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Go Async if Working Remote – Guide to Asynchronous Communication While Working Remotely

Have you found the perfect model for smooth and effortless communication for interacting with and managing remote employees? Do you find it difficult to overcome timezone differences? Scroll down to get a detailed solution.
Sagrika Mehta

Sagrika Mehta

Asynchronous communication

Collaboration and communication are the primary ingredients for seamless functioning of a remote company.

Have you found the perfect model for smooth and effortless communication for interacting with and managing remote employees? Do you find it difficult to overcome timezone differences?

Adopting and adapting to asynchronous communication is the solution.

It not possible for employees working in distributed teams to virtually be in the same place. That’s when asynchronous comes to rescue.

Asynchronous communication is the future of remote work as more and more companies are going async for communicating within their remote teams.

So here is everything you need to know to go async while working with remote teams.

What is Asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication is the transmission of data, without the requirement that the communicators be “present” at the same exact moment in time.

For example, if you send an email and the receiver replies back several hours later, you can call it asynchronous communication.

It doesn’t happen in real-time. So, work doesn’t happen at the same time for everyone.

“Asynchronous communication means I can take a step out for lunch and catch up on transcripts uninterrupted when I get back.

Asynchronous communication means I can ask my coworker a question in-chat and not worry about bothering her since she’ll get back to me when she’s available.

Asynchronous communication means I can go to rural Minnesota and feel like I’m working from the office like normal”

Zach Holman, Advisor,GitLab.

To further understand asynchronous communication, let’s explore the difference between asynchronous communication and synchronous communication.

Synchronous V/S asynchronous communication

Difference between sync and async communication

When we use the term ‘Communication’; it traditionally implies a direct conversation whether in a meeting or over a phone call.

It comes with the assumption that any piece of communication sent during office hours will get immediate replies.

Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, will help your company operate without even having to interact in real-time.

Synchronous communication is when you send a message and the receiver responds immediately. Contrary to it, in asynchronous communication people can jump in and out of the conversation.

“GitLab team members were polled on 02-09-2020 in the public Slack channel where the majority of respondents indicated that they leverage synchronous engagements to build rapport and catalyze future async conversations.”

Synchronous communication like face to face conversations, Skype, meetings, and real-time chats keeps you connected over being productive.

It may also lead to increased mental stress as you constantly try to stay connected in fear of missing out. If you miss out on an important discussion, you may even lose the chance to present your views.

While asynchronous communication like online forums, project management tools, informational videos, collaborative documents like Google drive etc. keeps the fear of missing out important information on the bay. This in turn also reduces stress.

Does that mean you should shift to 100% asynchronous communication?

No.

Rather you must try to find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Experiment and evaluate what works best for your remote teams. And find a middle ground.

For example, at Buffer, although they work primarily async. They use real-time communication for casual hangouts, catch-ups, and celebrations, urgent situations, relationship-building etc.

Advantages of asynchronous communication

asynchronous communication advantages

1Effective communication across time zones

It gives you the freedom to not have to be always “at your desk” so that your employees can focus on things more important at the moment.

For example- Your Saturday might have already begun while some of your remote employees might still be finishing their Friday work.

With such distributed teams working entirely in sync will definitely lead to employee burnout and disrupted work-life balance.  

2Productivity

The fact that remote employees are more productive than the office going workers is mainly the corollary of asynchronous communication.

It helps your employees to engage in deep work, instead of, juggling conversations while working simultaneously. Which will ultimately help create more value for your organization.

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3Less planning

Unlike synchronous communication, it doesn’t require any prior planning, because the data you send can be accessed from anywhere, at any time. 

It doesn’t require two schedules to line up in order to pass important information.

Does that mean you don’t need to plan at all while working async? No, of course.

Planning makes collaboration stress free while working asynchronously. Because you need to give your teammates time to respond and plan your work accordingly.

4Creates a culture of focused work

It shifts focus from responding quickly to the e-mails to produce the best possible work results.

The constant pings and notifications are not there in asynchronous communication.

Fewer interruptions will help your employees increase the hours of deep work.

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5Greater personal control

Working async gives your remote employees greater control over their workdays by letting them set time for responding to issues, creating, updates, and more.

It saves them from the pressure of immediately responding.

Communicating asynchronously will give your remote employees the freedom to design their workdays and choose their working hours to best suit their lifestyle.

Thus creating a stress-free environment for your employees to give their best shot in each task.

6Encourages reflection before reaction

As conversations do not happen in real-time, it will encourage your remote employees to reflect before responding leading to a more thoughtful communication.

