When COVID pushed the world into remote work, an interesting thing happened: people started to question which meetings were necessary. Between Zoom fatigue and the added pressure of working in a brand new way, employees began to wonder if a meeting really needed to be a whole hour - or if it needed to happen at all. Hour long meetings started receiving far more scrutiny than in the office.
People started demanding more documentation and communication ahead of time that didn’t require everyone’s immediate response. They wanted time to think through data instead of giving a gut reaction. Or, as it’s technically called: asynchronous communication (“async” for short).
As companies look to not only survive but thrive and innovate in an all-remote or hybrid future, it’s critical to understand how asynchronous communication plays out in the business world.
In this guide, we’re looking at:
Asynchronous communications are anything that does not require real-time attention or immediate response. In some circles, this immediate attention and response is simply referred to as “collaboration” and it’s assumed to be the business norm. However, it would be a mistake to assume collaboration and async are opposites or not compatible - quite the opposite. Async is a critical part of true collaboration.
What the COVID pandemic uncovered is that we might have gone too far with real-time collaboration.
According to Harvard Business Review, the average knowledge worker can spend up to 80% of their day communicating and collaborating. This represents a 50% increase in how often people collaborate when compared to 20 years ago. It may have been Zoom fatigue that got people to realize it, but the truth was lingering around for years that workplaces had too many meetings.
When collaboration is only done in real-time, a risk occurs: collaboration increases creativity, but only up to a point. Too much actually reduces creativity because people don’t have time to produce work.
Asynchronous communication allows employees to continue collaborating in a way that doesn’t take up everyone’s time. It usually takes one of two forms:
The good part about asynchronous communication is it applies to most existing business processes, the difference being setting expectations.
Here are some common business tasks, and how they can be both synchronous or asynchronous depending on how you set expectations:
Sending an email
Posting in Slack
Planning a meeting
Working asynchronously presents a lot of benefits for both the employee and the organization as a whole.
Despite its benefit, there are times when asynchronous communication is not ideal. In general, that’s one of three things:
In general, asynchronous communication is ideal for execution-focused jobs but doesn’t work for human-centered activities.
The core to building an asynchronous workplace is not to cancel all meetings. Instead, it’s about doing two specific things:
As you move ahead, remember to focus on these elements of async communicating:
Emphasize information availability over people availability
Instead of answering questions for people directly, produce documentation for it. Create a culture where people check documentation and conduct their own research first.
Help employees learn the fundamental skills of async communications
Employees need to learn:
Make sure you have the right tools in place
For async to work, you need tools that enable data capture, storage, and retrieval. For communications, that’s tools such as:
Strengthen async in the business
If you want to strengthen async on your teams, use the double-up strategy, which includes at least two of the following:
When it comes to asynchronous brainstorming, meetings, and collaboration, no tool is stronger than voice.
Context: Voice allows you to quickly offer in-depth context. This can be especially helpful as employees learn to be better writers, but sometimes it’s just easier to explain. Voice tools enable you to avoid the trap of writing something, having a misunderstanding, then needing to book a call.
Connection: Human connections become stronger when associated with voice. You hear your colleagues’ tone and can pick up on a few more cues than simply reading their writing, leading to further (and hopefully deeper) understanding of what’s being said.
Documentation: Voice empowers easier documentation - it can be stored as-is or transcripted - so record keeping is simple with voice. You also have the added benefit with voice where you have a permanent record of someone explaining a concept (instead of a written and edited document), making it easier to store long-term institutional memory.
Ease of use: Voice tools often have a lower barrier to usage than video, both from a technical set up perspective and from a personal perspective.
When you communicate asynchronously, you aren’t saying that people can respond immediately. Instead, you’re building an organization that consciously respects people’s time and builds an environment that prioritizes accomplishment over time spent. Whether remote, hybrid, or in-office, this kind of environment increases productivity. It also has the fantastic effect that synchronous meetings are no longer arduous and annoying. As a result, people can truly engage in the time they have together because they are able to get their work done and aren’t burnt out from yet-another-meeting. Contrary to how it sounds, leveraging asynchronous communication will help people connect on a deeper, more human level, since that becomes the key focus of time spent together.