving, to picking one's child up from school. These blocks force a non-linear workday, which reinforces that you may not be immediately available during these blocked times, and team members should engage with you asynchronously.|
|Alternate times for recurring scheduled meetings||Synchronous meetings should be inclusive of those who want to attend and are in different time zones. For example, a team's recurring weekly meetings, alternate between a time which is ideal for EMEA and Eastern AMER (8:00AM Pacific) and a time ideal for APAC and Western AMER (3:00PM Pacific).|
|Async communication with those who are not GitLab team members||It may be challenging to coordinate and communicate asynchronously with customers, business partners, community contributors, etc. who default to synchronous communication. To convey GitLab's async practices, share our All-Remote Asynchronous Guide in advance, and consider affixing it to calendar invites and agenda docs as well. It's important to be flexible, and educate others on the benefits of and processes for effective asynchronous communication.|
|Asynchronous engineering standup meetings||Standup meetings are commonly used by engineering teams to keep all team members appraised of what they were working on recently, what they plan to work on next, and if they need help on anything. Since GitLab operates primarily async, we use Slack channels and bots like GeekBot to communicate this in an async fashion.|
All are welcome to make a merge request to this page and add more examples of async integration.
Async 3.0 is a feature set that supports and streamlines the variety of communication approaches, emphasizing comprehension and consideration, rather than prescribing a one-size-fits-all approach.
Teams should embrace a self-service mentality, single source of truth (SSoT) to fully understand the capabilities of asynchronous workflows, how GitLab (the product) facilitates asynchronous communication, and how to leverage existing tools (e.g. Google Docs) in an asynchronous manner.
GitLab team members may question meetings, suggesting an asynchronous alternative (e.g. discussing in a GitLab epic, issue, or merge request) to cover the topic of the meeting.
@-handles unless you are requesting a specific written action or piece of feedback from the person and you provide the proposal and context necessary for them to execute.
Example of starting async first: View Vision Statement: gitlab.tv (
Vision Statement: gitlab.tv). In this scenario, the project began asynchronously, as the initiator needed to convey a complex series of assumptions and examples in order to provide enough context for team members to contribute feedback.
Highlightsat the top, an indication of being respectful of others' time.
When a back-and-forth asynchronous conversation is moving very slowly with a high volume of small statements between two people, sometimes a quick synchronous discussion leads to a quick micro-resolution. Generally, if two people go back-and-forth more than three times on the exact same topic — and it's impractical to break it into smaller async-friendly decisions — it makes sense to temporarily pivot to synchronous or leverage a richer communication medium such as Yac, Soundbite, or Loom.
These tools allow messages to be conveyed asynchronously, though the use of audio and video as the medium may enable deeper connections to be made compared to raw text transmissions.
Following pivots to synchronous, there should be a written summary created to inform others of the outcome, ideally shared in a relevant GitLab epic, issue, or merge request.
When it's clear that a kickoff meeting is useful to build rapport, trust, and quickly deliver shared context to a group, consider starting a project synchronously. This initial engagement should be used to establish a working foundation, such that future touch points can be primarily asynchronous.
This is commonly seen in sales engagements, first-time meetings with external parties, and first-time meetings with GitLab team members who have not previously worked together.
The below is a work in progress.
Different teams have different needs, and will experience asynchronous communication nonuniformly. GitLab is planning a company-wide survey to better understand the team's familiarity and relationship with asynchronous workflows. KPI targets will be established based on data from these results.
The easiest way to enter into an asynchronous mindset is to ask this question: "How would I deliver this message, present this work, or move this project forward right now if no one else on my team (or in my company) were awake?"
This removes the temptation to take shortcuts, or to call a meeting to simply gather input. (After all, every meeting should be a review of a concrete proposal, and only called when it will lead to a more efficient outcome than would be possible asynchronously.)
Asynchronous work is a simple concept: Do as much as you can with what you have, document everything, transfer ownership of the project to the next person, then start working on something else. — Preston W. on the Remote blog
Practicing iteration at GitLab requires intention and effort. It is often referred to as the most difficult value to embrace. Iterating on numerous ongoing projects is an ideal forcing function to ensure a bias toward asynchronous.
If you're only working on a single project, asynchronous can feel taxing and inefficient, as you're perpetually waiting for another party to unblock you. This creates idle time and makes synchronicity seem alluring. Scheduling your work such that you can pick up other items while waiting to be unblocked can reduce this down time.
