A Stanford study of 16,000 employees revealed that remote workers are 13% more productive. In another review, a company that switched to remote work recorded an increased $1.3 billion annual value. No more rush-hour commute to work, inhaling carbon-fueled air, engaging in office politics, or having to always be present even when you don’t feel like it. You have more time to dedicate to your family and hobbies because you’ve regained control of your day and how you plan your activities. While many people assume that location independence is the entire reason remote workers are happier, asynchronous communication plays a significant role in giving remote employees control over how they communicate with their teammates.
In a remote-first, fully asynchronous environment, you wake up when you want to, see the emails sitting in your inbox, and feel no pressure to reply. So you grab a beverage and finish your morning routine before settling at your desktop to start work for the day. While many companies are convinced that remote work is the future, they are also struggling with how to hand control over to their employees and adopt async communication — even when the benefits include a happier workforce, reduced overhead costs, and the ability to hire top talent from anywhere in the world.
What is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication is when two or more people communicate without the need for real-time interaction or responses. In this scenario, instead of asking your employees to be online at the same time, you give your teammates the flexibility to choose their working hours, irrespective of their location. For example, if you’ve sent an email requesting a document from a team member, rather than expecting an immediate response, you’re patient and wait for them to respond later on.
Synchronous vs asynchronous communication
Synchronous communication takes place in real-time between two or more people. All parties are online at the same time. When a message or request is sent, there’s an immediate response. Synchronous communication is common in a physical work location where managers can walk up to a team member’s office and ask for a document or question about a process. Work hours and break times are preset, and there’s a ton of pressure to always be available. Examples of synchronous communication include video conferencing, instant messaging, and telephone conversations.
Situations where synchronous communication is beneficial include:
- Brainstorming sessions
- Weekly team meetings
- Team building activities
- Project discussions
- Interview sessions
- Water cooler conversations
While synchronous communication is instantaneous, there’s an expected lag in asynchronous communication. Rather than determining when employees can work or respond to communications, async communication places control with the employee, not the employer.
Finding the balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication
To be clear, we’re not asking you to ditch real-time communication entirely. There are situations where it makes sense. Remote work, for example, can be extremely isolating. Synchronous communication can help you build rapport with teammates and develop personal relationships that lead to better collaboration at work. It’s also useful when you want to discuss sensitive topics, give critical feedback, performance review, or brainstorm a lot of ideas at once. When a project is moving quickly and you want to get everyone in sync, a Zoom conference meeting can help you achieve this goal. In a crisis or emergency, it makes sense to get everyone on board fast, to mitigate the problem.
However, it can be a time suck when:
- Employees have to show up to meetings and wait for everyone to arrive
- You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is respond to work emails and Slack messages
- You spend an entire day replying to an endless email thread instead of finishing that task that’s due in an hour
The trick is to keep synchronous communication to a minimum. Give your team autonomy but set rules that keep everyone aligned. Don’t micromanage but stay available when they need help getting past a roadblock. Organize regular team bonding events to manage isolation and maintain social relationships. Combine async and synchronous communication and you’ll have a happy team with a healthy work-life balance.