Asynchronous Communication: The Skill Your Team Should Master in 2020
Before Covid-19, it was becoming more common for teams to collaborate across countries. At BOOQED, our workforce was spread across continents from the get-go (in 2016!). Our teams in Hong Kong, Singapore and China work with colleagues in Europe on product development, marketing and more, with great results.
This might not have been as easy for small startups to pull off a decade ago, remote working tools such as video conferencing apps, messaging tools, cloud storage and project management systems have enabled effective global collaboration like never before.
But let’s face it. Even with all the best remote working tools in the world – whether your company is fully remote or operates out of a physical office – spending hours every day clearing your inbox, sitting in unproductive meetings or replying to your team’s every message as it comes in is not the way to get ahead in today’s economy.
When it comes to developing a communication strategy, there are two types of communication styles to choose from: synchronous and asynchronous. Traditional office-based companies in Asia are probably more familiar with a more synchronous approach.
As we see a mix of remote + in office work becoming more common for teams, we’re here to convince you why asynchronous communication is a pivotal skill for successful teamwork that you should try. At the very least your team will come out of it with fewer headaches!
First of all, what is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication refers to any form of communication that doesn’t occur in real-time and doesn’t require an immediate response. For example, our colleagues in Asia sent an email to colleagues in Europe, they would then open and respond to the email when they start work several hours later.
In comparison, synchronous communication refers to communication that occurs in real-time with the expectation of an immediate, or near immediate, response. In-person or video conference meetings, instant messaging and even emails are all examples of synchronous communication.
Here is a quick breakdown of synchronous and asynchronous communication:
- Requires immediate response
- Teammates "present" at the same time
- Real-time communication
- Limited participants
- Video conferences, instant messaging
- Recipient can respond later
- Teammates not "present" at the same time
- Conversation with a delay between responses
- Unlimited participants
- Topic threads, project management tools, recordings
Both approaches have their pros and cons. But before we get into the advantages of utilizing a more asynchronous communication strategy for managing a team, we should take a look at why a largely synchronous approach to working just doesn’t cut it anymore.
The hard truth about real-time all-the-time communication
As most of you probably already know, it’s fairly impossible to get through a workday (sometimes even through the weekend!) without a few interruptions. An email pops up with project updates from a colleague. A WhatsApp message dings and it’s your manager asking a question. Several Slack messages alert you to the team’s group chat discussing the latest sports news. Sound familiar?
A pre-Covid survey of 202 employed professionals revealed that 40%of respondents reported being interrupted more than 10 times per day, with 15% reporting being interrupted over 20 times a day! It might seem inconsequential at the time, but Jonathan Spira, the author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization, estimates that interruptions could eat up as much as 28 billion wasted hours a year – a loss of almost USD 1 trillion to the U.S. economy. Wow!
This is because (unnecessary) interruptions split people’s attention, making it difficult for them to concentrate and make progress on tasks.
Constant connectivity ≠ productivity
A Harvard Business Review article on “Collaborative Overload” found that it was not uncommon for working professionals to spend 80% of working hours communicating with colleagues (an average of six hours a day), in meetings, and more recently, on instant messaging platforms.
In this day and age, the prevalence of mobile technology also means it’s all-but formally required that employees be available at all times. This trend of near-constant communication has led to the average worker having to organize their workday around multiple meetings, with any time in between trying to get work done while keeping one eye on their emails. It would be impossible to get any meaningful work done!
Lack of inclusivity
Exclusion may be accidental, but with exclusively synchronous work, teammates will miss out on important meetings simply because of where they live or their schedule! Furthermore, all collaboration rests solely on real-time meetings, it can be difficult for the entire team to all chime in. This is especially true if a small number of outgoing personalities dominate most of the conversation – other team members who are less senior or quieter are less likely to be heard.
The expectation to get meaningful work done while being interrupted throughout the day means that workers are having to compensate for time lost by working faster, which can elicit feelings of stress, anxiety, and frustration. Also, having to be constantly available means that workers might feel unable to switch off outside of work hours and can lead to burnout.
Fortunately, these problems can be easily avoidable if companies are willing to be flexible and adjust their internal infrastructure and communication strategy according to the needs of their teams.
Why you should adopt asynchronous communication for your team
Most people have accepted that distractions and being connected are just part of the business life, but a growing number of companies such as BOOQED, Gitlab and Buffer are championing a more asynchronous approach to teamwork. If you hadn’t thought of taking up asynchronous communication before, here are a few key benefits that might convince you to take the leap:
When your team members don’t have to respond to each email or message as they come up, they can block off long intervals of uninterrupted time to focus on important tasks, which is necessary for effective work.
Team members tend to be happier and less stressed
It is common knowledge that an employee’s happiness is affected by their sense of control over their lives. So, when employees are given the time to get through their to-do list without frequent interruptions and pointless meetings, they are more likely to get their work done on time and can better enjoy activities outside of work. Furthermore, an asynchronous work environment doesn’t have set work hours so employees can structure their workdays to better suit their needs.
Fewer knee-jerk responses
We admit asynchronous communication is slower than if you were to converse in real-time. But, when given time to think through a particular problem or idea, your teammates are more likely to provide well-thought-out responses. And after all, isn’t it quality before everything else?
Promotes time zone equality
We’ve all been there – your colleague in another time zone arranges a call… For 1 am your time. With asynchronous communication, no one would be at a disadvantage simply because of their time zone or work schedule. For employers, it also means that you don’t have to limit hiring to certain regions.
It’s a balancing act
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t utilize synchronous communication at all. As with most things in life, both asynchronous and synchronous approaches need to be used in the right circumstances to be effective.
At BOOQED, we’ve embraced the use of both approaches for various situations. While the majority of communication is on Slack, we use Trello and Airtable to keep track of projects and ensure relevant team members are aware of deadlines and task updates, plus automation tools like Zapier to tie everything together.
We also rely on Notion to share notes, recordings from team meetings, KPI updates, and as a "single source of truth" for processes. This minimizes time spent rehashing information during meetings and chasing people for updates. With our teams working across different time zones, with most splitting their time between working remotely and in-office, transparency is crucial.
Working asynchronously allows us to have fewer meetings, devoting that time everyone is together to truly important discussions, not minor details.
It’s also important to foster a collaborative team culture, even while working remotely. Managers touch base with team members one-by-one about once a month to catch up. We also organize yearly company retreats and weekly in-office days, so entire teams can get together and build rapport.
How to Get Started
If you want to shift towards asynchronous work, here are a few simple tips you and your team can implement to get started:
- If you’re drafting a message to explain a task, share as much detail as possible – let them know exactly what you need and when the deadline is.
- Turn off notifications when you need to concentrate on work.
- Set specific time blocks throughout the day for processing messages, and keep it consistent so others know how to work best with you.
- Handle team meetings as remote ones, even if some participants are in-office, so that teammates from other time zones can “attend” or catch up through a recording.
- Figure out the most frequently asked questions in the company, and have the answers to them in an easily accessible place for your team.
Share Your Asynchronous Work Experiences
Has your company cracked the code on remote collaboration? Let us know – we'd love to feature your stories on our blog or social media! Just email the BOOQED team at firstname.lastname@example.org.