What is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication (sometimes known as ‘async’) involves two or more team members exchanging information without expecting a real-time, immediate response.
Put simply, it involves communicating at different times.
Because the recipient isn’t required to be present at the time of sharing, async communication allows projects to move forward without interrupting other tasks.
This is why it is crucial to the modern organization.
You can send updates, messages, voice notes, screen shares, check-ins, and any other information whenever it suits you best. And the recipient can respond in their own time and on their terms.
This is particularly useful for check-ins, status updates and general feedback, as daily 8am team meetings can be replaced with asynchronous meetings. Submit your update, and carry on with your day!
‘But how exactly does this work?’, we hear you ask.
Good question. As we mentioned at the outset, you likely are already using async communication and collaboration tools every day. The problem is that culturally we’ve grown used to expecting immediate answers. This is killing productivity and overlooking the benefits async brings to the table.
In essence, letting people work and respond on their own terms, when they are in the mindset to do their best work, is a crucial part of the production puzzle that many of us have been missing.
Let’s take a look at a few asynchronous communication examples to make it clear:
- Email: You can send an email at any time, right? This makes it asynchronous. As soon as you hit send, the message is in the wind and the recipient will reply whenever they can. There’s no need for an immediate response.
- Project management platforms: With a project management tool like Asana, teams can share updates and work requests as and when they need to. But team members don’t need to respond to notifications as soon as they receive them.
- Messaging and communication tools: Online messaging tools such as Slack allow teams to send messages without needing a response right away. Just be careful how you use Slack—if you do expect instant responses from your colleagues, that’s not asynchronous at all. In fact, our State of Work study found that 79% of workers feel a lot or some pressure to answer an email or Slack message as soon as they receive it. You might as well be putting them on the spot in a real-time phone call. Give teammates a chance to take care of their important tasks and come back to you with an appropriate response.
Don’t get us wrong— real-time collaboration and communication channels can improve productivity amongst remote teams if the mood and situation are right. Of course, we’d argue if you’re going to collaborate in real-time, or via async, or both, voice is the superior method (more on this in a moment).
Synchronous vs asynchronous: What’s the difference?
There’s only one main difference between async communication and synchronous communication:
Synchronous communication always happens in real-time.
This means that anyone involved in synchronous communication must respond immediately.
Here are a few examples of synchronous communication:
- In-person meetings: This form of communication involves meeting with someone face-to-face to have a meeting or discussion. As you can imagine, it’d be pretty hard to have an in-person meeting with someone if they weren’t actually there.
- Phone calls: Having a meeting on the phone requires you to be present and respond to any queries on the spot.
- Zoom calls: You need to be present for a Zoom or video call to take place. Unlike a phone call, people can see your face during the meeting (unless you turn your camera off, but then it’s really just a fancy phone call, isn’t it?).
Why real-time communication has become a problem
Over the past 50 years, meetings have become more regular and longer. Meeting frequency has also drastically increased during the global pandemic as we’ve tried to copy/paste the office into a remote working environment. This is a problem.
Because real-time meetings aren’t always productive.
In fact, they rarely are.
A recent study has shown that the typical manager spends more time attending meetings they didn’t need to instead of meetings they did.
According to another survey, 65% of senior managers said meetings prevented them from completing their actual work.
And another survey shows that 31 hours are spent in unproductive meetings throughout an entire month.
This meeting madness costs businesses in the U.S. over $30 billion every year, and negatively impacts employee morale.
So you get the picture: meetings aren’t always useful.
They can be unnecessary, interruptive, and prevent employees from conducting deep work.
We’re not saying that real-time communication shouldn’t be used. It should be. But the trick is knowing when and how to use it.
This is where using a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous tools can be super helpful.
Take an asynchronous meeting platform like Yac. It’s the perfect substitute for in-person meetings, allowing you to send detailed voice messages asynchronously. You can even share files, images, and screen shares, too.
Essentially, it allows you to replace an entire meeting while still offering tons of information, context, and nuance.
So next time you’re thinking about planning a meeting, ask yourself if you really need it and whether a voice message to the team would suffice.
What are the real benefits of asynchronous communication?
Now that we know what async communication is, let’s take a look at some of the key benefits.
Spend less time in meetings
Async communication gives you freedom. You don’t have to be at a certain place at a certain time, and you can communicate when it suits your schedule.
As a result, you spend less time in meetings and more time running your business.
Why? Because our platform allows teams to communicate asynchronously with video and voice messages. It’s as simple as that.
