How has your relationship with time changed during the pandemic? Do your days and weeks drag, punctuated by periods of extreme boredom? Are you now super-fit and/or fluent in Portuguese? Or are there simply not enough hours in the day? Has lockdown made you hugely productive or is your to-do list as long and straggly as your hair? 

And if you are a manager, do you know where on this spectrum each of your team members sits? And if they are feeling frazzled, do you ever consider what you could be doing to help them regain some control over their time? 

I gave a presentation a couple of times last month on our relationships with our colleagues – in particular how to communicate and collaborate effectively – within the context of remote working. I talked about how these relationships have taken on a new significance in a world where our ability to connect with others has been reduced, precisely at a time when our need for human connection has increased; about the importance of listening to each other – and I mean really listening, free from bias and judgement; and why we need to be open and generous in our gratitude of our colleagues. 

The section of my presentation that people seem to be most interested in is the bit where I talk about how we should all be thinking carefully about the tool that we choose when communicating with our colleagues, grouping them into “synchronous” and “asynchronous” communication tools. These terms are likely to be familiar to people working in an agile, tech environment, but for those of you in more traditional organisations, particularly good old professional services firms, I can just see the puzzled look on your faces. 

“Synchronous” communication is communication in real-time, where the parties are in-sync: processing and responding to messages immediately. This could be a phone call, a Teams message, or a meeting, either physical or virtual. 

On the other hand, “asynchronous” communication allows a message to be delivered and received as your schedule permits. Asynchronous communication could be an email, writing notes in a task management app, or leaving a voice message for someone to listen to when they have the chance. 

Thought-leaders in the field of the Future of Work seem fairly unanimous in their assessment that remote working is here to stay, with most employees demanding a hybrid model where they spend anywhere between 1 and 4 days per week in the office. As leaders grapple with the implementation of these arrangements, one thing is clear: for the first time ever, consideration is going to need to be given to precisely how people should be spending their time when they’re in the office – what will they be doing, and with whom. 

Which then begs the question – how should people be spending their time when they’re working from home? In my view, it’s a mistake to try and replicate the office experience – the whole point of remote working is that it’s not like the office. Certainly from the people I speak to, there is a tendency to over-connect – responsible for the by-now-all-too-familiar Zoom-fatigue. This is likely to be the consequence of a number of competing motivations from managers’ perspectives: a genuine need to keep people updated; checking-up (to see if people are working); and checking-in (to see that people are ok). 

If careful thought is being given to making the most of time spent in the office, consideration should also be given to how people can be allowed to make the most of working from home – asynchronous communication is key to unlocking the potential benefits that remote working can bring. 

Using asynchronous communication tools requires high levels of trust – what should be of interest to managers is not the act of working, but the fact that work is being done, and that it’s being done well. People working from home need as far as possible to be in control of their own schedule, and all of us need to have high degrees of empathy in relation to our colleagues’ patterns of working – just because a Zoom call suits you, it doesn’t mean that your co-worker is going to feel similarly thrilled at the prospect. 

Some businesses choose to codify the ways in which they interact with each other in a “Communication Charter” – a document to which all workers agree to adhere that sets out how each communication tool (e.g. Email, video calls, chat functions, telephone) should be used. For some, this may be too much; but as a first step towards making the hybrid model work for you, I would encourage you to be more mindful when it comes to choosing your communication tool, to not default to video calls, and to imagine what it’s like for the other person to be on the receiving end of your communication. 

Be honest, and don’t kid yourself that your reason for choosing Zoom is so that your team can feel “updated” and “included”. More often than not, I bet the real reason will be because it’s easier for you.