If you're working on five ongoing projects, for example, it's much easier to make iterative progress on one, tag a person or team within a GitLab epic, issue, or merge request for desired input or action, and switch to another ongoing project while you wait. If you cycle through your assigned projects, making iterative improvements on each before handing off, you're able to create minimum viable change for many more projects, while being less concerned over the immediate response to any one of the projects in particular.
Asynchronous works well when you manage multiple concurrent projects, though this does require discipline and an ability to context switch and compartmentalize.
At GitLab, everything is in draft and subject to change. Asynchronous workflows are more easily adopted when you foster a culture of progress over perfection. Move a project forward as best you can given the resources available, and if you reach a point where you're blocked, attempt to ship what you have now through a two-way door.
This allows colleagues to clearly see the direction you're heading, and relieves pressure on them to reply immediately as some progress is better than none.
Asynchronous workflows require a culture where incremental improvements are celebrated equally, if not more, than massive launches. If leadership casts shame on unfinished or unpolished work, workers will be reluctant to work asynchronously. Rather, they will optimize for delaying work until a satisfactory amount of consensus gathering can occur. Consensus feels good, but can easily mask inefficiency, progress, and innovation.
Mastering the art of communicating asynchronously has a prerequisite: documentation. At its core, asynchronous communication is documentation. It is delivering a message or series of messages in a way that does not require the recipient(s) to be available — or even awake — at the same time.
If your organization has no standardized method of documentation, establish that first. Otherwise, team members will be left to determine their own methods for communicating asynchronously, creating a cacophony of textual noise which is poorly organized and difficult to query against.
Asynchronous communication works best when there is companywide alignment on how and where to input communication. Leaders should carefully select their tools, aiming to direct communications to as few channels as possible.
A common frustration in large organizations — regardless of what stage of remote they're in — is the chaotic splintering of communication. Projects frequently end up strewn across email, chat, text messages, unrecorded meetings, design tools, Google Docs, etc. While there are a litany of unified communication tools available which attempt to wrangle all of that, you're best served by choosing a single system for communicating project progress.
At GitLab (the company), that destination is GitLab (the product). Any side conversation that occurs in a meeting is documented in an agenda, and the useful elements are contextualized and ported to relevant GitLab issues and/or merge requests. The same goes for side conversations that happen in Slack or email. Relevant portions are ported over into GitLab (the product), which is the single source of truth for any ongoing work.
If it's not in a GitLab epic, issue, or merge request, it doesn't exist. This mentality is essential to reaping the benefits of asynchronous communication.
GitLab is a collaboration tool designed to help people work better together whether they are in the same location or spread across multiple time zones. Originally, GitLab let software developers collaborate on writing code and packaging it up into software applications. Today, GitLab has a wide range of capabilities used by people around the globe in all kinds of companies and roles.
You can learn more at GitLab's remote team solutions page.
Leaders should strive to remove bias toward one time zone, or one swath of time zones (e.g. time zones covering North America). For company all-hands meetings, look to rotate these to accommodate a more diverse array of time zones. Also consider recording them so that others can watch at a later time.
When hosting live learning sessions, for instance, host several instances so people around the globe are able to attend one that suits their schedule.
If a company pulls too hard in the direction of one time zone (oftentimes the zone where most company executives live), it signals to the rest of the company that asynchronous workflows aren't taken seriously.
One of the more challenging aspects of remote work is closing out of all mental tabs — to use a web browser analogy — once you leave work. Since remote enables you to work a non-linear workday, it's difficult to rationalize where one working session ends and another begins. There is oftentimes no reason or excuse other than "it's time." Dedicated remote workers may struggle with disconnecting from this feeling, deprioritizing their own wellbeing and falling into the trap of "just one more reply."
Slack (or Microsoft Teams, or similar) should be used primarily for informal communication. If you are accustomed to Slack being an always-on center of urgency in a prior organization, breaking your reliance on it as a core part of accomplishing tasks will require deliberate effort and reinforcement.
Below are recommended forcing functions to keep leaders and individual contributors alike from being consumed by Slack messages and a bias for synchronicity. The goal is to place the power of prioritization back into one's own hands. This is critical to being an effective manager of one.
