Synchronous or asynchronous communication – which is the style to choose in different scenarios at work?
Ever found yourself wondering whether to send that quick Slack message or just dial up a team member for a chat? You’re not alone! In our increasingly digital landscape with remote teams, choosing the right communication method takes careful consideration.
Current remote work statistics show that in the future, a majority of the workforce will be working remotely. So, if your company has already been shifting to the remote work model, you need to know when to use synchronous vs asynchronous communication methods.
Synchronous communication means real-time interaction while asynchronous communication relies on delayed responses most of the time. Now, your best choice of communication should be about efficiency, productivity, and respecting each other’s time and work style.
In many instances, a balanced mix of about 70% asynchronous communication and 30% synchronous communication is considered beneficial for workplace efficiency and productivity. But it takes more than these percentages to decide which method to use when you have something to say.
Keep reading as we solve your conundrum!
What Is Synchronous Communication?
Synchronous communication refers to the exchange of information in real-time, where all parties involved interact simultaneously. This mode of communication requires the immediate presence and attention of everyone involved to allow for instant feedback and clarification.
The key characteristic of synchronous communication is its immediacy, which fosters a sense of connection among team members. Communication happens when responses are immediate and the flow of dialogue is continuous.
As such, synchronous communication is an essential tool for discussions that require quick decision-making or real-time workplace collaboration.
Types of Synchronous Communication
Synchronous communication encompasses various forms that enable real-time interaction or immediate response. Here are some common types:
- In-person meetings: There’s something irreplaceable about face-to-face interactions that foster a unique sense of collaboration and understanding. These meetings are the bedrock of traditional workplace communication for dynamic discussions, immediate feedback, and collective brainstorming
- Phone calls: The good old phone call is a testament to the power of voice. It’s direct and personal and allows nuanced conversations where tone and urgency come through clearly. You could be having a quick check-in or a detailed discussion, but phone calls cut through the clutter to create a focused channel of synchronous communication
- Video conferences: Platforms like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams have become essential for teams to connect face-to-face from anywhere in the world. This format is valuable for remote teams collaborating on work projects, or just keeping in touch
- Instant messaging: Instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and more, are the digital equivalent of a tap on the shoulder. They’re perfect for quick questions, fast updates, or brief exchanges of ideas. The immediacy of this format makes it incredibly efficient for real-time collaboration, though it’s also easy to get caught in a never-ending ping-pong of messages
- Live webinars or classes: Live webinars and online classes offer an interactive learning experience, where participants can ask questions, engage in polls, and contribute to discussions in real time. It’s a powerful way to share knowledge and insights across geographies, without losing the immediacy of a classroom setting
- Walking to someone’s desk: Sometimes, the most efficient way to communicate is to simply walk over to someone and have a chat. This method is as synchronous as it gets – it fosters spontaneous conversations that can quickly resolve issues, spark ideas, or simply strengthen team bonds
- Water-cooler chats: Never underestimate the power of casual, impromptu conversations that happen around the water cooler or coffee machine. These moments can lead to unexpected insights, foster workplace camaraderie, and sometimes even solve problems in ways formal meetings cannot
- Voice Over Internal Protocol (VoIP): VoIP technology, like Skype or Google Voice, takes the traditional phone call into the digital landscape, allowing voice (and often video) calls over the internet. This method combines the immediacy and clarity of phone conversations with the accessibility and flexibility of online communication, making it a staple in today’s connected world
Benefits of Synchronous Communication
Synchronous communication, with its real-time interaction, offers several benefits that can significantly enhance team dynamics, especially in remote work environments. Here are some:
1. Brings People Together
Synchronous communication fosters a sense of unity and presence among team members. Through real-time interactions, this mode of communication helps bridge the gap between remote workers, making everyone feel more connected and part of the team.
2. Helps in Problem Resolution
When issues arise, synchronous communication facilitates immediate discussion and brainstorming for teams to address and resolve problems quickly. This immediacy can be crucial in preventing small issues from escalating into bigger problems.
3. Improves The Collaborative Spirit
Real-time communication encourages active participation and collaboration among team members. It allows for the exchange of ideas, feedback, and insights in a dynamic setting, which can lead to more innovative solutions and a stronger collaborative spirit. Here are some workplace collaboration statistics you should know!
4. Increases Employee Engagement
Synchronous communication can boost employee experience and engagement by making team members feel heard and valued. The direct and immediate nature of these interactions contributes to a more vibrant and engaging work culture.
5. Makes the Feedback Process Much Easier
Providing and receiving feedback is more straightforward and effective when done in real time. Synchronous communication allows for immediate clarification and discussion, ensuring that feedback is constructive and actionable.
Disadvantages of Synchronous Communication
Synchronous communication, while beneficial for real-time interaction and immediate feedback, comes with its set of disadvantages. Here are four notable cons:
1. Can Be Unproductive if Not Planned
Synchronous meetings or discussions can sometimes veer off course, especially if there’s a lack of clear objectives or agendas. Without a structured plan, these real-time interactions can become unproductive, consuming valuable time without yielding meaningful outcomes.
