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How to Run Effective Asynchronous Meetings

Justin Mitchell
October 7, 2021

Post-pandemic research shows that we’re having more meetings than ever. Around the world in 2020, virtual group meetings rose by 613% and one-to-one meetings rose by 1,230%. And if you ask us, that’s entirely too many meetings.

Consider this: are these meetings so important that you want your team to spend more than a third of their workweek in them?

What if we told you there’s a better way?

Instead of having your employees dedicate so much time to various synchronous (in real time) group gatherings, it’s time to start holding asynchronous meetings.

In this article, we’ll discuss why we think you should default to asynchronous meetings, why we believe they’re misunderstood, and how to run them productively.

Why we love asynchronous meetings (and you will, too)

Asynchronous meetings are discussions about a specific topic that aren’t held in real-time. Instead, they’re attended through various methods of asynchronous communication.

Asynchronous communication looks like:

  • A Google document that holds your team’s asynchronous agendas, Q&A, minutes, or outcomes
  • Project management tools that allow users to tag each other when a project has moved to their hands
  • An email chain that covers the high-level overview of an upcoming campaign launch
  • Yac for specific teams to voice their thoughts and feedback, avoiding unnecessary meetings

Asynchronous communication is great for keeping all parties informed. However, when it comes to asynchronous meetings, they’re more purposeful and organized to get something done.

Let’s get to know the main benefits of asynchronous meetings a bit more.

No more interrupting deep work to join pointless meetings

Deep work is the kind of work that needs heavy focus for an extended period. This includes planning, writing, designing, learning a new skill, conducting research, and other mentally challenging tasks.

A major caveat for getting deep work done is having time to focus with no interruptions, like frequent meetings.

Workplace research at the University of California Irvine found that when someone is distracted or interrupted from work, it takes around 23 minutes to get back on task. While the work eventually gets completed, interruptions profoundly affect stress levels because people must work faster to meet their deadlines.

In addition, recent data from employee productivity software company Prodoscore found that our most productive time of the day is narrowing. Workers are now most productive from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.—reduced from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. since the pandemic began.

Asynchronous meetings allow your employees to focus during their most productive time of the day while still receiving team communication and updates—on their own time.

Time zones allow everyone to get involved

If your engineering team works in Australia while your product team works on the East Coast of the USA, they have a 14-hour time difference. When it’s 8 a.m. ET on a Wednesday morning and your product manager is brewing her morning coffee, it’s 10 p.m. in your engineer’s Sydney home and he’s crawling into bed to read a book.

This would typically mean that someone would be left out of a team meeting, potentially missing crucial action items or decisions that could affect their work down the line.

There are many benefits to hiring worldwide distributed teams, but getting everyone together for a synchronous meeting isn’t always easy.

However, you don’t need to view this as an obstacle; there are other ways for your distributed team members to communicate. Research also shows that 38% of remote workers have experienced “Zoom fatigue” from being on too many video calls since the onset of the pandemic.

Video meetings can have negative effects on your team, and asynchronous meetings can be the perfect solution. With asynchronous meetings, your product and engineering teams can easily collaborate on projects during their own work hours without missing out on a conversation due to different time zones.

It encourages greater flexibility

More than just solving the issue of time zones, team members can adjust their work schedule to fit their lives with asynchronous meetings.

Founder and CEO of Doist Amir Salihefendic explains this well:

“Remote-first has moved from a niche of a handful of companies to millions of companies worldwide. It has become the present of knowledge work.
The next logical step is async-first. Async is the freedom to collaborate on our own timelines, not everyone else’s. It’s the power to protect our best hours for focus and flow. It’s the peace of unplugging, knowing we can pick up where we left off.”

Flexibility is the main benefit of remote work. Whether you have a distributed team or not, you want to preserve the longevity of your employees by enabling them to balance their work and personal lives. 

Meetings shouldn’t stop parents from picking up their kids from school or cause employees to stress about scheduling doctor’s appointments. Asynchronous meetings promote flexible schedules, and your employees will thank you for it.

