Asynchronous communication has gained new momentum and importance throughout 2020. With most of the world working remotely and communicating through digital devices, we had to find new ways of relaying information and meeting deadlines. But what if you are still feeling like your communication practices could be improved? For this purpose, we have come up with this asynchronous communication guide.
See what asynchronous communication is, how to use it, and be sure your team has all the tools to deliver the best results.
Asynchronous communication is any communication that happens when not all of the participants are present at the same time.
In other words, the information is sent by one participant, and all other participants get and react to this information not immediately, but at a time that is convenient to them. A simple asynchronous online communication example is an internet discussion forum. You create a thread and get replies when other members login and want to respond.
Contrary to synchronous communication, participants choose when to log on and get the information. This is great in the case of a remote work environment, as team members get fewer distractions and have the ability to concentrate on the current task before getting pulled into something new.
There are several forms of asynchronous communication tools used by remote and non-remote teams. Here are the most popular asynchronous communication examples.
1 – E-mail. Sending an e-mail is one of the most common asynchronous communication examples as it is up to the recipient to decide when to read the e-mail and when to respond.
2 – Project management tool (comments, adding new assignments, info, etc.). With the improvement of project management tools and the rise of their use, more and more teams use project management solutions for asynchronous communication. It is easy to check the team’s availability and workload and assign new tasks, leave descriptions and comments to relay information indirectly instead of meeting up.
3 – Direct messaging. Writing a direct message in a platform like Slack, Teams or Messenger, is a great way to save the trip to a colleague’s desk or eliminate a phone call. You transfer the information needed and get a response when the other person is ready. To make sure this channel is used for asynchronous communication, the team should not be expecting an answer immediately.
4 – Voice or video messaging. If you feel like the text is not enough to explain the information to another person, you can use voice or video messaging. Record what you have to say and make sure nothing gets lost due to missing facial or tonal cues.
5 – Discussion forums. Need to share information and brainstorm ideas with several colleagues? Using a discussion forum is a great option. Whether it is a separate slack channel or a comment thread under a specific task, everyone can give their input and communicate asynchronously even through distance.
With most of these examples, it will be up to you and your company standards on notifications if they are truly considered asynchronous communication tools. If notifications can be turned off and the team members are not expected to respond within a certain time, then yes, these tools are asynchronous. If on the other hand, you are expected to answer some of these in a certain period of time or cannot turn off notifications, they risk becoming another form of synchronous communication.
Thus it is you and your team that have to define what is an example of asynchronous communication in your company and which tools will be used more directly. It is best if you can agree on this division on the company level. However, if that is not possible, make sure to have an agreement at least within each team. This way everyone knows what is to be expected out of each communication channel and where to use asynchronous communication.
So what is the difference between synchronous vs asynchronous communication? To answer this question we must first understand what is synchronous communication.
Synchronous communication happens at the moment and asynchronous communication happens over a period of time.
While it may seem like asynchronous communication is superior in remote work environments, both of these approaches have their time and place. It’s best to use synchronous communication when something needs to be decided quickly, a team needs to brainstorm, and for solving issues. A good example of synchronous communication would be a team meeting. This way, the team can bounce ideas off of each other and find solutions quickly and more effectively.
1 – Meetings
2 – Video and phone calls
3 – Asking colleague a question
4 – Coffee break conversations
The most effective teams use a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication. The exact division depends on each team and it’s specific needs. For example, a project management tool could be used to create and assign tasks, a messaging platform used for communicating with team members daily, meetings to keep in touch and get weekly updates, and video calls for when there are issues or questions to be discussed. This way, keeping the communication channels varied and avoiding virtual meeting fatigue.
When talking about the advantages of asynchronous communication channels, being able to concentrate on what you are doing is a big one. Since you can turn off e-mail and messaging notifications you will not be disturbed by colleagues and can focus solely on the task at hand. Which will in turn improve your work results as well.
So leave only the important notifications on and enjoy a continuous work process.
To make sure asynchronous communication works, it is not enough to use the tools. You also have to ensure the team understands they cannot expect any answer immediately. And as this attitude sets in, the team is left with a significantly smaller amount of stress.
By knowing they can answer the incoming e-mails and messages once they are ready, team members do not have to stress and multitask between tasks. Thus, creating a better work environment for all.
Some people will be a lot more honest in their asynchronous communication, than when talking directly. This is mostly due to 2 reasons. First, it is easier to form and communicate feedback when you have the time for it. Second, it is easier to tell the truth when you are not looking the person in the face (especially if it is not positive).
In comparing synchronous vs asynchronous communication, you often find a lot more honesty in the latter.
In most cases, synchronous communication does not have any record of what has been said or decided. If it is a meeting, minutes could be recorded, but such a summary is pretty much all you can expect. Asynchronous communication on another hand is documented from the start. Thus, it is easy to review what has been said an hour, a day, or a month ago. This creates a documented history of the communication that can be referenced to or looked up at any moment.
With effective asynchronous communication practices, working remotely or even in different time zones becomes a lot easier. The team members can easily reach one another when needed and everyone works on their tasks at a time that is convenient for them. To make sure important tasks get done on time, use a project management tool like Teamhood and track workloads, Gantt charts, and deadlines.
So, as you can see from this asynchronous communication guide, it is all about a group of people that communicate over a period of time instead of reacting to each query immediately. Such an approach is great for those working remotely, wanting to feel less stress or constantly having to juggle several tasks to make sure everyone is happy.
A healthy mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication will allow the team to work more deeply when only meeting to discuss important issues or to brainstorm. As mentioned in this asynchronous communication guide, each team will create a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication tools that work best for them. Some will be similar to a mix mentioned in this asynchronous communication guide, others will be quite different. The important thing is to find a mix that works for you.
Looking for more team management resources? Check out our workload management guide.