The Importance of Asynchronous Communication for Modern Teams
Asynchronous communication has often been touted as the future of work, and now the world is putting that idea to the test.
That said, it’s a term that note everyone in the business world instinctively knows or understands. The same goes for the asynchronous communication vs synchronous communication debate, trying to decide which is a better company policy.
To help, we’re diving into the purpose of asynchronous communication, noting how it differs from synchronous tools, and discussing benefits and examples that you’re likely already using. The purpose of asynchronous communication is to help you run a better team and give people flexibility to get their best work done.
Explaining Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication
Understanding asynchronous communication involves learning what it isn’t, as well. So, let’s take a quick look at asynchronous communication vs synchronous communication and why it’s important to understand these differences.
Synchronous communication is any communication where all the participants are engaged and present at the same time. Think of it like real-time communication, whether that’s in-person, on a conference call, or even in those Zoom meetings we’re all having more of these days.
Some definitions will try to add instant messaging into this category, but there’s a big limitation here. For it to be valid synchronous communication, everyone must be reading texts and messages at the same time. A good way for many people to think about that is if you’re watching a livestream or conference and it has a chat communication option to ask questions or make comments, and this is only available while the event is live.
Today, these tend to happen only when there’s a formal meeting and time set, so that everyone is available and mentally present when the communication is happening.
Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, is communication that occurs when the participants are not all together or interacting at the same time. This covers everything from sending emails and posting to Trello messaging to leaving a voicemail and very traditional forms of communication like writing letters. Depending on your friends, texting and SMS can be asynchronous.
Any communication that isn’t real-time is considered asynchronous. This does not mean that they don’t need a response ASAP, just that there is a delay between when the message is created and when it is received.
We’re seeing a renaissance of work-related asynchronous communication right now because of remote work, pushing teams to multiple time zones and different schedules. It also plays a role in developing new workflows because there’s a record of the communication for the most part, due to the tools being used to deliver communications.
Your team may be experiencing more asynchronous interactions, and it could be helping you get your work done. When we can’t pop by someone’s desk and have an extended conversation, we need to craft a specific message. In a world of countless emails, growing Slack notices, and plenty of texts, taking some time to focus on how you use asynchronous communication now could help you trim what you say and get to the heart of an issue faster, helping it get resolved more quickly.
Common Examples of Asynchronous Communication
We ran through a few general ideas about what asynchronous communication looks like above. Now, let’s get a little more specific with some detailed examples of asynchronous interactions and how they may play out for a team and a company.
- Email: Like traditional mail, email is asynchronous, too. You’re sending out your message and allowing the other person to respond as they can. Even if you feel like this is an urgent request, email doesn’t have to interrupt someone. It can be addressed as they’re able, which may give them enough time to research an issue and come back with what you need, which a telephone call doesn’t afford.
- Team documents. Posting a document in a shared Google Drive is the start of one type of asynchronous communication because people learn the information as they read it, not as soon as it is posted. Follow-up comments made on this document are asynchronous too, especially if you have multiple people trying to plan over the course of hours or days.
- Text and instant messaging services. From the SMS on your phone to options like Slack and Teams, companies are using asynchronous communication to rely information that needs to be accessible for an extended period of time without necessarily having an immediate response. If you’re using these tools for both asynchronous and synchronous conversations, consider using different tags or channels to let people know response requirements. This can be as simple as only using the “@” command or linking priority to a red-yellow-green color scheme.
- Publishing content. This can be website updates, notices on your homepage (like many are doing to highlight COVID-19 responses), blog posts, newsletters, and much more. Again, it’s information that is consumed when the audience is ready.
- Chat: Chat messages can be asynchronous when there’s no immediate need for a response and you’re using them convey general messages. These can just provide information.
- Workflows: Project management tools, updates, and check-ins can all be asynchronous, allowing people to update as they finish items and tasks. This helps keep your team focused on what they need to do, without interrupting them for information. Basecamp, Trello, and others allow you to provide updates and even ask people for specific help.
- Video: Recorded Zoom meetings, webinars, and other video can also be asynchronous when they’re providing a broad update, general details, or sharing information independent of the audience. On-demand webinars are a great way to think about asynchronous video because you know the creator wanted to deliver specific information to their audience — usually a highly targeted audience — but the content is evergreen enough that they can consume it on their time.
- Customer support: We’ll leave you with a little bit of a surprise element because customers service can involve asynchronous communications, too. Think about the support you need from a service provider. If it’s immediate, you’ll likely call or use their live chat. However, if the issue isn’t immediate or if you need something fixed but don’t have the time to sit on hold, you can use email and online forms to ask for support. Even though the task is time sensitive, these options allow you to prioritize support on your terms, giving you a wide range of benefits and allowing your vendor to take time to uncover an issues and resolve it.
7 Benefits of an Asynchronous Communication on Productivity
The purpose of asynchronous communication is to help your team communicate clearly without placing unnecessary burdens around the communication. This balance generally means sharing information with a long shelf life that does not necessitate an immediate action. It’s a smart planning and project management style.
When companies adopt it, there can discover a variety of benefits of asynchronous communication on productivity. We’ll quickly look at a few that have some of the highest returns and can make the biggest impacts across teams (especially remote ones) throughout your organization.
