Put simply, communication that does not happen in real time is asynchronous. Team members share information as needed, and others read and respond as they can. Examples include:
- Instant messages
- Marked-up screenshots
- Recorded video
- Slack or other collaboration tools
As companies of all sizes pivot to partial or fully remote work, asynchronous communication is especially important. Roughly 63% of companies will allow remote work permanently, according to a 2021 survey from Globalization Partners. During the Covid-19 pandemic, many businesses tried to re-create the office experience virtually, but video meetings alone aren’t a sustainable long-term solution. Even for those who have returned to in-person work, asynchronous communication can help boost productivity and reduce downtime.
Benefits of asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication solves numerous problems in the workplace, especially those involving remote workers.
- Erase time zone concerns. Today’s remote workers often don’t live in the same time zone as the office, or one another. Rather than trying to find meeting times that work for everyone, asynchronous communication enables people to communicate as they can.
- Allow for varying schedules. Even if your office is fully back in person, many employees are now working on flexible schedules. With asynchronous communication, everyone can send and respond to messages during their personal working hours.
- Maintain social distancing. The pandemic is likely to be with us for some time. But even pre- and post-pandemic, viruses like colds and the flu have long circulated readily through crowded offices. Rather than packing people into a conference room, asynchronous communication makes it easier to spread out.
- Save time. Some things are best hammered out face to face. But for the majority of office needs, it just isn’t as productive to rely on real-time communications. In-person meetings include a lot of downtime. And videoconferencing comes with occasional glitches, dropouts and restarts. Asynchronous communication avoids these pitfalls and provides a written record to easily refer back to what was discussed.
- Boost inclusivity. Not everyone is an extrovert or enjoys speaking in front of a roomful of people. Some people need time to gather their thoughts before responding to a request or making a presentation. Asynchronous communication takes the pressure off. Those who prefer can reply immediately, while those who need more time can take it. And since most asynchronous communication is written, introverts don’t need to step into the spotlight to be heard.
Of course, asynchronous communication works only when it’s well-implemented and effective. Otherwise, you risk team members not understanding the technology, forgetting to respond or taking conversations in off-topic directions. Fortunately, you can follow some best practices to maximize the efficiency and usefulness of asynchronous communication.
Implementing asynchronous communication often means adding new technologies to the workplace. Don’t assume that your team members know how to use them, especially in the most beneficial ways. Provide training documents and videos, and offer a clear point of contact for questions.
Focus on intentionality
Think through the goals you’re trying to meet and how asynchronous communication can support them. Then determine what policies and procedures you need to ensure it works as desired. For example, you might want everyone to sync their data once a week, or you might set weekly deliverables for each team. Before introducing a new tool, summarize how it supports your goals and clearly prioritize it during training.
Create tech rules
It’s also a good idea to implement basic workplace rules for tech, including asynchronous communication channels. Maybe you want everyone to respond to new messages by the end of the next business day. Perhaps you should set up a virtual watercooler and steer all off-topic conversations there. Many people use their personal smartphones or other devices to log into asynchronous communication channels, which might mean implementing new security procedures to keep company data safe.
Practice radical transparency
It’s easy for trust to erode when communication moves primarily to asynchronous channels, especially if some or all team members are working remotely. Make a habit of being extremely transparent with everyone on your team.
Use strong collaboration tools
While tools like text messaging can certainly be part of an overall asynchronous communication strategy, you should not rely on them exclusively. Strong collaboration tools like Slack offer many different customization options, so you can organize communications to suit your unique company, all while promoting collaborative work.
Rather than cluttering up discussion threads with short messages such as “Got it” or “I agree,” encourage team members to use reaction emoji to get their point across. This will keep conversations streamlined and minimize the amount of scrolling that readers need to do.
As anyone who’s ever watched Undercover Boss can attest, how things work on the ground is often far different than the C-suite imagines. Encourage your team members to spend some time with each new tool and then share their feedback. Also, encourage them to share their overall thoughts about communication in the workplace and how it could be improved.
When to use synchronous communication
Though asynchronous communication has enormous benefits, especially for remote work, there are times when a face-to-face conversation is the most appropriate. Every workplace is different, but many employers use synchronous communication for things like:
- Delivering sensitive information. Employee reviews, corporate takeovers and other sensitive situations are generally best handled face to face. If that’s not an option, videoconferencing is better than asynchronous messaging. Either way, it’s smart to follow up the discussion with a chat or email affirming what was discussed.
- Hiring and firing. When possible, it’s still ideal to conduct job interviews the old-fashioned way, so you and the candidate can assess each other’s body language and other nonverbal cues. Likewise, if you need to let someone go, it’s best to show respect with a final meeting that allows the ex-employee to ask questions.
- Major pivots. If there is a fundamental shake-up companywide or within an individual team, call a meeting with all affected employees. In these situations, rumors tend to fly, so be proactive and stay ahead of any gossip.
Putting it all together
The overall goal for office communication should be to keep things running smoothly. This holds true for both asynchronous and synchronous communication. But with less experience in asynchronous communication overall, many leaders are unsure how best to implement it.
Take your time and ease into it, tweaking your plans as you go. Follow these best practices and be sure to switch to real-time communication in especially sensitive or impactful situations. With practice, you’ll see how incorporating asynchronous communication saves time and money while boosting productivity.