Everything You Need to Know About Asynchronous Communication in Remote Working Environments

Working Remotely

What is asynchronous communication? How does it differ from synchronous communication? Learn how to use both effectively for remote work in this quick guide:

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Are you looking to improve your remote team’s productivity and communication?

Excellent communication is the secret to remote employees working cohesively though miles apart.

One effective solution for accomplishing higher productivity and greater communication is using a combination of asynchronous and synchronous communication styles.

But what is asynchronous communication? And how does it differ from synchronous communication?

You’ll learn that in today’s quick guide. 

We’re diving into what makes each style of communication unique and essential. Then we’ll compare the pros and cons of each and share our best tips for using both methods to your advantage.

So let’s start with the basics:

What is Asynchronous Communication and Synchronous Communication?

Despite the long terminology, you’re probably familiar with how these two communication styles work even if you don’t know their official names.

Synchronous communication is the most commonly used form of communication in the business world.

Here, employees are expected to be in touch with their coworkers and management throughout their workday. They’re also expected to respond to messages right away, no matter what they’re doing.

A good way to think about this is in terms of a traditional office environment. A coworker can always stop by your desk to ask a question. Or a manager can call someone to their office to inquire about a project update.

In a remote setting, this is equivalent to sending your team member a Slack or Skype message and expecting to hear back within a few minutes (if not seconds).

The goal is the same: to get an immediate response as soon as you reach out.

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Asynchronous communication is the opposite of synchronous communication: employees are not expected to respond to messages immediately.

Essentially, asynchronous communication lets remote workers reply when it’s best for them. They don’t have the time crunch or worry of keeping someone waiting for a response.

As you may imagine, there are downsides and benefits to using both styles with your virtual team.

The Pros and Cons of Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Communication for Remote Workers

Before switching to an all asynchronous communication style, it pays to understand the trade-offs between both.

Asynchronous Communication Improves Focus and Productivity

With asynchronous communication, remote workers have a better chance of staying productive and focused. Rather than continually checking and answering messages, they can zone out in long stretches of concentrated work.

This boost in productivity means you’ll have better quality work coming your way. A team with fewer distractions and higher mental capacity increases your efficiency, keeps deadlines on track, and minimizes errors.

Synchronous communication severely eats away at this productivity, especially if there’s a constant pull to answer messages during your team’s work hours.

Synchronous Communication Creates Unnecessary Stress

Synchronous communication can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety if remote workers are always having to check-in to make sure they don’t miss anything.

Instead of being able to focus on work, they’re left scrambling to answer messages promptly (no matter what time of day it is).

This also creates another issue: when remote workers use a synchronous communication style, they’re always in a reactive state. They don't have time to think through problems and articulate responses well.

You may see team members scrambling to get an answer out so that they don’t look like they’ve missed the message or took too long to reply.

But what if you have an urgent message or a time-sensitive deadline that does require immediate attention?

There’s a Time and Place for Both; Here’s How To Get It Right

Remote working environments are better off using a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication. To be clear about when to use each style, follow these five best practices:

1. Set Up Designated Communication Times

The best way to ensure steady communication between you and your team is to lay out your expectations and work together.

For asynchronous communication times:

Ask your remote team members to designate a time when they’ll check in with you for project updates. This could be a few times a week, each day at a specific time, etc.

Your remote team member should decide this time so they can adequately prepare a coherent and informative response. It also allows them to schedule communication without interfering with one of their deep-focused time slots.

You’ll know things are running on schedule without having to always pop in and ask for this information.

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For synchronous communication times:

You’ll be the one designating the communication window. Once you block off this time every day or week, your team members will be expected to engage in active communication.

This is the time you’ll use to share urgent issues -- such as new or updated intel about a launch, promotion, time-sensitive project milestone, and more.

Only block off an hour or less for this communication. Your team won’t waste precious productive hours checking in yet still gets the message.

And if you don’t have any pressing matters, send out a message saying there’s no need to check-in. This gives your team more room to work without anticipating a stop time to chat.

2. Create a Hybrid Communication Policy

You may want to create a hybrid policy where you tell employees that you expect a response to your messages within 24 hours. This decreases the pressure to respond as soon as a message comes in yet ensures you hear back in a timely manner.

3. Only Send Targeted Messages to Those Who Need It

Try to avoid using @channel mentions in communication tools like Slack. This can pull in people who don’t need to be alerted to the message, which drags down productivity and can lead to “too many cooks in the kitchen.”

Plus, when employees get inundated with messages that don’t pertain to them, they’ll pay less attention to notifications and may miss something important down the road.

Instead, use each employee’s specific name so they can refer back to these pertinent convos when checking their messages.

4. Detailed Messages Reduce the Need for Synchronous Communication 

If you just reach out and say, “Hey, touch base with me when you have a chance,” you may waste precious time without getting much done. 

With employees working in different time zones and in an asynchronous communication model, it could be a full 24 hours before you even receive a response. Then you’ll need to explain your message and potentially wait another 24 hours for the issue to be addressed.

So another helpful tip for streamlining communication is to always give your team members detailed messages.

This may mean adding detailed project overviews, links to documents or other resources, or email threads in your request. So no matter what time your employees get to your message, they should have everything they need to get started.

Recording a video may also prove helpful since team members can refer back to it anytime they have questions or need further assistance.

This is a great way to make use of asynchronous communication without wasting time on either end.

5. Create an Emergency Communication Protocol 

Despite your best efforts to stay asynchronous and productive, issues will always pop up. Creating an emergency communication protocol will tell employees when urgent matters require immediate attention.

You may want to flag messages or use a specific code word to designate them as level one priority.

Or set up a Slack channel just for these pressing moments, such as when a project must be put on hold, a virus is plaguing your system, deadlines get pushed up, reporting leaders change, etc. 

This allows team members the freedom to work without interruption and gives you the peace of mind of staying in touch. Just don’t abuse this emergency system and reserve it for serious, high-level roadblocks only.

Take Advantage of Asynchronous Communication Today, and Watch Your Team’s Productivity Soar

Now that you know more about the differences between these communication styles and the pros and cons of using each, you’ll be better equipped to streamline communication within your remote team.

Start by following the five best practices we discussed and clearly express your expectations. Then ask your team members for their input. 

You can tweak your messaging preferences to take advantage of each communication style, better connect with team members in different time zones, and boost productivity all at the same time.

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