Leading in a Virtual World

Julie Jones
You hear a lot today about synchronous and asynchronous education. What does that mean? These concepts are also shaping the workplace and not always in positive ways.

What is synchronous education?
The learners, content, and instruction are occurring at the same time. Everyone shares a common experience. They are a cohort; they coexist, they are in sync. There is a shared point of connection. Consider what happens in synchronous education - connecting with other learners, hearing different points of view, receiving added direction from the teacher, clarifying content, asking questions in real-time, making meaning, and receiving feedback.

So, what is asynchronous education?
On the other hand, asynchronous learning is independent. Learning is prerecorded or developed for learners to learn on their own time, at their own pace, and convenience. Asynchronous education continues to grow at a rapid rate. But what can be missed in asynchronous methods? Consider where the focus is – "I" - What I need; when it is convenient for me; and what I want to learn.

Can you see how asynchronous work has made its way into business with the pandemic? Some employees have come to expect the workplace to fully adapt to their personal needs – their time, their work process, and their speed leading to limited interactions with others on their team, loss of alignment with business outcomes, and less growth for the individual. 

Most things are a team sport, and fully asynchronous work limits teamwork. Think about Merriam Webster's definitions for a team –
Noun - "a number of persons associated together in work or activity," a crew a gang
Adjective – "marked by devotion to teamwork rather than individual achievement"
Verb – "join forces or efforts"; "to put together a coordinated ensemble"

In the definition, you can see the connection to others, coordinated ensemble, and team effort instead of individual achievement. Operating fully independently without connection (asynchronous) can impact your success in your role and as a team member.

Consider what you have done completely asynchronous this week because it was easier for you? What did you lose in translation with other members of your team? What was the impact on their work? What do you need to contribute back to your team? What do you owe to those who work with you? Contribution and accountability to the team will define how others view you and your performance.

Fully asynchronous work limits your growth and development. What are your growth and development needs? How will you accomplish this learning?

One popular learning model is the 70:20:10 model developed by the Center for Creative Leadership in the 1990s, which transformed adult learning for business. Their model notes that:

  • 70% of learning is experiential gained through challenging assignments or stretch goals, and on the job training
  • 20% of learning comes from social learning – learning interpreted through peers, mentors, or others
  • 10% from coursework or training. 

So, what is the impact of asynchronous work on growth and development? Remember what happens in synchronous learning -

  • connecting with other learners
  • hearing other points of view
  • receiving added direction from the teacher
  • clarifying content
  • asking questions in real-time
  • making meaning
  • receiving feedback.

These items are critical elements for successful learning for 90% of the learning model – experiential learning and social learning. Going asynchronous for growth and development will limit the depth and breadth of skill development when overlooking these synchronous learning elements.

Think about your last successful challenging assignment pre-pandemic. How were you able to use the team's benefits to improve your performance and the team's outcomes? What elements described above were important to you? Consider ways to add these synchronous efforts to your plan.

Most things still are a team sport –synchronous work, whether in person or virtual, builds teams and improves results. Asynchronous is an individual sport UNLESS you commit to connection. It takes more work by the employee to engage with other team members, hear and take other points of view where virtual or in person.

But it is important to note that each employee provides a piece to the puzzle, which requires coordination with other team members to generate successful outcomes. Even a puzzle can be A TEAM SPORT.

Ask yourself these additional questions:
  • Have you committed to being in sync with your team? 
  • Do you know the priorities and how you align your work with the output of the whole group? 
  • How can I offer benefits to others on the team through synchronous connection? 

  • Take 10 minutes today to connect via phone with a member of your team.
  • Schedule a virtual "meeting" next week for you to work with someone on a project. Choose something you might have done fully independently in the past. Ask your teammates questions, seek their opinion and feedback before you have your project fully completed. Consider how this approach changed your final work product. 
  • Follow up with another team member after completing learning. Talk through what you learned. Describe to them what you learned. What is their opinion or feedback?