Asynchronous communication definition
If you’re not familiar with this term, asynchronous communication (also called async communication) is simply communication that isn’t received and responded to immediately. Examples include email, project management programs, messaging apps, and document sharing platforms. On the other hand, synchronous communication is in real time, such as phone calls and meetings (face to face and online).
Challenges arise when team members use asynchronous tools for real-time communication. A typical example is dropping everything you’re doing to respond to a non-urgent email because you are in the habit of doing so or it’s expected in your organisation. This reactive activity decreases focus and productivity.
Asynchronous communication for collaboration
There are many situations when asynchronous communication can be used for collaboration. One example is writing and editing documents. Using Google Docs, team members can collaborate on creating documents without being together at the same time or place.
The same can apply to presentations. Instead of creating a presentation that’s delivered to a group, create a self-explanatory document. This makes the author think more thoroughly about their ideas while enabling staff to digest the information at the best time. Participants have more time to think about what is presented in the document instead of having to provide feedback immediately in a meeting.
Teams with members living around the globe in different time zones can collaborate more effectively to discuss and review projects. For example, a creative team with an international advertising agency can discuss creative material (such as a TV commercial) during working hours instead of asking some of the group to participate when it’s the middle of the night in their time zone.
How to optimise asynchronous communication
Although many apps and communication channels are available, select the right tools based on your specific needs. Otherwise, staff can be overwhelmed with too many communication options. Asynchronous communication relies on written communication which can become tedious for some. Solutions such as Loom, a cloud-based program that enables you to send videos, are an alternative to typing long messages.
While many meetings and tasks can be moved to asynchronous channels, there is a place for both synchronous and asynchronous communication. For example, online asynchronous learning solutions can be used for compliance and professional development. However, synchronous learning activities, either online or face to face, are better when discussions and other interaction will enhance learning. Also, synchronous learning activities are usually the best option when team building is a goal. So the types of learning you choose will depend on your goals.
When to use synchronous communication
There are situations when synchronous communication is required, including when team members need to interact with each other in real time. These include crisis situations where team members need to discuss solutions, brainstorming sessions, team-building activities and strategic planning sessions. These meetings can take place in person or online through video conferencing. Instant messaging platforms, such as Slack, are also helpful for situations where quick responses are needed.
Asynchronous and independent
Employees who need to work independently can set boundaries on how they communicate. In a fast-paced environment, people often expect quick responses to non-urgent issues. It can be hard to break this habit when it’s part of the organisational culture. In The Four-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris recommends using the following autoresponder for emails communication:
Due to a high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12.00 pm (AEST) and 4.00 pm (AEST).
If you require urgent assistance that cannot wait until these times, please call me on (phone number).
Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.
In addition to setting up an email autoresponder, instant messaging tools make it possible to let people know your status when it comes to communicating. For instance, with Slack you can set your status to show that you are concentrating on work and won’t be responding immediately to messages.
What are the benefits of asynchronous communication?
Implementing strategies that foster asynchronous ways of communicating can bring benefits to organizations of all sizes.
When you reduce your reliance on synchronous communication (including meetings and messaging), you increase the time available for deep work and improve productivity, while enabling employees to work seamlessly, regardless of time zones and personal circumstances.
For example, remote workers might need time during business hours to care for young children or aged parents, and then get work done after hours. Working asynchronously enables staff to have these options.
Businesses with distributed teams across global time zones cannot communicate with each other when not tied down to synchronous communication methods.
In addition, asynchronous communication is suitable for both introverted and extroverted employees. Those who work best without interruptions can set aside focused time to get work done more efficiently by avoiding ongoing interruptions.
Set up a communication framework
Knowing what types of communication are appropriate for different circumstances can achieve the right balance. Besides offering the right tools (such as instant messaging and video conference platforms), create guidelines for choosing communication options to suit common situations.
As a result, more people can adopt asynchronous communication and boost efficiency and productivity.
Asynchronous communication success
One business that has benefitted from asynchronous communication is Scratch. The pet food company has staff that work remotely, including overseas. Co-founder Mike Halligan explains how it works:
We have an asynchronous way of working where you post updates and have a few meetings throughout the week. People generally aren’t working on things at the same time. It’s a very autonomous, run-your-own-day environment, where you update people and request help when you need a hand. People get to stuff in their own time, unless it’s super important.
They use a program is called Twist that enables them to work asynchronously. Mike says:
You choose what’s relevant to you, shut out the noise, shout out when you need a hand, and get stuff done without distractions. The ability to focus, govern your own day, work from where you want, when you want, and just do a good job, rather than simply being online and contactable all the time, is the way for modern working.
Get the full story in Scratch: a business for pup and planet.
Implementing asynchronous communication
Although this form of communication isn’t new, it’s important to consider how you want to balance asynchronous and synchronous ways of communicating. While technology can lead to an emphasis on synchronous communication (such as email and instant messaging platforms), consider the benefits of using asynchronous communication to increase flexibility, productivity and staff motivation.