Humans were not designed to receive an unchecked quantity of new data in perpetuity. For many, it would be a full-time job to simply read and comprehend a daily or weekly digest of new Slack messages, private and public. While an individual's approach to filtering what is vital and is not will differ by role and function, you can reduce your mental load by clearing all messages at the end of each working day or week.
Slack refers to this as
Mark all messages as read, which is easily toggled by simultaneously pressing
Create a rudimentary README that clarifies how you work. Ideally, it's working from a GitLab Issue board, tagging system, or To-Do list which can be understood and used company-wide. You can then post the link to your README in your Slack profile, pointing others to it. Showing others how to deliberately chose asynchronous over synchronous is vital to reinforcing our sub-value of Bias towards asynchronous communication.
This is an extension of another remote-first forcing function: Always answer with a link.
Remote workers lack many of the physical gateways that serve as dividers between work and life. When work and life happen in the same building, and one's work equipment is always within reach, it's far too easy to allow unread Slack messages to haunt you.
Being intentional about removing Slack from one's phone is a great way to reinforce that time away from work is important. A litany of studies have covered the addictive impact of smartphones. Even if you aren't sure if this approach will benefit you, give it a try. It's a two-way door.
In a colocated setting, a worker can pick up context clues by seeing someone storm away, sigh loudly, or intentionally put on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to prevent interruptions. Remote colleagues are oftentimes unable to demonstrate similar indicators.
Thus, it's important to leverage Slack statuses to broadcast information on your capacity to your team. Many at GitLab utilize Clockwise, which automatically showcases a calendar icon and triggers
Do Not Disturb within Slack while you're in a meeting, and shows when you're outside of set working hours.
You should feel safe to manually adjust your status to indicate when you are at capacity or engaged in focus time. This reinforces that others can and should consider doing likewise, while also reminding others that Slack and synchronous conversation should not be the default.
While GitLab's approach to self-service and self-learning is reinforced during onboarding, continual reinforcement may be necessary. It is acceptable to ask someone if they are exercising a bias towards asynchronous communication, regardless of their position on the org chart.
Just as we would hope that all GitLab team members would be quick to ask if something is inclusive, it's important to remember that asynchronous communications is another way for GitLab to be more inclusive.
There is as much to unlearn as there is to learn.
At GitLab, we have a bias towards asynchronous communication. As a meeting participant, whether you are scheduling or an invitee, question every work-related meeting.
For existing and upcoming meetings, add this question at the top or bottom of the agenda and document the answer: Could this meeting have been handled asynchronously, and if so, how?
Consider sharing these learnings in a public channel to create additional awareness of what's possible through asynchronous workflows. Take time to reflect on which meetings you've attended or scheduled in recent weeks. Which were a valuable use of time and which could have been handled asynchronously?
There are many tasks which can be handled synchronously and asynchronously. The goal is to always select asynchronous where feasible, creating more focus time in your day. This also creates a higher likelihood that team members will have more energy for synchronous connections that bolster work relationships. Informal communication is vital in an all-remote setting; by being ruthless in one's bias towards asynchronous work, it creates more space for synchronous team bonding. We each have a finite amount of tolerance for work-related meetings and video calls; synchronous moments are better saved for informal communication such as coffee chats and team trivia where feasible.
At GitLab, if you schedule a work-related meeting (e.g. not a coffee chat) it is required that you have an agenda. If you add an agenda item, you are expected to verbalize your agenda item and ensure that you or someone else is taking notes of the response. If writing it down effectively communicates the intent, then consider going completely asynchronous on the topic.
If you are creating double work for yourself or others — holding a meeting simply to document what will need to be written down in order to work handbook-first — it is likely more efficient to not hold a meeting and instead work asynchronously.
When considering meetings, review the GitLab value of Efficiency and following the meeting guidelines in being respectful of others' time. Do not schedule a coffee chat which is a work-related meeting in disguise.
In the GitLab Unfiltered video above, two GitLab colleagues discuss lessons learned from managing a team asyncronously, across many time zones, while traveling.
Have as few mandated meetings as possible. The notion of "optional meetings" is absurd to those who only think in terms of synchronous communication — you're either at a meeting to contribute, or you aren't.
The beauty of asynchronous is that team members can contribute to meetings that occur while they sleep.
Meeting attendance becomes optional when when each one has an agenda and a Google Doc attached to each invite. This allows people anywhere in the world to contribute questions/input asynchronously in advance, and catch up on documented outcomes at a later time.