More time for critical thinking

Some meetings require major decision-making, but not everyone is always prepared to talk through a decision on the spot.

Asynchronous meetings benefit both meeting leaders and attendees. They allow you to be thoughtful when sharing with your team and give more contemplative employees a chance to be heard. With asynchronous meetings, you’re more likely to hear structured ideas, backed by facts and research. 

Asynchronous meetings can also lead to better decision-making. More time for critical thinking ensures participants make snap judgements or take impulsive actions because they were called on and put on the spot.

When critical business decisions are being made, default to asynchronous rather than synchronous communication. It allows everyone involved to think carefully about their opinion before responding. This doesn’t have to mean relaxing control completely and extending decision timelines. Give everyone a response deadline so you can still make important decisions quickly.

Keep a record of meeting talking points

51% of meeting attendees report taking notes individually instead of using a collaborative document. This means not everyone has access to a universal record of talking points, and many people may not remember important parts of the meeting down the road.

Asynchronous meetings allow you to keep meeting notes from start to finish all in one place. This has several benefits in itself:

  • Everyone is always in the loop and can easily catch up on missed conversations.
  • No one has to repeat themselves or hear the same question from multiple participants.
  • Participants can search for keywords to find the information they’re looking for.

Here’s what an asynchronous meeting might look like with a tool like Yac:

Sending a screenshare in a async meeting in Yac

Team members can scroll through the meeting channel, leave text or voice messages, search for topics, and easily communicate with other attendees.

Meetings become more straightforward (and faster)

With synchronous communication, it can be easy for a meeting attendee to go off on a tangent and completely derail the meeting agenda—especially if a strict agenda wasn’t set from the get-go.

Due to the nature of async meetings, the conversation tends to be much more direct and sticks only to the topic at hand. Attendees respond to pre-determined talking points after critical-thinking time, rather than subjecting the time to an open discussion with the potential to wander. 

Trust us: you’re going to love asynchronous meetings. The “async” format ensures every meeting is productive and gets the job done while making sure work-life balance doesn’t come in second.

Why asynchronous meetings get a bad rap (and why they shouldn’t)

As do most things, asynchronous meetings have their own set of downsides or disadvantages. However, these aren’t as detrimental to your productivity or bottom line as you may think.

We’ll be candid about why async meetings tend to get a bad rap, but we also want to show you why this solution can still work best for most of your meetings.

The Evolution of Meetings

You don’t get an immediate response

One of the most convenient things about real-time communication is getting a response to your question as soon as you ask it, such as hearing status updates from your team the moment you request it.

How this works with async: While immediate responses can seem convenient, it’s better to let your employees respond to queries at their own pace. As we mentioned before, allowing for critical thinking time is likely to give you a better, more complete response (and people don’t feel the need to always be on!).

When setting up your async meetings policy, set clear deadlines and timelines for responses, so you know when to expect feedback, answers, or updates. Planning ahead for this makes it seem less like an obstacle.

You have less face time with teammates

A Microsoft study found that despite 70% of workers wanting flexible working options to continue, 65% of employees are craving more in-person or face-to-face time with their teams. 

However, that doesn’t mean that meetings are the best way to solve this. Harvard Business Review argues that too much time spent in meetings decreases the likelihood that your team will want to network outside of work to build or foster working relationships.

How this works with async: Meeting time shouldn’t be your team’s default for creating connections with co-workers. Keep meetings concise by focusing on the task at hand.

To facilitate more face time with teammates, organize and encourage things like team building activities, virtual one-to-one coffees, and curated employee onboarding experiences. 

Save your synchronous meet-ups for important relationship-building tasks.

You can’t have back-and-forth communication

Synchronous meetings allow for back-and-forth conversations that don’t happen quite as quickly or easily in asynchronous meetings. This can help avoid miscommunication and ensure all participants are on the same page.

How this works with async: As long as you’re ultra-clear in getting your message across, there should be no need for back-and-forth communication. With asynchronous communication tools like Yac, you can record voice messages that allow you to add context with more clarity and empathy while reducing miscommunications that text-heavy work cultures bring.

