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Asynchronous communication in the workplace: benefits and best practices

Many more of us are working remotely and this calls up a new and unique challenge, that of asynchronous work. Take Janine as an example: She is an inbound marketing specialist in Los Angeles who now must regularly work with Chris, a content writer in London on a day-to-day basis. She’s realized that the eight-hour difference in time zones can be a real bear to work with sometimes.

Alexandra Marinaki
Alexandra Marinaki

Alexandra is a psychologist with a MSc in Talent Development and Creativity.

Asynchronous work and its unique issues – for example, communication delay or tech hiccups – are not new territory for many businesses. Many employers have had distributed teams for years now and they’ve been willing to share their best practices to shed some light on remote work first-timers’ biggest problems and solutions, including tips for effective asynchronous collaboration.

What is asynchronous communication?

In the modern workplace, whether that’s remote or not, asynchronous communication means that there is a time lag in response between the sender and the recipient, be that another colleague or customer. This is the main difference between asynchronous vs. synchronous communication, with the latter involving in person meetings, live chatting or video conferencing.

Briefly, in asynchronous communication terms, if you want to ask your colleague a question about an ongoing project, you won’t address it to them right away, even when you’re at the same office, but you’ll leave them a message so that they respond on their own time.

We’ve all practiced asynchronous collaboration at work, more or less, and tech tools have played a huge part in this. Emails, messaging apps (Slack, Hipchat, etc.), shared documents in cloud-based platforms (G-Suite) where employees can collaborate and reply are common asynchronous communication examples, among many more.

Now that we’ve explained what asynchronous communication is, let’s turn our attention to “why” we’re talking about it. When done properly, the benefits of asynchronous communication are plentiful and can boost both your performance and productivity – and your teammates’, too.

The assets of asynchronous communication

Have you ever found it difficult to concentrate on your daily job duties after being interrupted by an unexpected casual chit-chat about a project your colleague is working on? It’s fine if this happens sometimes because mutual support and camaraderie is a critical part of being a team. But what if it interferes with your productivity?

Recent research has shown that we live in a more collaborative era; we schedule our working day around meetings, Slack conversations and emails with our colleagues and sometimes these events could take up 80% of a full working day. This can be detrimental to our performance; technically we spend more time hopping from one meeting to another or replying to messages than focusing solely and mindfully on our tasks.

But with asynchronous work we can tackle this issue and spend more time resolving tasks with extra attention and care. The key benefits are many:

More productivity

In workplaces where asynchronous collaboration is reinforced and enabled with technology, productivity is higher. People can follow their agenda and complete daily tasks more easily when they are able respond to their colleagues’ requests based on bandwidth or set up time slots throughout the week to prepare feedback for specific projects. Plus, by focusing their attention on one task at a time they have a more detailed look and bring in better results.

Less stress

Switching from one project to another throughout the day and being unable to stick to your own agenda can also be stressful. You probably can recall a time when you struggled in meeting an important deadline and a colleague asked you for a favor. It can be difficult to prioritize what is more urgent in such circumstances or reject your teammate’s call for help.

With asynchronous communication you allow yourself – or your employees – to put all energy into what you do each time and have better control over your workload, so there is no reason to overstress.

Higher quality

When you go through a request at your own pace you can concentrate on details and process things in greater depth. When exchanging information in the form of a conversation instead, you don’t really have the time to inspect all problem aspects. By documenting details on a work matter to receive feedback from your colleagues step by step, you get and give a better review and more constructive input. This type of documentation helps the whole team equally and results in greater output.

Better talent

When you have embraced an asynchronous collaboration culture it’s easier to attract a wider talent pool around the globe for jobs that do not require colleagues to physically be in the same location. Employees are able to collaborate effectively from different time zones, buildings, or offices in an asynchronous way so place and time zone no longer limit your access to great talent.

Asynchronous collaboration best practices

Asynchronous communication sounds like the real deal, but how can you introduce it to your business and team operations effectively? Here are some good practices to start with:

1. Sync with an asynchronous mindset

If your employees are not used to such a working style, train them to do so. Empower them to own their agenda and workload and emphasize that no one will judge them if they take their time to respond to a request. Define what type of enquiries should be perceived as urgent by teammates on a general or per-project basis. This way employees will have clearer expectations and will be able to prioritize tasks more efficiently.

2. Set clear deadlines

If your employees or teammates operate in different time zones, make collaboration equally easy for everyone. Avoid scheduling meetings over time or reaching out to colleagues for feedback before the end of their working day. Encourage your employees to share transparently how they like to work and when they prefer to operate collaboratively throughout the day.

3. Introduce the right tools

Whether that’s your project management tool or your ATS search for platforms whose functionality better enable asynchronous communication and collaboration, with effective documentation, filing and options like comment sharing and tagging. For example, with Workable, once you’ve screened candidates and move on to the selection phase, you can share comments and tag your teammates inside the platform so that they get back to you when it’s convenient to them.

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4. Organize your notes and feedback

To make asynchronous collaboration successful, you have to find ways to provide effective notes and feedback to avoid back and forths in communication and time delays on important deadlines. Plus, going through a task in-depth in order to give clarifications or feedback will probably give you a new perspective and enable you to resolve or address it more quickly than expected.

5. Create/update troubleshooting guidelines

Not all of your employees will be able to fix operational tech issues that come up the same way. Make sure to build some guides with steps and solutions to some common technical problems (e.g. internet connectivity, security, etc.) and help employees concentrate on their day-to-day work.

Remember, not all meetings could be emails…

It seems that the benefits outweigh the losses for both organizations and individuals, but keep in mind that asynchronous communication is not the cure to all problems. Sometimes, you still have to meet in person or virtually with your team to address and solve complex issues. When you figure out that you spend lots of time trying to fix a problem over email or texts, sometimes it’s better to schedule a call or a meeting with your team and tackle it right on the spot.

Also, some processes such as brainstorming gain extra value from get-togethers. One idea builds on another and collectively leads to better results. Plus, meeting with your teammates on a regular basis helps you understand each other’s working habits, lifestyle and interests and enables you to build stronger relationships with them. That’s not easily replicated through asynchronous messaging.

When it comes to sharing some laughs and creating happy memories with your teammates, nothing beats the live version of it all.

So if you’re in the hunt for new applications and tips to manage remote teams successfully or to collaborate effectively with your teammates globally, asynchronous communication is probably your thing. There’s going to be a trial-and-error phase, and that’s OK. You won’t figure out everything immediately.

For starters, ask your employees and teammates for feedback and remind them that they do not have to send it straight away but respond based on their own bandwidth. Now that your employees are given the opportunity to think through their responses, the answers you do get – whether later in the day or tomorrow or next week – may surprise you with their insightfulness and creativity.

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