The person who called the meeting is responsible for contextualizing the outcomes and porting relevant snippets to relevant GitLab issues and/or merge requests.
By placing this burden on the meeting organizer, it acts as a filter for whether or not a meeting is truly necessary. The organizer is responsible for informing the entire company, via post-meeting documentation, of the outcomes should team members go searching. That's a big responsibility, which keeps the quantity of meetings in check.
In the GitLab Unfiltered video above, Emna G., founder and CEO at Veamly, speaks with GitLab's Darren M. about the impact of defaulting to asynchronous as it applies to stress, anxiety, mental health, and overall wellbeing.
Working asynchronously is more efficient, less stressful, and more amenable to scale. The benefits for both employee and employer are numerous, and we've highlighted a few below.
In the video above, GitLab's Head of Remote discusses the oft overlooked mental health benefits of asynchronous communication.
A tremendous amount of stress comes with expectations to be online, available, and responsive during set working hours. Worse, our hyper-connected society has allowed this notion to seep into every hour of the day, destroying boundaries between work and self.
An unsung benefit to working asynchronously is a reduction of tension. When your entire company operates with an understanding that any team member could be offline at any time, for any reason, there is no expectation that one will reply instantly to an inquiry.
This creates an environment where your mental health is prioritized, freeing team members from a perpetual assault of notifications and judgment.
When asked how asynchronous communication impacts a societal expectation for an immediate response at all hours of the day, Darren M., GitLab's Head of Remote, offered the following during an interview with Stuart Miniman, host of theCUBE and GM of Content at SiliconANGLE Media.
Remote is much better for your mental health and sanity than other settings, and it's because it forces you to work asynchronously. At GitLab, we have people spread across 65 countries, so almost every time zone is covered. But, that also means that someone on your team is likely in a vastly different time zone. In fact, they may be asleep the entire time you're up working.
With an asynchronous mindset, it enables all of us to take a step back and assume that whatever we're doing is done with no one else online. It removes the burden of a nonstop string of messages where you're expected to respond to things immediately.
From a mental health standpoint, when you have an entire company that embraces that, we're all given a little more breathing room to do really deep work that requires long periods of uninterrupted time.
As a society, we're getting close to a tipping point where people are at their limit on how many more messages, or emails, or seemingly urgent pings they can manage while also doing their job well. We may be a bit ahead of the curve on that, but my hope is that the industry at large embraces asynchronous communication, and allows their people more time to actually do the work they were hired to do.
A core problem with synchronous communication is the perception of deadlines. When there is an arbitrary start time and end time to a working day, there is an irrational pressure to communicate as much as possible between those times, oftentimes at the expense of processing time.
This is also entirely incongruent with today's business world. There is no actual start time and end time. Business occurs around the clock, in all time zones, in perpetuity. Attempting to shoehorn communications into a predefined set of hours without a documented need leads to dysfunction and misinterpretation.
Going fully remote was nice, but the real benefit was in going fully asynchronous. Here are a list of the benefits we've seen at @Gumroad:— Sahil Lavingia (@shl) January 29, 2020
A thread 👇🏽
All communication is thoughtful. Because nothing is urgent (unless the site is down), comments are made after mindful processing and never in real-time. There's no drama
Because everyone is always effectively "blocked," everyone plans ahead. It also means anyone can disappear for an hour, a day, or a week and not feel like they are holding the company back. Even me!
People build their work around their life, not the other way around. This is especially great for new parents, but everyone benefits from being able to structure their days to maximize their happiness and productivity.
This is possible because everything is documented. And because everyone talks through different text-based mediums, it's easy for people to peer into anything if they're curious (or take over if need be). There are also no meetings, and all numbers are public, so there's no FOMO.
The software we ship is well-tested and incredibly stable. It has to be, because we're never online at the same time to "deploy" together. There are rarely fires to fight, and we lower the amount of technical debt we have at Gumroad every week too!
Overall, it's a very low stress environment. Many of us don't even have Slack installed. Yet, we're shipping the best software we've ever shipped, and growing faster than ever. Funny how that works!
In an asynchronous company, team members are given agency to move projects forward on a schedule that suits them. At GitLab, we measure results, not hours. This means that people are free to achieve results when it best suits them.
If they're traveling to a new time zone each month, or they've chosen to spend a beautiful afternoon with family in favor of working a time-shifted schedule upon their return, that's their prerogative.
