A few weeks ago, I told a dad joke on stage at SaaStr. I encouraged the audience to “Go forth and build your $10B company a sink.”
Where’s the joke, you ask? “A sink” was a fake typo for async. The idea being that had I done my presentation via an asynchronous video, I would have caught the error in advance.
Cue: an entire audience groaning.
Yes, I know the joke was lame. But it underscores an important point: async work is taking root across industries as an unlock for better, faster communication and human connection.
In fact, a growing number of teams are using async to build billion dollar companies. Here’s a closer look at how three fast-growth companies — Figma, Gitlab, and Upwork — are using async communication at work to create improved employee experiences, ship better products, and scale collaboration.
Figma | Bringing World-Class Products to Market with Async
Figma can credit much of its fast-growing user base $10B valuation to their uncommon ability to build delight, purpose, and excitement with software. What’s even more impressive is the fact that they’re building a lot of their product async.
FigJam is an online collaboration white board the Figma team built entirely remotely. Its very existence proves that world-changing products can be built in many places at once, and not all at the same time. Within 3-4 months of going remote in 2020, their team was feeling the toll of too much video conferencing time. They weren’t alone. Sixty percent of remote employees reported an increase in meetings in 2020.
Figma’s team started exploring different, delightful ways to engage and collaborate with teammates, and the idea for Figjam was the result. Within six months, they built Figjam end-to-end, launching public beta in 2021. For comparison, their flagship products took years of stealth.
How did they bring a brand new product to market in six months in the midst of a pandemic? Async feedback loops:
Internal Feedback: Unlike typical product feedback channels, they made #figjam-feedback public across their entire 400+ person company and proactively pushed the team to provide as much feedback as possible. The result was more voices chiming in at a faster pace than they’ve seen for any product. Over 100 unique team members — from sales managers to communications directors — shared more than 2,000 pieces of feedback including bug reports, new ideas, and tiny details that made it into the final product.
External Feedback: Externally, they cleverly created Figjam boards for the sole purpose of having customers provide async feedback in the product itself. Over 500 alpha testers from the likes of Discord, Netflix, Square, and Stripe left hundreds of comments. Many were in the form of async videos, allowing for even richer levels of detail.
In the end, designing a process that created space for both sync and async collaboration netted higher quality, higher volume, and accelerated feedback loops. They not only built an elegant solution to their own original problem of too many sync meetings, but they also brought a world-class product to market in six months, with far higher confidence.
Gitlab | Building a Standout Async Employee Experience
A quick search of Gitlab’s employee reviews and workplace awards makes it clear they’re known for more than just an incredible DevOps platform. As one of the largest all-remote companies at 1,500+ employees across 65+ countries, their employee experience is light years ahead of the status quo. They’ve built a globally distributed culture of collaboration by using async as the default.
They’ve done this in large part by laying out a deliberate, intentional set of processes and practices such as this excerpt from their employee handbook:
“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 memorable yet simple framing of how to approach async at work is an example of how pioneers like Gitlab are centering async as a default tenet of team communication, not a backup option.
Their employee handbook is a masterpiece in and of itself. At 2,000+ pages, I don’t expect anyone to finish it in a weekend, but here are a few key best practices regarding the way they’ve used async to grow a global team their employees love and feel connected to.
Share Knowledge: Make information transparent and easily accessible. The reason their handbook is so long is in part because it’s an open source “working handbook” that covers everything.
Communicate Publicly: They’ve adopted the mindset of, “We don’t send internal email here.” Opting instead for team Slack channels is key. From there, team leaders can decide what information needs to be permanently visible to others and what can be archived.
Clarify Exactly What Needs to be Synchronous: Set clear guidelines and expectations for when something needs to be done live and when it should be async. Enforce those expectations consistently.
Challenge Existing Norms + Assumptions: Every employee should be empowered to say no to meetings and dictate their own time.
If you want more, you can read some of GitLab's specific asynchronous work tips here.
Upwork | Scaling Async Collaboration
The freelance market is booming. And Upwork — which connects freelance professionals to businesses — has seen their stock explode over 600 percent in the last 18 months.
Core to the incredible marketplace they’ve built is their ability to scale efficient collaboration. The mechanics of a team of full-time employees and outsourced contractors across many different time zones are difficult. Async has been key to making this work.
Upwork recognized the limitations of synchronous meetings and communication early on in growing their marketplace. The first step was to learn what, specifically, wasn’t working. They ran extensive surveys, as well as both quantitative and qualitative customer research. The conclusion: synchronous tools alone weren’t effective in connecting freelance workers and companies from around the world.
21 percent of phone calls were never completed.
“Required” meetings by the company or contractor meant delays and slower project completion times.
57 percent of clients who tried video conferencing with Upwork only used it once.
Knowing this, Upwork built async features and practices at the heart of its marketplace — providing all the content freelancers and clients need to review at each stage. The result has been faster completion of complex, multi-phase projects due to fewer and shorter communication cycles between freelancers and clients. It’s also led to a reduction in meetings and significant time savings for both freelancers and clients.
We’re constantly pushing ourselves at Loom to not only design a product that helps enable better, faster async communication, but also live it day-to-day as a team. Companies like Figma, Gitlab, and Upwork are examples of the ways async can unlock a truly modern work environment: time for focused work, equal voice for all employees, and companies with transparency and humanity at the core.
Challenging the “way we’ve always done it” and breaking down bad work habits isn’t easy. But more and more teams are quickly seeing it’s worth it — both for the future of our collective well-being and for getting to that $10B.