Mar 29, 2023 Team Collaboration

Asynchronous Communication and Collaboration

Asynchronous Communication and Collaboration

While many crave in-person communication, sometimes talking to our coworkers is impossible. So, instead of waiting for them to complete their tasks, you send an email or a quick Slack message to get everything you need.

The lack of real-life communication is becoming standard in workplaces, even though multiple people might share the same office space. It also becomes easier for remote employees not to miss out on critical conversations at the office. But how is everyone communicating if they aren't talking to each other? Have you ever heard of asynchronous communication? Let's explain this term and see how it affects your team and their performance.

What Is Asynchronous Communication?

Asynchronous communication is when two or more people engage in a communicative act without being present at the same moment. It's a dialog that develops over a period of time rather than instantly. It might take hours, days, or even weeks to complete a conversation, depending on your project.

So, instead of asking your team members to be online at the same time, you give them flexibility by employing async communication. For example, let's assume you have created a report; you can upload it to a shared drive and ask your team member to review it. By simply emailing them that contains clear instructions, you are using asynchronous communication.

Advantages of Asynchronous Communication

There are some good sides to asynchronous communication:

  • You don't have to respond immediately: Asynchronous communication relieves the pressure of immediate response and gives your employees time to think and deliver high-quality communication rather than instant responses.
  • Fewer interruptions: When team members have a choice, they can respond on their own time, not get distracted, and really focus on things that matter.
  • Easy communication: You can easily communicate through several time zones when no one expects an immediate response. In this way, everyone can contribute to your project.
  • Improved planning: The lack of instantaneous input makes employees plan, especially when working with remote coworkers.
  • Live document: Since asynchronous communication is conducted in a written form, it becomes an immediate document, which you and your team members can reference indefinitely, which is not the case with in-person discussions.
  • Better control over the workday: Asynchronous communication enables people to respond when they find it convenient or when the work allows. This way, they have better control over their workday instead of having to respond immediately, night or day.

Make sure to read more about the many benefits of asynchronous communication.

Disadvantages of Asynchronous Communication

Despite plenty of benefits, asynchronous communication comes with a few advantages as well:

  • The feeling of isolation: The lack of face-to-face communication may leave some of your team members lonely and isolated.
  • No connection: Even though written communication can be concise, it doesn't always convey the tone and emotion people need to feel connected.
  • Brainstorming isn't spontaneous: Asynchronous communication removes spontaneity from the picture and brainstorming.
  • Delayed responses: This type of communication can be challenging, especially for work that requires immediate action. It might pass several hours until you receive a response.
  • Miscommunication: In asynchronous communication, there is no immediate feedback or clarification, leading to misinterpretation or miscommunication of messages and resulting in conflict or mistake.

Common Mistakes To Avoid When Using Asynchronous Communication in the Workplace

Asynchronous communication can be a useful tool around the office, but it requires proper use to avoid mistakes that could negatively impact productivity and communication:

  • Ignoring messages: Failing to check or respond to messages can result in missed opportunities, delays, and miscommunications. It's important to check messages regularly and respond promptly.
  • Not being clear and concise: Clear and concise messages are essential for effective asynchronous communication. Avoid rambling or using complex language; include all necessary information in your message.
  • Not using the right medium: Different communication tools are better suited for different purposes. For example, an email could be great for formal communication, while instant messaging is better for quick updates and questions. Choosing the right medium for the message will save you a lot of trouble.
  • Not respecting boundaries: It's important to respect other people's boundaries when using asynchronous communication. Avoid sending messages outside work hours or expecting immediate responses, and be mindful of different time zones and schedules.
  • Using a negative tone: Negative or critical language can be interpreted differently in written communication than in person. Avoid using negative or critical language; consider how the recipient may receive your message.
  • Not following up: Asynchronous communication can be less reliable than in-person communication, so it's important to follow up on messages to ensure they have been received and understood.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication

There is a clear difference between these two terms. While synchronous communication happens in real-time, asynchronous communication doesn't. With synchronous communication, you and your listener are in sync; while one of you delivers the information, another responds to it in real-time, at the moment. There are no delays, time lag, or waiting.

In some cases, synchronous communication is more beneficial than asynchronous communication. For example, if you and your team are brainstorming ideas for the upcoming project, it makes more sense to do it in real-time in case any problems appear.

On the other hand, you need to plan to make sure everyone can attend the meeting, which isn't always necessary. Sometimes, you just need to review a few things without involving everyone, as they can read the information you post online.

Often, asynchronous communication enables a more productive conversation. You won't always know how to respond to your team's requests. But, if they drop an email into your inbox, you will have enough time to think about it.

Examples and Best Practices

This is ActiveCollab’s story of how we went from synchronous to asynchronous communication and collaboration.

In the first days and weeks of working from home, chats and video calls were on fire. If you asked a question at 11 PM on a group chat, you'd get an answer within 10 minutes. In those days, people felt compelled to answer. The rules weren't set or talked about. Should I reply right away or not? Should I solve this now, or can it wait till tomorrow? No one was sure what was expected of them.

The response time during regular working hours was measured in seconds, even though we're not the employee-controlling kind of company. Still, your gut feeling (or your anxiety) tells you that if you don't reply instantly, it automatically means you're not looking at your screen; therefore, you're not working.

Translated into everyday routine, you wake up, and from that moment on your brain is wired to be on high alert. Getting anything done properly while your panic mode is on and blinking is nearly impossible.

The constant messages and invitations to video calls made it difficult to focus on whatever you should be doing. As a result, the omnipresence came at the cost of productivity.

The first move was to step back and define exactly what you're working on. Then, a deadline needs to be set. In time, we learned to wait patiently for a response and focus on our assignments rather than on notifications. Here are some useful conclusions:

  • Think about your writing: Most of the time, asynchronous communication is all about writing. It's necessary to consider the main points you want to convey. Bullet messages would be great instead of huge paragraphs.
  • Differentiate urgent from non-urgent: Knowing the difference is crucial for communication. When messaging something to a team member, consider the level of urgency.
  • Set clear intentions: Establish clear expectations and processes with your team. Are there any important syncs or weekly deliverables? Find your communication style and clearly state your intentions to avoid additional stress in the workplace.
  • Plan: Make sure everyone has enough time to fit the meetings into their schedule!

What are the ways in which you can conduct asynchronous communication?

  • Messaging software: You can send your colleague a message on Slack, and they will respond when they get back online.
  • Email: A typical example of asynchronous communication. Employees usually respond when they find it convenient. There is no pressure.
  • Cloud collaboration: You and your teammates can edit documents and leave comments using tools like Microsoft Teams or Google Workspace.
  • Video recording: When you need to explain how something works, you can record a demo and explain a process. Your team members can check out the video when they have time.

Best Tools for Asynchronous Communication

  • ActiveCollab: ActiveCollab is a great project management software that allows users to collaborate on projects, track project activity, and communicate deliverables using an interactive board. You can leave comments and track what your coworkers are doing at the moment, so you are always in the loop.
  • Google Drive: It allows you to work on presentations, spreadsheets, and documents. It's an ideal tool for editing documents and leaving comments that other team members can address.
  • Loom: When text description isn't enough, you can record your screen to explain your points more easily and provide direction. You can also integrate Loom with Slack.
  • Asana: Asana is a work management platform that allows you to build out deadlines and projects assigned to teammates.
  • Stack Overflow: You can use this platform to find the answers you need, considering 100 million people visit Stack Overflow monthly.

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