Replying to a message in an async meeting

Additionally, studies have found that “bursty” communication—rapid bursts of communication broken up by longer periods of solo work—actually leads to better work.

So instead of a downside, this should be looked at as a bonus of async. Reducing the back-and-forth noise that can lead to miscommunication and disruption can help your team become even more productive.

Which meetings should be asynchronous?

We’ll be the first to say that not every meeting needs to be moved to an asynchronous format. However, there are a few synchronous meetings you’re having that are wasting time.

We’ve broken down a list of meetings that should and shouldn’t be asynchronous.

Meetings that should be asynchronous Meetings that should be synchronous
Check-ins or stand-ups: When your team is providing a status update on their work, this can easily be done via a team communication app asynchronously. Introductions: When new team members come on board, it’s a good idea to hold a virtual meeting or a face-to-face introduction to the team to feel welcomed and start building relationships with colleagues.
Feedback: It’s much easier to provide feedback on a project asynchronously. Record a screen-sharing video that employees can view and respond to on their own time. Performance reviews: Sensitive conversations are best had in real-time.
Top-down presentations: A meeting with just one person presenting to a group of people who aren’t required to participate should always be asynchronous. It’s easy to record and share a presentation with those who need to know the information. Career development meetings: If an employee wants to discuss moving up, changing positions, or negotiating their salary, these conversations should typically be had synchronously.
Kickoffs: Stop kicking off projects with a Zoom meeting. Instead, record yourself walking team members through the plan and project management steps so they know how to get started and can dive right in. Crisis management conversations: For example, if your company has gone viral on social media (but not for a good reason), you may need a crisis management meeting with your team. Hold these synchronously so you can quickly decide how best to take action.
Announcements: Don’t hold all-hands meetings for company announcements. Instead, send an asynchronous video message for your team to check out when they can and reply with questions. Relationship-building meetings: Help employees build rapport with limited face-to-face meetings ranging from the low-key virtual coffees to the fully planned out away days.
Brainstorms: Brainstorming in real-time isn’t always the most productive. Instead, allow your team to think on their own time and bring their ideas to the table asynchronously. Strategic planning and decision-making: Sometimes big moves and the plans that put them in place require everyone to be in the room at the same time (be it a virtual room or otherwise).
Meetings that not everyone is available for: If someone can’t attend a meeting due to a time zone, vacation, or another unavailability, don’t hold the meeting without them. It can easily lead to isolation. Instead, record a voice or video message that everyone can listen to when they’re back at work.
Follow-ups: If you need to touch back in with someone, you can easily record and send a voice message. It’s more personal than an email and less intrusive than a face-to-face meeting.
External meetings: If someone wants to meet with you from outside your organization, a sales call, a new connection on LinkedIn, or VC pitch, you can invite them to do it asynchronously over voice messaging without losing the personal touch.

How to run a successful asynchronous meeting

By now, you’re probably thinking, “when can we start?” We don’t blame you—asynchronous meetings can transform your meeting load, giving your team exponential time back.

To help you get started, we’ve got a six-step process that will set you off on the right foot.

1. Encourage contribution by making responses mandatory

During in-person and remote meetings, you know who has attended and that they’ve heard the information discussed, even if they don’t necessarily have anything to contribute.

In asynchronous meetings, you need confirmation that attendees have received the information. This is why your first step in explaining how your asynchronous meetings will work is to let your team know that some kind of response is required.

This presents another opportunity in itself. If you notice that certain people don’t have anything to offer, consider if the meeting actually makes sense for them to be a part of. Keeping this in mind can help shave down meeting participants to only the most relevant attendees.

2. Use voice messaging

Voice messaging is going to be the key to asynchronous meeting success. One major advantage that meetings can have is the ability to hear nuances, such as tone, in each person’s voice. Hearing this instead of trying to decipher it from text-only communication can increase messaging comprehension.

By using voice messaging, you get the best of both worlds. Your team can listen on their own time and still get a clear message that won’t be misinterpreted.

We’ve tooted our own horn already in this article, but Yac’s voice messaging really is a great tool for your team. You can record audio or video messages and even share your screen.

