Largely overlooked as companies switched to remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic, asynchronous conversations don’t happen in real time. Now that remote work is here to stay, it’s time to start leaning into this highly valuable form of business communication to boost productivity.
A valuable addition to any workplace
In the early days of the remote-work shift, many companies cut and pasted what they were doing in the office into the virtual world. In many cases, this meant ramping up synchronous, real-time communications to try to emulate not only in-person meetings but also watercooler chats and other face-to-face encounters. But there are a few problems with this. Depending on the organization, you might face:
- Time zone challenges. Some remote workers now live hundreds or thousands of miles from the office. Scheduling meetings across time zones isn’t easy.
- Work-schedule differences. Even if everyone is still in the same city, remote workers tend to embrace flexible scheduling. Some people are more productive in the morning, others late at night. Many have kids or spouses also working or going to school from home. Real-time communication means carving out time slots when everyone is available.
- Technology glitches. It happens to everyone, from people in job interviews to guests on major network news shows. Everything is going fine until the screen freezes, the audio cuts out or one or more people have to reconnect to the meeting. It’s worth the trouble for something that can’t be hammered out asynchronously, but booking back-to-back meetings all day is a recipe for lost productivity.
Asynchronous communication is a valuable addition to any workplace. But it’s essential for remote-work environments. It solves challenges by allowing people to receive, absorb and respond to information on their own schedules. It also provides a written record of what was discussed. This can save even more time, as people can refer to the record rather than following up with a coworker or supervisor to review the conversation.
Asynchronous communication tools
Asynchronous communication comes in many forms. Popular tools include, but are not limited to:
- Recorded video
- Screenshots with markups
- Collaboration tools such as Slack
- Instant messaging or texting
Implementing asynchronous communication
While asynchronous communication can be highly valuable, developing a logical, sustainable implementation plan is important. You want to ensure that the tools you choose and how you use them supports your overall business objectives.
- Pick tools that suit your team. Think through the ways your office communicates now and the most common types of communication. Choose tools that help facilitate these messages in an asynchronous form.
- Set expectations. Since they aren’t instantaneous, asynchronous messages need response deadlines. A popular tactic is to require that messages be answered by the end of the next business day.
- Train your workforce. Some people are more comfortable with new technology than others. But even early adopters don’t necessarily understand how to get the most out of a new tool. Create training documents and videos, and make someone available to answer questions.
- Iterate frequently. Asynchronous communication tools such as Slack have numerous options for customization. You can set up different channels for individual projects, integrate email or even use emojis to prioritize conversation threads. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for your team. You can also implement best practices. Maybe things would be more efficient if you asked everyone to replace short messages like “OK” or “Sounds good” with emoji reactions. Or perhaps you need to set boundaries on off-topic conversations.
How do you measure success?
How do you determine whether your asynchronous communication program is working? Remember, there are two main goals:
- Improved speed
- Integrated remote work
If your projects are moving faster and more smoothly, and your remote workers feel like they’re part of the team, congratulations! You’re a success. Unlike many other programs, you don’t need a lot of data to measure the success of asynchronous communication. Listen closely to any employee complaints or suggestions, keep an eye on project flow and don’t be afraid to use synchronous communication such as a phone call or video meeting when needed.
Asynchronous communication helps minimize many remote-work challenges while boosting overall productivity. Carefully choose your tools, bring everyone up to speed and monitor your project flow. You’ll soon be on the way to more-sustainable remote work.