Creates a more comfortable and inclusive environment
Not everyone is comfortable speaking in real-time, in front of an audience—especially people with introverted personalities.
To explain this, I recorded a short Yac on how not everyone is comfortable performing for a live audience:
Research shows that up to 40% of the population are introverts and that 77% of people fall somewhere between introvert and extrovert. That’s quite a high number of people who could find it difficult to perform well on live video or in-person meetings.
That’s where async communication can help.
Async communication takes the pressure off and allows team members to reflect before making decisions. For those who are more on the introverted side of the spectrum, this helps them feel more comfortable and confident in their communication.
Enables high-quality, accurate communication
Synchronous communication is instant. Well technically, it doesn’t have to be. But it would be pretty awkward if you were asked a question on the phone and it took you 10 minutes to respond.
Async communication allows people to reflect on how they want to respond.
As a result, they can deliver fully formulated thoughts and high-quality, accurate communication. This naturally means there is less miscommunication.
For example, many synchronous communication experiences involve endless back-and-forths because someone didn't get what you meant. If you take the time to craft a quality response, the chance of inaccurately communicating what you meant decreases. This means less back-and-forth, “What I’m really trying to say is…” loops.
Your communication is also higher quality because you’re not under duress. An async mindset means you aren't glued to your phone or computer just in case your boss reaches out with a question.
Many of us feel we need to reply in 10 minutes or less to prove we’re on top of things. That doesn’t give us the space we need to complete the tasks we’re working on and send a valuable, accurate response.
Allows you to hit the reset button, literally
Have you ever said something in a meeting and regretted it instantly? Or, been put on the spot without having been given a chance to conduct proper research or collect your notes before answering?
This isn’t an issue with async communication.
If you’re writing an instant message or email, you can re-read it before you send it. Or if you’re sending a voice message, you can re-record if you make a mistake.
Moreover, you have the time to collect your thoughts in a comfortable environment without feeling the pressure to deliver a response before you’re ready.
Put simply, it gives you the flexibility to review your thoughts before you put them out into the world and deliver a well-rounded answer confidently.
6 ways to foster a culture that puts asynchronous communication first
By now, you might be wondering how you can use asynchronous communication in your business.
Good news! You can use async communication pretty easily. You’re probably already using it somehow (we’d be really surprised if you weren't using email).
But if you want to make the most of it, you need to create a culture that puts async communication first.
So keep reading to find out more about the six steps you can follow to use async communication to its full potential.
1. It starts at the founder level
Implementing async communication comes from the top down. So as the company founder, the power is in your hands.
You’re in a position to advocate change in company culture and empower your team to start using async communication.
Once you’ve decided you want to use it, get a discussion going with managers and leaders at your company to figure out the logistics and practicalities of implementation. For async communication to take hold, you need everyone on board.
If one manager adopts it and another doesn’t see the value, they’ll be sending mixed messages. Collaborative leadership that presents a united front helps to align organization-wide priorities and boost engagement.
To make adoption easier, share resources (like this article) that explain why you’ve made this decision. That way, you can transparently show them the reasons why async communication can be beneficial for your team, and provide the stats to back it up.
Consider hosting asynchronous skip-level meetings to get a sense of what works best for your team on the ground, too.
2. Making the shift to asynchronous communication
If async communication is a new concept for your company, it might be tricky to get everyone on board right away. After all, it’s a pretty big step changing the entire way your business communicates.
So think about how you can make the shift and encourage employees to communicate asynchronously without being too overpowering.
For example, whenever you receive a request to join a face-to-face meeting, a video conference, or a phone call, decline it and suggest another way for people to get hold of you.
Perhaps by email, instant message, or by sending a Yac. Whatever you decide, you’ll be encouraging others to follow in your asynchronous work footsteps.
3. Make gradual process through iteration
Implementing async communication isn’t a race, and sweeping the rug out from under everyone’s feet can mess with people’s workdays and lead to disaster.
To avoid dropping the bombshell in one go, think about using incremental changes to make the switch. Just like some people tense up under the pressure to reply in real-time, your team may need a moment to adjust to this change.
So what’s the best way to make the process gradual?
Well, it all depends on the size and maturity of your organization:
- Larger organizations: Use one of your teams as a pilot test before rolling it out company-wide. This allows you to identify any teething issues before the entire company makes the switch. It also gives you a chance to ask for feedback and optimize workflows and processes. That way, when you do roll it out to everyone, you’ve already overcome some of the challenges.
- Small businesses and startups: You might want to try async communication on a smaller scale. For example, you could start by testing async meetings instead of in-person meetings and see how it goes. The last thing you want is to shock your team out of their comfort zone before they’re ready.
