What is Asynchronous (aka Async) Communication & Why It Matters
Understanding and implementing effective asynchronous communication is the key to successful flexible, remote, and hybrid teams.
"True autonomy is empowered by asynchronous communication and collaboration"
- Tammy Bjelland, Workplaceless
Asynchronous Communication Fundamentals
THE WHAT of async
Async vs Sync: Balancing Remote Team Communication
Balancing synchronous and asynchronous communication allows for both autonomous work and meaningful connections within remote and hybrid teams.
Synchronous communication is when information or messages are exchanged in real-time. A message is shared by a sender, and a recipient simultaneously receives it. Examples are often spoken messages, such as meetings or phone calls.
Asynchronous communication is the opposite of synchronous. Information or messages are not received at the same time as when the sender transmits them. There is a delay. Examples are often written communication, such as emails or shared document collaboration.
When to use synchronous vs asynchronous communication is dependent upon the communication objective. We’ve created the Placeless Taxonomy to help teams classify work tasks and objectives how difficult they are to achieve asynchronously, moving from the bottom (easiest) to the top (hardest).
THE WHY of async
11 Ways Teams Win by Going Async
While synchronous connection serves a purpose on every team, professionals must learn asynchronous communication to be effective in remote and hybrid teams. Yet, workers continue to cite ineffective communication as one of the biggest hurdles to widespread remote effectiveness in their organizations.
Benefits of Asynchronous Communication include:
- Saving time
- Reducing interruptions
- Increasing productivity
- Reducing reliance on others to progress work
- Empowering trust, control, and autonomy
- Preventing burnout
- Improving thoughtful decision-making
- Reducing micromanagement
- Supporting diverse needs
- Combating inequity, especially on hybrid teams
- Saving companies money
THE HOW of async
8 Actions for Effective Async Communication
Understanding the differences between sync and async communication, and the benefits of shifting to async-first practices is just the beginning. How can teams implement impactful async communication to start realizing the collective benefits?
We outline the seven fundamental steps to implementing effective asynchronous communication, workflows, and collaboration.
- Establish a Placeless Mindset: Teams, and especially leadership, needs to develop a deep understanding that work is not a place.
- Reduce the Amount of Time Spent in Synchronous Meetings: Teams need to build and communicate boundaries for sync time.
- Increase the Amount and Quality of Uninterrupted Work Time: Teams must lean into deep work to unlock productivity.
- Reduce the Number of Interruptions by Setting Clear Expectations: Expectation setting lowers ambiguity and opens the doors for increased productivity.
- Reduce Reliance on Other People’s Time to Gain Access to Information: Teams must commit to documentation and update processes to be inclusive of searchable documentation.
- Convert Synchronous Meetings to Asynchronous Work Processes: Teams can use the Placeless Taxonomy to strategically shift previously sync meetings to asynchronous communication.
- Improve the Quality of Synchronous and Blended Meetings: Teams leverage blended meetings to ensure that the time they spend together is efficient and with purpose.
- Experiment and Optimize. Teams need to learn the foundational principles of asynchronous communication, but also be willing to test and learn.
THE WHO of async
Which Roles Are the Hardest to Shift to Async Work?
Async communication benefits everyone. However, the ease of shifting to async-first best practices can vary based on an individual’s role within an organization.
We’ve identified the types of roles that face the most challenges which attempting to shift to async-first work.
- Executives — attitudes and behaviors about getting work done in an office and during meetings may be more ingrained and more challenging to change.
- New Hires — building social capital within an organization can be more difficult to accomplish asynchronously.
- Client-Facing Roles — cultivating relationships and trust with customers often involves personal and live, even if virtual, interactions.
- Culture-Building Roles — Transforming and strengthening culture, both of which HR and People Ops professionals are champions, require a deep understanding and connectivity with employees.
THE WHY NOT of async
Obstacles to Async Remote Work Adoption
Shifting to async communication practices can help teams overcome common work challenges. Yet despite the benefits, async remote work adoption can be slow across teams.
Here are the top reasons asynchronous communication adoption fails or progresses slowly:
- Deference to leadership or individual preferences for sync. When one person is open to async collaboration and the other prefers a sync conversation, the individual with the most organizational power often wins out—and unfortunately, leadership often struggles with async.
- Lack of awareness of collaboration strategies beyond meetings. During the rapid shift to remote work, many teams simply shifted traditional in-office meetings to virtual meetings. They didn’t have the opportunity or bandwidth to learn new async collaboration.
- Difficulty shifting work culture and mindset. Old sync habits die hard. When teams have defaulted to sync communication, it can feel daunting and confusing to adopt new processes.
- Disbelief that async remote work will improve business outcomes. It’s no longer about believing the evidence that asynchronous communication shifts can improve productivity and prevent burnout. If companies want to attract and retain talent, they must embrace async work to meet flexibility demands.
- Lack of experience in async remote work. Teams don’t have good examples of how to make it work. Even as async-first companies share their best practices, teams don’t clearly understand how that can apply to them. We created the Async at Work eCourse to solve this challenge.
Bonus Asynchronous Communication Advice
Begin Adopting Async Communication
Our newest eCourse helps teams quickly build async-first practices.
“I appreciated that this course goes further than explaining what best practices are for async work. It helps people actually learn how to implement these changes into their day to day work lives.”
Develop essential digital-first leadership skills that empower your team to adopt an effective balance of sync and async communication.
“It opened my eyes to how much our team relies on sync opportunities vs. async.”