Being able to consider your response also makes the conversation more efficient.

But in the case of synchronized communication, your employees might not get the time to think through the matters thoroughly. It may lead to low-quality decisions.

7Creates documentation and transparency

When you are working async, most of the communication happens in writing or recorded form.

It will automatically help you have a record of the communication shared, key discussions and important information.

As a result, previous conversations can be referred back to at any time while working async.

It thus provides everyone with the information they need to get their best work done.

For example, at Doist, instead of asking for or explaining why a certain decision was made or the status of a particular project, they can search for and/or link to the relevant Twist threads.

8Job Retention

Working async will give your employees the freedom and autonomy that remote work promises.

It will certainly affect employee satisfaction and happiness.

And happy employees are expected to stay with your company for a longer period.

The async culture is one of the primary reasons behind  90%+ employee retention rate at Doist.

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9Async works very well for detailed technical conversations

Since everything is documented it makes complex technical conversations easier.

There is no need to explain the details again and again as your employees can easily go through the documents for reference whenever they feel so.

10No more meeting fatigue

The present remote culture is too much reliant on meetings. Which means an average remote worker needs to schedule their day around multiple meetings.

And even while they are doing their work, their attention is split among work, emails, slack etc.

In such a case, your employees will then have to compensate for the time lost at the cost of their work-life balance. Deadlines will make it even more stressful for your employees.

According to the Harvard Business Review article “Collaborative Overload”, the researchers found that a large number of workers were spending 80% of their workdays i.e. 6 hours on average, communicating with colleagues in the form of emails.

Get over this toxic relationship with meetings. Although some meetings are crucial, you can easily avoid some other for example daily stand-ups.

Challenges of asynchronous communication

asynchronous communication

All things have two sides-Good and Bad. Here are a few challenges you might face while going async and how to go about to solve those problems-

1 Much more detailed communication is needed

Since responses take time, you need to make every communication count so that it does not end up with discussions with no final, actionable decision.

How to deal with it?

Just communicating isn’t enough you have to over-communicate while working async. Make both your questions and responses detailed.

2 Lack of company culture

Asynchronous communication can amplify the feeling of isolation among your remote employees. With a greater emphasis on texts, it dehumanizes the decision-making process.

Lack of real-time conversations can also leave your remote employees feeling like a mere insignificant part of a large mechanism.

How to deal with it?

Make information transparent so that everyone can see everyone’s role in your organization.

Transparency and asynchronous work go hand-in-hand. 

 Make documentation of everything so that everyone can see what is happening, how it is happening and the whole process of decision making.

3 Lack of human connection

Because of the write first nature of asynchronous communication, there are fewer opportunities for employees to make connection with their coworkers.

How Doist learned the lesson hard way?

When Doist blacklisted all meetings at the beginning, their Head of Marketing posted a thread about how she misses the human element making the problem clear for the team.

How to deal with it?

Organize monthly 1 on 1 meeting with team leaders.

Create chat rooms for casual team hangouts to discuss things outside work.

Use audio/video (AV) communication to combat social isolation. 

Coffee Connect is another great way to boost wellbeing and create new connections among your employees especially while working async. It will help your employees to get to know each other outside professional space.

 Little things like this can lead to a better human connection among your remote employees.

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4 Responses take time

What if your website has crashed? Would you send an email and wait for your remote teams’ response? No right?

Under such critical situations waiting for a response is not an answer.

How to deal with it?

Have emergency channels for fast communication in such situations. But understand the difference between urgent and important communication.

And make sure to only use them when it’s most needed and there’s no other way to solve the issue. 

5 Miscommunication

It is significantly easier to miscommunicate or misinterpret when you are communicating within a distributed team. Working async may sometimes amplify this problem.

In case of a serious discussion working in complete async may also lead to serious misunderstandings.

For example- imagine how apathetic it will be to let someone know that they can’t be part of your company anymore by just sending them an email.

How to deal with it?

Use synchronous communication to make such difficult conversations more effective.

Also avoid using asynchronous communication in such situations which needs immediate attention.

Do’s and don’ts of asynchronous communication

Do's and dont's

Do’s

  • Avoid @ mentions unless necessary. 
  • Set asynchronous check-ins.
  • Threads organize conversations by topic inside public channels.
  • Have a communication guideline.

Don’ts 

  • Rejecting meetings altogether as a waste of time.
  • Don’t expect an immediate response.
  • Not being specific and clear while communicating.
  • Not providing appropriate context.