4. Standardize your way of communication
Async communication works best when everyone is aligned on and how and where to put their communication.
If nobody knows how to use your async communication methods, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to communicate efficiently. As a result, they’ll either a) revert to meetings, or b) not communicate at all.
This means productivity will take a hit, too. Not ideal.
So once you’ve tested the waters and figured out which async communication methods work for your business, it’s time to standardize the process.
Creating documentation and processes is critical to making sure everyone on your team knows how to use asynchronous communication tools effectively.
Whether that’s outlining your methods of communication in the employee handbook or creating an entirely new training manual, you need a document that clearly shows how to use the async methods you’ve chosen.
5. Decide what your overlapping hours are going to be
With distributed teams, scheduling meetings can be a hassle. Especially if you’re all living in different time zones and still want to have some real-time communication overlap.
Organizing around a single timezone makes scheduling easier. It allows your team to decide on a “window” of overlapping hours where synchronous communication can occur (if it’s necessary).
So what’s the best way to decide what the overlapping hours will be?
Talk to your colleagues to determine the best time slot for communication. This applies to both synchronous communication as well as async wherein you can expect a response within those hours, no matter the method.
If you want to be really asynchronous about it, set up an online poll for users to choose the timeframe that suits them best.
6. Invest in the right tools
There are so many async tools out there to choose from that it can be pretty overwhelming to pick which ones to use.
Ultimately, you need to ask yourself what features you need.
This will help you narrow down your search and find the right tool for your business. Once you know what you’re looking for, the search will become much easier.
Now, let’s take a look at what some of the most common async tools are and what they offer so you can figure out what works for you.
We’re going to assume that you’re already well versed in the features of email, so we won’t go into this in too much detail.
Platforms such as Gmail and Outlook are the big hitters in the field. You also have platforms like Newton, Superhuman, and Hey, which take a more modern approach to email, like adding social insights into contacts and giving you more choice over what lands in, and how you organize, your inbox
In general, email offers a more formal setting to communicate, especially if you’re chatting with someone that is outside your firm.
But you don’t need email to send a detailed breakdown of information to people you know. You can attach files and send detailed information with Yac, accompanied by a voice message if you prefer. If you’re not too familiar with the features of voice messaging, don’t worry. We’ll cover it in more detail shortly.
Just make sure to watch out for email overload. Asynchronous communication is a great way to cut down on meetings and synchronous working hours, but there’s no point blowing up inboxes. You’ll only contribute to employee burnout and lose important comms to lengthy email threads in the process.
Documentation tools provide a source of truth when it comes to your knowledge base. They help you keep notes, comments, suggested edits, workflows, wikis, data, and any other documentation-related communication organized.
Notion makes it incredibly easy to organize your data into relevant workspaces. You can also use it as a project management tool, and link relevant pages to tasks so nothing gets lost in the fold.
Coda has built an “all-in-one-doc” that removes the need to oscillate between different documents (i.e. spreadsheets and docs) if they relate to the same project. Why not bring all project-related information together?
Almanac is a cloud-based platform for professionals to create, collaborate and share open-source work documents.
And Threads makes it easy to organize and monitor conversations across many forums. It’s literally a dashboard for discussions so no important thought, idea, or update ever gets lost again.
Visual management tools
Not all ideas can be articulated with words. Sometimes, you need to spell it out with a picture, graph, diagram, or visual workflow. Or, build a beautiful presentation to bring your vision to life.
With Miro, you can incorporate a variety of visuals into one “online whiteboard” to avoid siloing related information. Or, create dedicated boards for specific needs or projects.
Mind maps, flowcharts, customer journeys, app wireframes, user stories, organizational charts, and more, are all at your fingertips. You can collaborate with your team in real-time, either via video conference, screen sharing, or presentation mode, to share ideas seamlessly without interrupting anybody’s focus.
Pitch is a collaborative presentation tool that removes the endless feedback loops and bottlenecks we’re all used to. Instead, build pitch decks, project plans, meeting presentations, and more in record time.
You can host live meetings, set status updates, add reactions and comments, and manage version history—all without ever having to leave the platform.
Messaging and communication tools
Platforms such as Slack and Twist are some of the go-to messaging platforms. Slack allows users to send instant messages, files, and create designated workspaces. You can also enjoy a seamless Yac integration:
Twist focuses more on keeping content organized in threads so that your conversations always stay on topic and are given the appropriate context. This makes them super easy to find later on and ensures important messages never get buried.