To further optimize this approach, consider adding a "no ask, must tell" time off policy, which means team members do not need to ask permission to step away from work.
Asynchronous companies should implement a low-context culture. This means that communication is precise and direct. Team members forecast what questions may be asked about a communique and add in as much context as possible in its delivery. By assuming that the recipient is asleep, or perhaps doesn't even work at the company yet, this added context removes ambiguity and decreases the likelihood of misinterpretation.
This may feel inefficient, as communiques may take longer to compose and edit. However, the long-term benefits are remarkable. At GitLab, we have years of documented decisions — such as this example of availability over velocity — loaded with context. This enables new hires to sift through archives and understand the context of the moment, and what went into a given decision.
Synchronous organizations often make decisions in a series of meetings, documenting little to nothing along the way, such that those who come into the process mid-stream are constantly wasting cycles on fact-finding missions. Plus, those who are hired after a significant decision is made has no way of understanding the context that went into something prior to their arrival, creating cavernous knowledge gaps that eat away at a company's efficiency.
A significant source of failure demand for meetings and status updates is the desire of organizational leaders to keep abreast of who’s doing what. This situational awareness is indeed important, but trying to maintain it by calling meetings, messaging people on Slack, and catching people on the hallways is a significant systemic drag on organizational productivity.
A better model for staying informed of developments as the organization scales is for groups to publish status updates as part of the regular cadence of their work. Leaders can asynchronously read these updates and, should the need arise, initiate additional, synchronous conversation to ask questions, provide feedback, etc.
Synchronous meetings should be reserved for low-latency collaboration on complex issues; likewise, collaboration should be reserved for synchronous meetings. — Coda Hale
As companies scale, people will come and go. By utilizing asynchronous communication, an organization is able to retain knowledge throughout these natural cycles.
For example, the Git blame history of GitLab's Values page shows a complete list of who made what change, and what the context was for each of them. This insight is invaluable, as some contributors no longer work at GitLab. Too, those seeking information on this are able to find it asynchronously — they do not have to bother anyone else, nor do they have to wait for anyone else to wake up or come online.
Asynchronous communication has its limits. Although projects are moved forward asynchronously at GitLab, with decisions documented along the way in issues and/or merge requests, there are times when portions of the project are best handled synchronously.
As a rule, when team members at GitLab go back and forth three times, we look to jump on a synchronous video call (and document outcomes).
Certain roles are more tolerable of asynchronous than others. Client-facing roles, for instance, may have certain requirements for coverage during certain hours. It's possible to layer asynchronous atop these demands by ensuring that there is no single point of failure, such that a team within an asynchronous organization can self-organize and decide who covers given time slots.
While communicating asynchronously is an excellent way to reduce the pain of having team members spread across an array of time zones, managing this as a small team is particularly challenging. For example, a small team which is primarily based in North America may struggle to communicate well with the first team member who joins from Singapore given the time zone difference.
However, as a team scales and more coverage is added in time zones in between, it's easier to hand work off as the world turns. In many ways, managing time zones becomes easier with scale, as the delta between teams is reduced.
All of GitLab's interview processes involve some form of synchronous communication. Some of our teams utilize asynchronous practices during the interview process, however, this is not a standard approach across every interview process.
Anyone can test their knowledge on Embracing Asynchronous Communication by completing the knowledge assessment. Earn at least an 80% or higher on the assessment to receive a passing score. Once the quiz has been completed, you will receive an email acknowledging the completion from GitLab with a summary of your answers. If you complete all knowledge assessments in the Remote Work Foundation, you will receive an unaccredited certification. If you have questions, please reach out to our Learning & Development team at
GitLab is the world's largest all-remote company. We are 100% remote, with no company-owned offices anywhere on the planet. We have over 1,300 team members in more than 65 countries. The primary contributor to this article (Darren Murph, GitLab's Head of Remote) has over 15 years of experience working in and reporting on colocated companies, hybrid-remote companies, and all-remote companies of various scale.
Just as it is valid to ask if GitLab's product is any good, we want to be transparent about our expertise in the field of remote work.
GitLab believes that all-remote is the future of work, and remote companies have a shared responsibility to show the way for other organizations who are embracing it. If you or your company has an experience that would benefit the greater world, consider creating a merge request and adding a contribution to this page.
Return to the main all-remote page.