Lessons we can learn from remote companies

Here are a few remote-based companies who have understood the effectiveness of asynchronous communication for smooth operation

1  Zapier: At Zapier, they collaborate asynchronously before calling a meeting.

They meet only when they feel like a meeting is necessary. meetings pull you from doing actual work in order to talk about doing work. In fact, Zapier  has its own asynchronous communication tool Zapeir’s Asynch

2 GitHub: At GitHub Chat is inherently asynchronous.  weekly announcement video New team member introduction video, Team updates are viewed async.

3 Automatic: At Automatic they don’t have live video chats. Even while hiring their communication is primarily asynchronous.

Within teams, they use P2s for asynchronous communication and Slack for more synchronous conversation

4 Doist: At Doist, they use Twist to divide communication by topics and threads of interest and the employees can respond when they are online.

5 InVision: At InVision, they have divided their 500+ remote employees into Western Hemisphere and the Eastern Hemisphere. And designated two work shifts of shared work hours for each group. It won’t be wrong to say that they have find sync within async.

6 Buffer: At Buffer, they use threads when it comes to effective asynchronous communication and collaboration

How to implement asynchronous communication?

asynchronous communication

Are you newly shifting from sync to async? Or are you already using asynchronous communication?

In both cases, the following steps will guide you towards great team communication while working remotely-

Utilize Tools

you can use video applications such as Loom to record video messages for complex discussions. Because facial expressions can help you avoid misunderstandings.

Use tools like Twist to break discussions down into topics and threads, collaborative tools such as Google Docs for editing and writing, Gitlab for development, and Sketch for design.

Cultivate asynchronous mindset

Emphasize trust, organization, independence, and accountability.

You can also consider preparing a handbook explaining the basic rules to work in async specific to your company so that everyone is on the same page within your remote teams.

Create asynchronous infrastructure

For example, you can make your hiring process a bit more asynchronous. You can use tools like-Hireflix to send the candidates prerecorded questions. And get video responses.

It will not only save time but also make the interview process more flexible for you as well as the candidates.

Overcommunicate

While sending a message or comment, compose it in a way that it includes all the details. Anticipate the information your message recipient will need and proactively provide all the information.

Be specific about what you are expecting, objectives, deadlines and other important information.

HelpScout’s Devin Bramhall suggests moving in-depth conversations outside of instant messaging for effective asynchronous communication.

Also, remember that written communication is a key skill for successful asynchronous communication

Have patience

Be patient and give people time to consider your message. Do not expect to get a response right away while working async.

As the other person also needs to reflect and get the knowledge to give you a proper reply with all the details included. To avoid any kind of confusion always make the deadline clear.

You can also set a rule about the maximum time one can take to respond.

For example, at Doist they have a rule that everyone needs to reply within 24 hours.

Before meetings

Start a thread or document with details of the objectives or purpose of the meeting and other basic information beforehand. You can also ask for reviews and comments from the team members.

 It will save the time you would have otherwise spent on explaining the basics during the meeting.

It will also provide the team members some time to ponder upon the things and have their doubts or suggestions ready on the first meeting itself.

Instead of spending time on another meeting just to discuss their suggestions or doubts.

After meetings

Document discussions and outcomes so that people who couldn’t be present can easily access the information.

It will also help your remote employees to refer back in case of any confusion rather than asking for another explanation.

This will make information more easily available as your employees will be working independently without waiting for the information they need to work smoothly.

Emergency backups

Have communication channels for emergencies. For instance, you can create a chat group for crisis and ask your employees to keep the notifications turned on for that channel all the time.

Keep the phone numbers of your remote employees handy for such situations.

When to go for synchronous communication?

asynchronous communication

In asynchronous communication, sometimes decision making takes a few days plus, a long email chain while a meeting would have solved the same problem in 15 minutes. So here are a few cases where sync is the best possible option-

  1. Use synchronous communication when asynchronous communication isn’t leading to a conclusion or a final result.
  2. Use sync mainly for troubleshooting when async fails to do so.
  3. In case of context-switching, use synchronous communication
  4. Make your hiring and onboarding process synchronous. Although you can add a pinch of asynchronous here as well.
  5. While sharing critical feedback with your remote employees prefer using synchronous communication.

Conclusion

Follow the above tips to make your asynchronous communication functional and most effective.

When done the right way asynchronous collaboration will help your remote teams handle all the big decisions and complex projects strategically.

It will offer your remote employees more flexibility, distraction-free work hours and autonomy to create a balance between work and life.

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