Continuous learning becomes the first thing I look for when I’m asked to work with any knowledge work team. If the teams are not constantly finding ways to build and leverage their knowledge, their ability to deliver value degrades over time.

One way the learning can degrade occurs when teams move online. Some of the team members may feel learning becomes blocked. Typically, they feel blocked because they don’t have the same access to teammates or key people outside the team. These team members feel they cannot easily explore ideas on their own. They need to “bounce the ideas” off of others to get feedback and learn.They feel stifled in their ability to learn because they cannot communicate as easily in a remote setting.

The key word here is “feel”. It is not the remote environment but the perception of what is or is not possible in the remote environment.

However, remote work gives us a unique ability to learn both asynchronously and synchronously with our team. Knowledge work requires deep focus, reflection, practice, and exploration.

For instance, how many times have you read a challenging book or discovered a topic that requires you to really think through it. It may be a new model of how you look at the work you do or the world you live in. You might ask:

  1. Do you understand how it can help you explain things you experience?
  2. Does the model help you better understand challenges?
  3. Does it help you plan next steps or react differently in a situation?
  4. How long did it take you to feel comfortable explaining the model and how you apply it?

Whether it is Shakespeare, congruence, agile principles, Reinersten’s principles of product development flow, or Wardley Maps, it’s taken me time to absorb these models and be able to use them in my work. In some ways, I feel I am still learning from all of them.

large collection of jigsaw puzzle pieces
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

If you are in a “still learning” phase of learning something new, you are probably in deep focus when you study the model and examples. It’s typically a solo activity. It becomes asynchronous learning.

On a team though, it’s important to share the models related to work. So you then need to share the learning. Some of the sharing can be asynchronous as you share what you have learned through a blog post, video, or other recording. Team members can review the recording and spend their own time in asynchronous learning.

But we all learn differently and when it’s important for a team to learn together and quickly, you need synchronous learning. Team members need to be able to ask you questions as the “expert” and get answers back quickly. The team needs to be leveled up in their knowledge so they can work together with the same models.

When we are collocated, we use both synchronous and asynchronous learning, but it happens fluidly and the learning leans more toward synchronous. In remote work, the learning leans more heavily on asynchronous learning. But if the team wishes to collaborate on the work, they must learn together. Remote teams still need synchronous learning. They just may need a different mix of asynchronous and synchronous learning to build things together.

So while Matt Mullenweg of Auttomatic (the company that builds Wordpress) claims that asynchronous collaboration is a natural evolution of remote teams, I don’t feel that eliminates synchronous collaboration. You still need both.

What do you think? Go ahead and comment below.