- Communication can be clear and stylized: Now, we’re not talking “style” in terms of what GIFs you’ll be using or when it’s okay to throw in a Westworld reference. The methodical nature of asynchronous communication allows you to set core components for specific projects or when using certain tools. For example, new Trello posts might have a checklist to follow that includes linking to required documents, setting a deadline, and assigning people to each specific task. If follow-up should happen a certain way — i.e. comments versus email — then you can specify here as well. As you set these rules for projects and team communication, they may become habitual. That’s a boon for those times when you have an immediate need and your team is trained to jump on a call and tell a specific person what’s needed and where all of the reference materials are. You become proactive by addressing usual questions and needs within the first communication.
- Higher resilience against common physical burdens: Asynchronous communication removes many barriers to sharing information by busting down traditional physical hurdles. An asynchronous style doesn’t mean everyone has to be physically present in one location or on the phone at the exact same moment to receive information. This enables a broader team that is remote across many time zones to participate. In the “normal” world of 2019, this could mean that someone didn’t need to step out of a client meeting or away from a conference at a specific time to learn whatever you were sharing.
- Improved transparency: Asynchronous communication is recorded communication. While this often means writing, there are plenty of ways to provide it with recorded video, annotated images, and more. What teams love about this is that we get lots of documentation about conversations, decisions, and requirements. There’s a natural paper trail to workflows and other steps. This can not only help keep your team on the right track but also give them a way to understand why a certain path is taken. People have a chance to see reasoning and adapt future suggestions to it or provide alternatives that may tackle stated needs and objections in a unique way.
- Higher trust and consensus: Beyond transparency around projects and goals, you’re also able to get a stronger guarantee on everyone reaching a consensus. That’s because it can be explicitly stated by the team leader, and clarification can be nested under it. People will also trust things like due dates and project notes when they’re clear and everyone can see it. Asynchronous makes it easier to build a specific project to-do list, requirement set, and much more.
- Greater personal control: We’ve talked before about teams with greater control over their own workdays are happier and more productive, especially true for remote teams. Using a variety of asynchronous communication tools helps people retain individual control by letting them set time for responding to issues, creating, updates, and more. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should only use asynchronous communications, but it does mean that you can minimize the stress and requirements of non-immediate conversations. You’re not only giving them freedom for general projects and tasks, but it helps team member have flexibility and be more willing to respond to any last-minute things that arise, with less disruption to other tasks.
- Potential for more thoughtful communication: It can be difficult for some teams and team members to perform under communication-related pressure. They might get nervous about speaking on a call, have equipment hiccups, or feel embarrassed to ask a question when they don’t understand. One of the purposes of asynchronous communication is to slow down your process and encourage reflection before reaction. By allowing people to read something and then return to it when they’re ready, you can have more thoughtful responses and potentially get better insight into a larger issue. Doist even notes that this helps it remove “knee-jerk responses” and played a role in eliminating serious HR issues.
- Your team gets to focus. By relying on asynchronous communication, you enable them to build large stretches of uninterrupted time that they can work on projects and tasks. This is important for nearly every department because it can allow creatives to be in their process, avoids interrupting sales calls, enables IT and others to focus on detailed issues, and
There are many more benefits your team will unlock when it adopts asynchronous communication tools and practices. However, those six provide a solid framework for understanding why shifting to a measured, slower communication practice may improve efficiency and team cohesion.
The Role of Video and Visuals to Support Asynchronous Communication
One quick note about asynchronous communication is that it needs to vary. You can’t rely on the same set of tools to provide feedback in every instance. That’s because each channel is appropriate for specific actions but may not be useful for others. At the same time, varying up how you communicate also ensures that people are paying attention.
Think of your Twitter feed. If it were all just a wall of text, you could quickly become numb to it. That’s’ why tweets with images generate 3X more engagement. Your internal communication can feel this impact, too.
Repetition threatens productivity by making it easy for people to tune out a large set of data. That flood of info is present in some asynchronous channels, especially if you’re checking in just once daily. Mixing up content with images or video can ensure that people pay attention, especially if those items reference and response to other text.
This can be as simple as using a service for team chats that loads link previews with images. Or, you could create your own GIF or video explaining what you need from someone. They get an apparent reason to respond and putting or saying someone’s name at the beginning can also help teams focus on what’s just for them.
Video is also a strong project and task management tool in general because it makes specificity easier, especially if you’re trying to describe a process within a software environment. It’s a lot faster to watch someone navigate a toolbar or ribbon and follow suit than it is to read each step and then have to hunt for every button or place to click.
Remote Teams Benefit from an Asynchronous Mindset
In the coronavirus response, businesses have moved remote. This is creating a wider range of disparity in how and when we work. It’s also causing teams to have to adjust as people tackle childcare and other home tasks throughout the day.
We’ve written a lot about the new normal of remote work, and you can discover trends and ways for your business to respond here.
Our closing thought is just that the asynchronous vs synchronous communication debate is about finding balance between the two, based on your team. When you can give them the benefits of asynchronous, do so. When you need immediate responses and teambuilding that synchronous communication generates, use it. It’s how you build a better working environment that is ultimately more productive and efficient.
To see the ways that video can play a role in your asynchronous communication and how we spice up any chat, customer service, and workflow, try Zight (formerly CloudApp) for free now.