Maximising success in the world of asynchronous work

Maximising success in the world of asynchronous work

Find out how the people agri-tech firm Syngenta maximised their productive potential when they embraced asynchronous work.
  • Making ‘remote’ work
  • Understanding is everything
  • Striking success

Syngenta is one of the world’s largest and most prominent agri-tech companies. Through the power of cutting-edge technology, they provide assistance to millions of farmers worldwide in accomplishing carbon-neutral farming, and providing safe, nutritious food. Based in Switzerland, and with over 30,000 employees worldwide, its HR leadership have an enormous, multinational operation to manage – which is why the successful integration of new work models is critical to their business success.

Making ‘remote’ work

Like countless other companies, Syngenta was faced with a difficult challenge in 2020 – how to adapt their employees to working from home. Although the company was perfectly well-equipped to manage this new work model from a tech infrastructure perspective, it quickly realised that the real challenge was to embrace a shifting paradigm: adopt an entirely new perspective on what ‘working from home’ can, or should be. It wasn’t just about giving employees a laptop and instructing them to download a video conferencing app. It was about creating an asynchronous and flexible new way of working – one that meets the reality of remote working head-on.

There were issues in the way, however. The concept of ‘asynchronous work’ was foreign to most of the company’s employees, and they didn’t know what working in this manner entailed. The bulk of the organisation’s employees were, after all, scientists and farmers, not HR staffers – their work was often hands-on, in a laboratory setting or a field. Understandably, making this work remotely, and asynchronously, was puzzling to them.

Understanding is everything

The solution was to bring the thousands of newly-remote workers into the picture and help them understand how to do their jobs without constant communication with their colleagues. The IT department moved quickly to resolve this by tackling the teams’ overreliance on meetings. They instituted an online session for employees, aptly titled “Should you have a meeting?”, to offer guidance on how to minimise their dependence on them. On this, Melinda Schaller, the company’s intranet and content management product lead, remarked that the goal was “to get them out of that endless stream of back-to-back meetings and help them get on top of their overflowing inboxes”.

The session was a resounding success with the IT department receiving growing requests for more guidance and tips. A follow-up event was scheduled – an all-day session about working productively and independently using digital tools, chief among them the Microsoft 365 suite. One of the major issues is that, as Schalling puts it, “[we were] used to saying; ‘Here’s a tool, here’s how you install it, now go use it”. This was not conducive to great outcomes, and productivity was lost letting employees try to master these tools by themselves. She continued, “we flipped that on its head and put our focus on showing people not just the technicality of these tools, but how they can work with them to actually boost their productivity and save time, which would then have the knock-on effect of allowing them to also look after their wellbeing”. Thus, the employees were provided meaningful support and guidance on how to work effectively without the overreliance on communication that had been hamstringing their productivity.

Striking success

The sessions were so successful that an overwhelming majority of the company’s workforce signed up for them – 23,000 out of some 30,000. The sessions covered everything from how to use Microsoft Teams properly to collaborating via Sharepoint and how OneDrive functions. Once satisfied that everybody had a solid working knowledge of the software, in 2021, IT shifted its focus towards harnessing the software to support their wellbeing – and that of the wider team. From there, the session expanded to simple wellbeing – courses such as “Healthy cooking while working from home” began to emerge.

They were widely appreciated by the company’s workforce, and led to numerous tangible benefits. Spending countless minutes in endless meetings was eating at employee productivity, and minimising it allowed them to focus on getting their work done. This, in turn, meant less overtime and a better work-life balance. Working asynchronously made it possible for employees to manage their lives and accomplish things like becoming a parent – without having to worry about maternity/paternity leave, leading to higher job satisfaction, great employee wellbeing, and a better employer reputation.

Closing thoughts

Shifting to a remote, asynchronous work model is about more than handing employees a laptop and instructing them on which software to install. When Syngenta made the switch, they also made a conscious effort to change their employees’ entire approach to work – away from constant meetings, and towards independence. The video sessions proved incredibly popular, and brought wide-ranging benefits to the company and its people alike. Any HR manager considering embracing remote asynchronous work would do well to use Syngenta’s strategy as a guide on how to get it right the first time.

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