But combining messaging tools with a voice platform like Yac can improve the communication process even further (drumroll please…)
You can share information 7x faster with voice:
- The average mobile typing speed is 38 words per minute (WPM)
- The average speaking speed is 150 WPM
- The average reading speed is 300 WPM
It makes sense that people would respond to voice faster than they would to a written message or email. And it also makes sense that listening to a voice message is easier and less time-consuming than reading a text-based message.
Of course, if you’re sending a very short message, like “sounds good”, voice vs. text doesn’t make a big difference in terms of speed. But still, sending a message with your voice allows you to be you. It also enhances empathic accuracy, which makes the nuances in communication easier to understand. This brings us to our next point:
Voice allows you to add context to content.
Let’s say you’re sharing an image on a virtual whiteboard, or even Google Docs. You can easily annotate your voice over the top to explain why you’re sharing the image and back it up with any relevant content.
Our co-founder, Hunter, notes that users typically reach an “ah-ha!” moment when they realize there’s a better way:
“We’ve found that typically there’s a graduation from text to video once a slack message gets too long or there’s a lot of back and forth messages. The question then becomes ‘does it HAVE to be a full-on video call?’ And that’s where Yac comes to save the day.
And with a platform like Yac, you can share more than voice notes to add context to your messages.
You can also send photos, videos, and even pre-recorded screen shares as well. You can even use hashtags to categorize your communication, give your Yac’s a subject line and description, and create channels that allow you to send all of your Yac’s to multiple groups of people at the same time.
Debunking common asynchronous communication myths
Despite its advantages, async communication isn’t perfect for everyone. There are still some issues that teams face when trying to use it. So let’s take a look at what these issues are, and see if there’s a solution to overcome the challenges.
Miscommunication happens a lot
A recent survey shows that 46% of employees say communication tools (such as email and texting) are more susceptible to miscommunication than in-person communication.
But why is this?
Well, respondents from the survey state the following reasons:
- Lack of detail: Some employees found emails and messages lack the clarification they need to fully understand the meaning, leaving it open to interpretation.
- Unable to read body language: Employees felt that facial expressions and body language help them understand the meaning of what someone is saying. If you can’t see them, you can’t be 100% sure what they mean.
Having said that, there are ways you can communicate asynchronously with video and voice messages.
By sending a recorded message, the recipient can see your facial expressions and hear the nuance and inflections in the way you talk (we’ll explain this more later). So even without face-to-face communication, you can still clearly understand the meaning behind what your colleague is saying.
If employees are struggling to understand the meaning of written messages, why not think about using a platform like Yac that allows you to communicate with voice instead?
Async communication isn’t efficient
It can seem like async isn’t always efficient. This type of communication isn’t instant and people respond when it suits them, which means that sometimes messages may get missed or forgotten altogether.
But simple workflows, processes, and training can nip bad habits (like forgetting to respond) in the bud. If you can remember to respond to an email, you can find a way to keep async messages top of mind.
Async communication might also be slower in some instances, but it’s more detailed and accurate (as discussed above). With more time to respond, people can really think about what they want to say in their communication and make sure it’s as detailed as possible. Real-time communication doesn’t allow for this luxury.
Plus, the pressure of real-time communication can cause team members to miss crucial points while they scramble to respond, which actually slows everything down. So to assume async is always slower isn’t entirely true.
Not to mention, async communication reduces the need for meetings. And as we’ve driven the point home that businesses consider 67% of meetings to be failures, it’s clear that they have their own efficiency problem.
Async communication may make you feel less ‘busy’ , but that doesn’t equate to inefficiency. In fact, it can mean the opposite.
Most people work in an environment where they’re constantly on the go. They’ll sit in many meetings, catch up on messages in-between, and repeat. Because there’s a lot going on, it feels like a lot is getting done, when in fact it can often lead to less time for focused work.
Check out this table that neatly outlines everything we just discussed in the benefits and debunking myth sections above:
Let’s wrap it up
Now that people have gotten a taste for remote work and the flexibility asynchronous communication brings, there’s no going back.
Ultimately, asynchronous communication removes the pressure for employees to respond immediately, gives them time to work through a well-rounded and detailed response, creates a more comfortable, frictionless environment, and boosts productivity.
Crucially, voice messaging allows you to pick up on the nuances of voice and tone, which allows you to convey subtle signals that get missed in text-based communication.
The benefits of asynchronous communication certainly outweigh the cons. Especially if you opt to use a voice and video messaging platform like Yac.
If we’ve piqued your curiosity, why not book a free demo to see Yac in action? Trust us, you won’t be disappointed.