2. Outcomes Can Fall Through the Cracks if Not Documented
The dynamic nature of synchronous communication means that decisions, action items, and key points discussed can easily be forgotten or overlooked if not properly documented. Unlike asynchronous communication, where there’s a written record of exchanges, synchronous conversations require diligent note-taking to ensure important information is captured and acted upon.
3. Can Be Disruptive for the Team
The immediacy of synchronous communication often means interrupting someone’s workflow to get a response, which can be disruptive if they are deeply focused on their task. The constant interruptions for meetings, calls, or even quick questions can fragment attention, reduce deep work periods, and ultimately lower productivity.
4. Difficult for Teams in Multiple Time Zones
Coordinating synchronous communication across different time zones presents a significant challenge. You’ll find that picking a time that works for everyone can be nearly impossible, especially if your teams are spread across the globe. This could mean some team members have to attend meetings outside of their regular working hours, which will ultimately affect work-life balance and overall team morale.
What Is Asynchronous Communication?
Asynchronous communication, or async communication, is the exchange of information where responses do not occur in real time, and participants can engage in the conversation at their own pace.
Unlike synchronous communication, which requires the immediate presence and attention of all parties involved, asynchronous communication does not necessitate simultaneous interaction.
This method is better than synchronous communication in environments where team members operate across different time zones or schedules, as it provides the flexibility to respond when it’s most convenient.
Types of Asynchronous Communication
As we saw, asynchronous communication methods allow your teams to exchange information without the need for real-time interaction. Here are some ways they can do that:
- Email: You think of email as your go-to method for detailed communication: it’s perfect when you need to send information that doesn’t require an immediate response so that you and your recipients can reply at a time that works best. Here’s how to craft the best email!
- Messaging software: Messaging platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams allow you to send messages that your team can check and respond to later
- Video recording tools: Tools such as Zight work best when you can’t present live. Record your message or presentation, and let your team watch it on their schedule. It’s a great way to ensure your facial expressions and tone convey your message just right
- Sticky notes: Who’s to say you can leave notes at desks, on the fridge, or anywhere you need to leave a message? It’s all async communication
- Cloud collaboration tools: These include Google Docs, Trello, or Asana. With them, everyone on your team can contribute to discussions, no matter the time of day. You can work on documents, plan projects, and track tasks without needing everyone online at the same time
- Forums and comment sections: These are your community bulletin boards where you can post a question, share an idea, or start a discussion, and come back later to see what insights others have shared. It’s a fantastic way to gather diverse perspectives without the pressure of immediate replies
- Corporate intranets: Think of your company’s intranet as the central hub for all things important—updates, announcements, and resources. It’s where you go to stay informed at your pace, without having to sift through emails or attend meetings
- Project management software: Collaborative project management tools like Trello, Asana, and Slack let you assign tasks, update progress, and keep your projects moving forward, all without needing real-time check-ins
Benefits of Asynchronous Communication
Asynchronous communication, especially in remote work, brings a host of benefits that can significantly enhance team productivity and individual work-life balance. Here’s a closer look at some of the key advantages:
1. Enhanced Flexibility
Asynchronous communication means you’re not tied to a strict schedule for sending or receiving messages. As such, you can communicate at times that are most convenient for you. This flexibility benefits remote teams spread across different time zones to allow everyone to stay connected without having to compromise their schedules.
2. Increased Productivity
Successful asynchronous communication allows for fewer interruptions during the workday, enabling deeper focus and more sustained periods of productivity. Without the need for immediate responses, you can dedicate solid blocks of time to your work for higher-quality outputs and more efficient task completion. Here are our top productivity hacks for remote teams!
3. Better Work-Life Balance
The flexibility inherent in asynchronous communication also contributes to a better work-life balance (see more about a hybrid-remote work setup). You have the freedom to structure your work around your life, rather than the other way around. This means you can attend to personal commitments, take breaks when needed, and work at times when you feel most energized and productive.
4. Increased Transparency
Asynchronous communication often leaves a digital trail, whether it’s emails, messages on a project management tool, or comments on shared documents.
This record-keeping aspect increases transparency within teams, as information, decisions, and discussions are documented and accessible for future reference. It ensures that everyone is on the same page and can easily catch up on any communication they might have missed.
5. Thoughtful Communication
Since asynchronous communication doesn’t demand instant replies, it allows you to think more deeply about your responses. This will lead to more thoughtful, well-considered communication, and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings to improve the overall quality of team interactions.
6. Reduced Meeting Fatigue
Meeting fatigue, or Zoom fatigue, is a real thing.
But, with a shift towards asynchronous communication, the need for back-to-back meetings can decrease significantly. This reduction frees up more time for focused work and also alleviates the fatigue associated with constant live interactions.
