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Originally Posted On: Is Asynchronous Communication the Future of Work? – Good1 Consulting
One of the lessons from the pandemic is that humans can get the same amount of work done, if not all, remotely and outside the confinement of the traditional working environment.
With the emergence of new workplace practices and structures adopted to ensure that work goes on, corporate bodies and organizations are beginning to realize the need for asynchronous communication as part of remote working. However, this is not to say that this type of communication was nonexistent before the pandemic. In fact, many remote-only companies around the world use it to pass information and instructions between team members.
One important element of remote work is communication. However, before the pandemic, organizations have been so accustomed to real-time meetings and personal interviews that they fail to utilize other asynchronous forms of communication, even when the tools are available and accessible to them. For instance, e-mail has been around for a while. E-mails are one of the most important tools for asynchronous communication, but due to synchronous work traditions, emails in workplaces often require immediate feedback. It is noteworthy that adopting effective communication structures for remote work doesn’t just stop at acquiring its necessary tools. It would require learning how to use them properly and asynchronously.
What Is Asynchronous Communication?
Asynchronous communication refers to communication that doesn’t happen in real-time, and participants can send a response whenever they want. The time delay between the asynchronous message and its response could be anywhere from minutes to weeks — but the basis is that the communication doesn’t have to be “live”. Asynchronous communication relies on tools such as email, Google Docs feedback/comments, Twist, Todoist, and others.1)
This form of communication removes the need to operate in synchrony and obtain feedback immediately after a message is delivered. This can be done through emails, social media platforms, and other software.
It is the exact opposite of synchronous communication which is, on the other hand, the form of communication where one has to respond immediately.
Why Asynchronous Communication Over Synchronous Communication?
Like it has been stated above, a good number of organizations have been forced to consider remote working as part of their work structure due to the spread of Covid19. Therefore, for team managers, asynchronous communication seems to provide an efficient way of achieving optimal productivity from the team members.
A good instance is when a remote team schedules a teleconferencing call at some odd hours. This may be despite efforts made by the host to cater for the time zones of everyone on that call. The discomfort experienced by some participants in that meeting may affect the quality of contributions made, and reduce the efficiency of work. At the end of the day, meetings planned in this way may only take up everyone’s time for discussions that could have been held and concluded in asynchronous ways.
Data has shown that synchronous communication is not as great as it seems after all. A recent report by Visually claims that meetings waste more than $37 billion yearly in lost time and productivity.2) This clearly shows the inefficiency of physical meetings. It could also be one of the reasons why CEOs of large corporations like Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, and others have deemed meetings as largely unproductive.3) Therefore, for remote work to be effective, meetings and other forms of communication that desire instant feedback would have to give way for other asynchronous means of communicating.
Benefits of Asynchronous Communication
Adopting Nonlinear Work
Nonlinear work is an attributive concept of asynchronous communication that removes the regimented lifestyle of a worker from the culture of work. Asynchronous communication allows organizational structures to do away with routines. It allows for the team to focus on a task at the time when it is most comfortable for them to do so.
Efficiency, it appears, can only be achieved in the right environment. And the decision of that right environment can best be decided by the employees themselves.
GitHub suggests that routine is not necessarily good, as it is only just tradition and it has been mandated. Contrary to the belief that it keeps workers disciplined, it is only a tool of micromanagement by employers to “keep workers in line”.4)
Workers tend to work more when they are not being watched. Therefore, dismantling routine from work expectancy is one of the benefits of asynchronous communication that can be further explored in the concept of nonlinear work.
Having All Communication Digitized
Another reason for synchronous forms of communication to be left behind is that not only are they bound by time (having to reply immediately). They are unlike asynchronous forms. The core concept of asynchronous information is keeping saving information digitally.
One benefit of keeping digital documentation of all communication is that both parties can always refer to in the future.5)
Also, on the side of the sender, there are digital tools that allow for messages to be automated for giving updates to team members or collaborators about progress in a task.
Automated messages may also remove the need for synchronous updates to be given to a team leader. If the team leader automates instructions and KPIs in place for each update, the other team members can check their tasks against the criteria when they arrive at a checkpoint and move on to other tasks. This would decrease the amount of stakeholder’s time wasted, and increase efficiency.
Easier Collaboration and Inclusion of Diverse Talents
As mentioned above, asynchronous communication reduces the need for meetings and as well as the limitations that concerns the time zones of several stakeholders and team members across the world.
What this means is that organizations can now diversify their teams by hiring talents from around the world. These hired talents, unbound to any routine or working hours would be able to deliver to their team with the right asynchronous structure in place.
Implementing Asynchronous Communication in Working Structures
It is the ultimate goal of many organizations to sustain working remotely by reducing all synchronous forms of communication to the minimum. Despite this, it appears that some organizational functions, while important, may be better met by synchronous collaborations.
Therefore, for asynchronous structures to thrive, it would depend on the ability of organizations to decide what sort of messages would demand syncing schedules of all stakeholders, and which level of communication can be asynchronous. Once that has been decided, other strategies may follow.
Utilize All Necessary Tools
Make use of emails, chat applications, and project management systems for communicating and automating communication. Reduce phone calls to non-existent, if possible.
Be Proactive With Information
Always plan, and prepare information that can be stored or automated for future provision. This eliminates the need for synchronous updates and delays when a team member needs to clarify something with a colleague.
Provide Links and Sources
Another benefit to asynchronous communication is that it allows teams to be benevolent with information. Ambiguity is not necessary in this case.
For a message to be understood, it must be as clear as possible and must reduce the need for clarification to the minimum. External links and sources to all relevant documents and directories should be provided. This will ensure that the message is fully comprehensible, and that team members can take full and proper action in their task without having to reach for feedback in real-time.
Be Clear With Expectations
It is important that along with clear information and links presented, one should also set clear expectations and goals for tasks. Operating in a nonphysical environment requires that a certain tone be set around the task to be done, to achieve timely results. Unclear expectations surrounding a specific task would only result in delays and a constant need to go back into synchronous forms of communication.
Avoid Setting Synchronous Traps
The way messages are sent goes a long way to determine if a workflow could slip from asynchronous to synchronous.
Use asynchronous chats the way they are designed to be used.6) You have to provide adequate context to all of your messages, reducing the need for the recipient to request clarification, and for you to reply in turn. Asynchronous messages aren’t the same as exchanging SMS.
Also, avoid mentions. They carry a certain urgency that is attributive to the synchronous conversation, and they may distract the recipient when they should be focused on another task.
Cut Out a Time for Replying to Emails and Messages
We may be using emails correctly if we always have to reply to every single one the moment we receive them.
Email is one of those tools that could be used synchronously if we do not practice its asynchronous use properly.
It is advisable that you cut out a specific time for the opening, perusing, and replying to all inboxes. You can do all these by using an autoresponder to inform others about your replying time.
Set a Timeframe for Expected Feedback
As mentioned earlier, it is always advisable to make expectations clear. In this case, it would be advisable to state how urgently the feedback to a specific message is expected. In your estimation, however, you will do well to consider the time zone of the recipients and the non-linearity of their work schedule.
As important as it is for the future of work, asynchronous communication isn’t without its downsides. Some team members may lack the ability to express themselves in written mediums as much as they would physically.
The delays in getting responses may affect crucial decision-making that is time-bound, and the decisions made may also lack the incredible spark of ideas generated from synchronous brainstorming sessions.
However, these can all be solved by identifying these levels of communications that don’t work asynchronously and adopting for them synchronous forms of communication.
What do you think about asynchronous communication and non-linear workday? Do you also believe it will be the future of work? Let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comment box.