When recordings are shared with meeting participants in Yac, a transcript is automatically provided for a quick skim while listening—and if anyone is short on time, they can listen at 1.5X or 2X speed.

Recording voice messages can also be a great way to attack more complex topics or questions rather than spending time writing out lengthy explanations.

And if the idea of voice messaging gives you a bit of stage fright, communications expert and coach Catherine Johns has a great tip:

“The energy that sparks ideas—and relationships—can easily go missing when we’re not together in space or even time. You can amp up the energy by thinking of yourself as talking to people, not to a device. Even as you’re speaking into your phone or your laptop mic, it helps to have a real person (or group) in your mind’s eye. You see yourself talking with them, and that warms up your voice. They will feel the difference as they listen.”

3. Create an async agenda

Every productive meeting should follow an agenda. This clearly lays out the goals and objectives of the meeting and outlines each of the talking points and action items.

Before you send a finalized agenda to all meeting participants, reach out to everyone to see if they have anything they want to add as a question or discussion.

Once you’ve received everyone’s feedback, send the agenda in a channel or group message specific to your team’s asynchronous meetings. Make sure you only tag those who need to be a part of the conversation, so everyone else can focus on their work without distraction.

If you think a certain talking point recommendation doesn’t fit within the meeting, don’t include it. Keep everything on message. Just let the person who suggested it know when would be a better time to approach that topic.

If you’re not sure where to start with your agenda, Buffer shared a template of the agenda they use for their own asynchronous meetings:

Buffer's Mobile Sync
Source: Buffer

4. Build a system to track discussions, actions, and decisions

There are many tools available that are perfect for improving asynchronous communication and making it as easy as possible to keep track of conversations. It’s important to find the perfect setup that keeps your team organized.

Organizations will differ on how they track and follow up on actions and decisions (like using email, chat apps, CRMs, or product management tools). But text and threads can get messy with too many notifications and information can easily be siloed.

You might want to coordinate communication tools to complement each other, such as creating a Google Drive folder specifically to hold different asynchronous meeting documents.

Or, you can use Yac. We’ll talk more about Yac’s features that make async a breeze in just a bit.

When you first switch over to async, you may wish to pilot a few different tools and methods of communication to determine which works best for your team. Whatever you settle on, it’s important to maintain one source of truth that can be referred to after an async meeting, so people can catch up and stay up to date.

5. Set deadlines for meeting responses

Be sure to set a deadline for each meeting participant to respond so that the discussion remains timely. Async meetings shouldn’t drag out processes.

For example, you can deploy your meeting agenda first thing in the morning and require everyone to send in some kind of response throughout the day so the discussion can be wrapped up by the end of the workday.

Or, for hybrid or remote teams with employees spanning multiple time zones, you might consider sending out the agenda or document at the end of your workday so that you provide a full 24-hours for respondents to access the talking points and input their feedback.

Some discussions may require more time due to various moving parts. Just be sure to let your team know when they need to respond, so your asynchronous meetings don’t carry on past the time that is necessary.

6. Document results and complement your communication tools with Yac

Your team may already have a number of communication tools in place that work for you. However, if you’re looking to hold successful and productive asynchronous meetings, we suggest that you give Yac a try.

With many integrations available, Yac is the perfect complement to the tools your team is already using. It also makes it easier to document the conversation and results of each meeting through an easy-to-use and searchable interface.

Remember when we talked about how asynchronous meetings allow you to keep a record of talking points? Yac helps you do this.

Listening to a message in an async meeting in Yac

Create a channel (like a meeting room) for each of your recurring meetings, so the conversation is all in one place. Easily reply in threads or create a new discussion in the channel.

Key takeaways

Once your team gets the hang of asynchronous meetings, you’ll be wondering how you ever held so many real-time meetings in the first place. Watch as your days open up and your teams are able to get more productive work done.

Don’t forget that Yac can help you streamline the transition to asynchronous meetings and general communication. If you’re interested in learning how our tool can work for your business, request a demo or sign up free to try it out.