Disadvantages of Async Communication
If you compare asynchronous and synchronous communication for workplace communication, here are some drawbacks you can find about async:
1. Feelings of Isolation
The lack of real-time interaction can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation among team members. Without the immediate back-and-forth of synchronous communication, individuals might feel disconnected from their colleagues, missing the camaraderie that comes from spontaneous conversations and face-to-face meetings. see our tips for reducing remote work loneliness.
2. Lack of Immediate Feedback
One of the most significant drawbacks of asynchronous communication is the delay in feedback. Waiting for responses can slow down decision-making processes and project momentum. In situations where quick clarification or approval is needed, this delay can be particularly frustrating.
3. Misinterpretations and Lack of Clarity
Without the visual and auditory cues that accompany live interactions, there’s a higher risk of misinterpretation in asynchronous communication. Written messages can sometimes lack the nuance of spoken conversation, leading to misunderstandings or the need for further clarification.
4. Reduced Spontaneity in Brainstorming
Asynchronous communication can stifle the spontaneous exchange of ideas that often occurs in live meetings. The dynamic energy of a group brainstorming session is hard to replicate in a non-synchronous environment, which can sometimes limit creative collaboration.
5. Difficulty in Building Relationships
Building and maintaining strong working relationships can be more challenging without the immediacy and personal touch of synchronous communication. In addition, the informal interactions that help to build trust and rapport among team members are less frequent, which can impact team cohesion and morale.
When To Use Synchronous Vs. Asynchronous Communication
Here’s the thing: you cannot avoid using both asynchronous and synchronous communication at work, so the trick is to know when to use each. Here’s how:
1. Your Audience
Understanding the size, diversity, and location of your audience is crucial in communication. You want to understand and consider who’s on the receiving end of your message to tailor your approach accordingly.
- Use synchronous if: You’re dealing with a small, closely-knit team that thrives on immediate interaction. This setting is perfect for hashing out details quickly or when you’re all about creating a vibrant, engaging team culture
- Use asynchronous if: Your team spans across continents, cultures, and places with huge time zones
2. Gauge the Urgency of Your Message
Ever heard of the boy who cried wolf? If everything’s marked as urgent, soon nothing will be. You want to assess the real-time need for a response so you can, in turn, prioritize tasks and manage team stress levels effectively.
- Use synchronous if: The ship’s sinking, metaphorically speaking. If your issue needs an immediate fix or decision to keep things afloat, real-time communication is your best betUse asynchronous if: It’s important but not drop-everything urgent. This approach gives your team the breathing room to think things through and respond with consideration that could enhance the quality of the outcome
3. How Complex Is Your Message?
Ever tried explaining or understanding quantum physics over text? You can see how some topics just demand a face-to-face explanation. The complexity of your message can significantly affect its interpretation and the efficiency of the communication process.
- Use synchronous if: Your message is a complex beast that requires real-time clarification, questions, and answers. This way, you ensure everyone’s on the same page before moving forward
- Use asynchronous if: Your information is either straightforward or so complex that it needs time to digest. This method allows your audience to absorb and reflect on the details at their own pace for deeper understanding and thoughtful responses
4. Your Required Level of Interaction
Interaction is the lifeblood of effective teamwork, but not all communication needs to be a two-way street. So, you want to identify how much back-and-forth is needed to choose the most efficient way to convey your message.
- Use synchronous if: You’re aiming for a brainstorming session or a heart-to-heart that thrives on immediate feedback. Do you want to create a dynamic space where ideas can bounce back and forth? If so, synchronous communications will help spark innovation and strengthen team bonds
- Use asynchronous if: The interaction required is minimal or one-sided. Perfect for when you need to disseminate information without needing an immediate response, and then your team can process the information on their own time
How To Use Zight For Effective Async Communication
When you run a remote team, you know you can’t always rely on synchronous communications like phone calls, live conferences, and instant messages. In this case, you want to use asynchronous communication. And you also want to ensure you use the best communication strategies, including:
- Sending clear and concise messages
- Setting expectations – including communicating response expectations
- Clearly outlining any action items or next steps required from recipients
This async communication tool lets you can capture your message through annotated screen videos and GIFs, and you even add a personal touch with voiceovers or webcam integration. This feature is effective for tutorials, product demos, explainers, instructional videos, training videos, how-to videos, or feedback sessions. A Zight asynchronous video bridges the gap between synchronous and asynchronous communication where visual cues and verbal explanations outperform traditional text-based communications.
In addition, you can capture and annotate screenshots with text, arrows, lines, highlights, or shapes to draw attention to specific areas and make your communication even more impactful. This feature is invaluable for quickly pointing out changes, errors, or important details in documents, designs, or web pages. With screenshots, you eliminate the ambiguity of text-only descriptions.
In short, you can use Zight’s visual communication through screen videos and screenshots to enhance the clarity and depth of your communication. With this async communication, you eliminate the risk of misinterpretation and leave your teams with information they can revisit in the future.