Synchronous and Asynchronous Working

How to cooperate efficiently in remote teams?

The challenge

To enable efficient virtual collaboration in a team or with different stakeholders, it is essential to define what needs to be done “in the same room” (during a videoconference, for instance) and what can be prepared in advance or as a follow-up by each contributor individually on their own time. For some activities, no joint session might be necessary at all, if all steps of collaboration can be conducted by the participants at their own convenience. However, often it is helpful to bring together all the people involved at some stage of the collaboration process to make sure everyone is on the same page.
We differentiate between synchronous working (everyone contributes at the same time) and asynchronous working (tasks can be handled by contributors individually or in smaller teams, at different times).
(A)synchronous working is both an opportunity and a challenge. It is an opportunity to increase the efficiency of the team collaboration by reducing the number and length of meetings and allowing team members the flexibility to decide when is the best time for them to do the asynchronous work. At the same time, this mode of working comes with the challenge of finding the right balance between the synchronous and asynchronous components as well as keeping the team together such that all participants are informed, engaged, and accountable to perform their tasks “offline”.

Areas of application:

any series of virtual events such as e-trainings or single events that requires some prior preparation or follow-up tasks.


It is important to be clear about the objective of the collaboration and the process, including why a combination of synchronous and asynchronous working is helpful in the specific context.
Time is the key aspect to consider when decisions about synchronous and asynchronous working are taken. As the goal is to manage everyone’s time as efficiently as possible, synchronous work, i.e. meetings in which all participants are present at the same time, should be as short as possible and as long as necessary to reach the objective of the collaboration. Tasks that do not need all team members can be handled in an asynchronous working style, either in smaller groups, or individually, to provide more flexibility to the collaborators and avoid wasting time in unnecessary meetings. This is particularly important if overlapping working time is limited, for example when contributors live and work in different time zones.

It is important to carefully think through and design the sequence of asynchronous/synchronous work as a process over a longer period (e.g. two to four weeks). To achieve a smooth and efficient collaboration, the tasks to be completed before, during and after the meeting need to be planned in detail. For example, documents need to be prepared and distributed well in advance, when it is expected that all contributors read or comment the document before a meeting.

For synchronous working, it is helpful to:

  • Think about what information can be transmitted in advance rather than during the meeting, e.g. prepare or share already available materials before the meeting (documents, videos, powerpoint slides) so that the synchronous time is used efficiently for discussion. In this way, long presentations can be avoided during the meeting.
  •  Use synchronous working sessions to give an update about what happened before and plan or inform about the next steps, so no one gets lost in the process.


For asynchronous working, it is helpful to:

  • Assign clear responsibilities and deadlines;
  • Plan ahead to ensure that there is sufficient time for asynchronous tasks to be carried out before a synchronous working session and send a reminder a few days before the deadline
  • Use asynchronous working to prepare participants for an upcoming virtual event (e.g. workshops, group meeting, etc.) to bring them all to the same level of knowledge. In this way, the participants can join the discussion directly.



Tools and technical aspects

For synchronous working different event formats that are suitable for active collaboration can be used, for example group meetings, interviews or workshops. Additionally, collaborative online workspaces/virtual whiteboards can be helpful.

For asynchronous working, documents can be shared and edited on a document management system such as Nextcloud. For asynchronous capacity development, formats that do not require interaction are most suitable, such as videos, online lectures, web-based trainings, or learning nuggets. This content can also be shared on Nextcloud, or on Moodle.

Generally, it is crucial that all contributors have access and are able to use the necessary tools and participate in the selected formats (see learning experience Leave no one behind).

Other considerations



The contributors in a combination of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration can vary widely. It is important that the necessary people to achieve the objective of the collaboration are involved.



Combining synchronous and asynchronous working can avoid wasting working time in unnecessary meetings, increase efficiency and ultimately lead to cost savings.


Katharina Telfser

Contact us
© Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt