A Case for Asynchronous Communication

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by Dallin Porter, Communications Manager at Galactic Fed

We’ve all been there: nose deep in a work project, feeling good as you cross things off your to-do list – then suddenly an email comes in, accompanied by “URGENT!” in the subject line. There goes your concentration and focus – you hit the brakes on your productivity and respond to the matter right away. This example is all too common in workplaces around the world, and has become the center of a very popular question: is asynchronous communication the way forward?

What is asynchronous communication?

The official definition of asynchronous, or async, communication is “the transmission of data, generally without the use of an external clock signal, where data can be transmitted intermittently rather than in a steady stream.” In other words, async communication is done without the expectation of getting an immediate response. In the example we gave, the expectation for immediate response via email is definitely not async, and highlights just one of the ways companies are recognizing the need to do things differently.

Before we talk about the value of implementing async communications in your workplace, let’s take a look at why the traditional synchronous communication is becoming increasingly out of date and out of touch.

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Focus should come first.

Probably the most obvious reason that synchronous communications can be frustrating, is the need to respond to everything NOW. The expectation to have an immediate response and engage right away sacrifices concentration for convenience. Worker attention span is already being sacrificed, with a recent study showing that in an 8 hour day, the average worker is focused for only 2 hours and 53 minutes (!). Do we want our staff using that precious time to respond to meeting invites, hop from back to back calls, or sit through yet another Zoom call that could have been an email? When distractions go up, results go down.

A balancing act.

Although the asynchronous communication model is not limited to remote companies, it’s often found there, since remote work, by nature, lends itself to focus on work/life balance. This is another reason to implement async. As companies around the globe continue to understand the benefits of remote work, many are making transitions into a new working environment and seeing the positive effects. By removing the expectation to respond right away and right now, employees have more control over their schedules, their time, and ultimately their lives. And we all know there’s nothing stopping an employee that feels appreciated.

Think about it.

We get it: companies want to make money. You may think, what’s the point in employing people if they can lollygag and delay projects by choosing when they respond? Well, one of the problems with asynchronous communication set up is that when expected to respond/attend/debrief RIGHT NOW, you most likely aren’t getting the highest quality of work. Setting timelines and expectations is important, but allowing space and time for your staff (who are the experts) to deliberate/reflect/process what is being required of them, will more often result in a straightforward, well thought out, and actionable response.

Now that you might agree that sending every email as “high importance” may not be the best approach, let’s talk about some of the many perks of an async communication style:

Own your day.

Trying to get work done while always wondering when that next urgent message will come in can not only be distracting, but it can feel like workers aren’t given the space to own their day. A positive side effect of asynchronous communication is the fact that it forces both managers and their staff to plan more effectively. Workers need to give more time for responses, feedback, and input, which encourages them to plan their own workload and schedule accordingly. Also, it feeds into one of the greatest benefits of remote work: employees feel trusted. Lack of trust is one of the most popular responses when asked why staff leave a company. This is an invaluable notion that when done correctly, keeps staff happy, higher-producing, and staying with companies much longer.

Work on what matters.

Have you ever finished a work day where you felt busy, but when all was said and done, you left wondering what you actually accomplished? Because of the limited amount of time staff already have to devote during the day, ensuring they focus on the stuff that matters most can quite literally make or break a company. Once employees can cut through the noise of “ASAP,” they are able to turn their focus to the tasks and projects that will move the needle the most. They can focus on that data analysis, campaign pitch, or keynote speech, and when they see a message pop up, they can continue their work knowing that they’ve been given the time to respond in an appropriate amount of time – which almost never needs to be “right this very second.”

Time zones and tools.

If you’re a company working over several time zones and countries, you know that synchronous communication can be more of a hurdle than a bridge. On the other hand, asynchronous communication allows for cross-continental collaboration with ease. There seems to be new tools that help foster this environment being released every day. Loom allows you to record yourself on video, giving the feel of a face to face meeting (with much less of the small talk.) Of course Slack allows for instant messaging if needed, but also serves as an out-of-email approach, that provides a history of your interactions to refer to whenever you need relevant information, and project management tools like Asana or Monday.com ensures everyone on your team is on the same page, without needing to be on the same call.

Making a change in the way you and your team operate at its core can appear daunting at first, so if you’re looking to implement, here’s what we can do that makes async a-okay:

Over Communication. No, asynchronous communication does not mean a decrease in communication. Quite the opposite, over-communication is key, so use different media to adapt to various learning styles. Working remotely brings with it the challenges of productive collaboration without a physical office. We need to be mindful that people learn and absorb knowledge in ways unique to them, and there are endless tools at our disposal to manage this.

Set expectations from the get go. Setting clear expectations and regular KPI reporting helps ensure that the organization as a whole moves toward common goals and that everyone is one on the same page. We can’t emphasize the importance of setting up performance analytics from day 1, and setting goals and strategies to ensure they are met. Right when staff is being onboarded, paint the picture of how communicating within your organization looks like.

Use channels in place of meetings. When using messaging tools like Slack, stay organized by creating channels for individual teams, projects, or even topics. It’s not uncommon to have 50 channels on the go at once, as this allows for concentrated, focused conversations about what goals you’re trying to achieve in all areas of your business. You can set up casual channels to talk about happy hour plans or daily reporting channels where staff can update on their progress.

Asynchronous communication isn’t the end all and be all the communication. We find it works best when implemented in tandem with synchronous communication. There are times when a face to face or immediate response is needed: in one on one meetings, employee reviews, or when explaining abstract or difficult topics.

For the most part, though, asynchronous communication is becoming more common and more effective and is a growing factor in the future of work. So go ahead, send this to your team, start implementing our strategies and see what they think – just be sure to give them some time to reply.

This article is originally posted on Galactic Fed.

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