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How to sharpen your asynchronous communication skills

Illustration of two creatures reaching for one another

The big move to remote work has highlighted a challenge for most leaders: communication. While some companies have always been remote-first, others had to quickly adapt to a new way of working.

How do we make sure people are completing tasks? When should our team meeting take place? How should I stay in touch with my team? These are all questions that entered the minds of managers and leaders across the world as they navigated new remote work challenges

Effective communication is essential, but the old school methods don’t translate to today’s world. Luckily, we’ve moved on to something even better — asynchronous communication. 

In this guide we’ll explore: 

  • What is asynchronous communication?

  • The benefits of asynchronous vs. synchronous communication

  • How companies are using asynchronous communication

  • Asynchronous meetings

  • Asynchronous communication tips and tools

Let’s take a deeper look at async communication — what it is, how it works, why it’s great, and how to get the most value from it at your organization. 

What is asynchronous communication?

Figuring out asynchronous communication is easier if you first understand what synchronous communication is all about. 

Synchronous communication, in as few words, is real-time communication. It’s any time you communicate while expecting a quick if not instant response. 

Asynchronous, or async communication, means that a response is inherently delayed. Time is baked in between the communicator and recipient.

Synchronous communication is a conversation, a meeting, or an instant message chat that happens without delay. Fast, instant responses are the norm and you’re expected to be ready and available to reply. Examples of synchronous conversation include desk-side chats, project kickoff meetings, and phone calls. 

Asynchronous communication doesn’t demand an instant response. There’s time baked in between someone sending the initial message and your reply. There’s no expectation that you’re available straight away, and you have time to consider the request and reply in your own time. Great examples of async communication include Slack messages, emails, and Loom videos, and comments on shared docs or project files.

The benefits of asynchronous communication vs. synchronous communication

We work in a world where our team members can be in another continent, and you can’t pop your head into their office to ask a question. While that means it’s harder to get an instant answer to your question, it introduces space for productivity, focus, and rest. 

Both types of communication have their place in the work environment. Synchronous communication is ideal if you absolutely need an instant response, if you need to jam on an idea or problem in real-time, or if you want to get to know a new team member face-to-face.

For anything that’s not essential, the benefits of asynchronous communication often outweigh the time pressures of the former. Adopting more async communication is a wonderful way to: 

  • Allow people to respond at their own pace

  • Introduce more efficient communication

  • Cut down on unproductive meetings

  • Add transparency through automated documentation

  • Reduce burnout by relieving time pressures

  • Communicate between scheduled video calls

  • Improve the team’s productivity by creating time for focused work

The key to communicating better is to choose the right mode of communication for the situation. A crisis is better suited to a phone call than an instant message, but a suggestion for the next team meeting can happen over email or Slack. Consider what’s most appropriate, then build your culture around a blend of sync and async communication. 

4 examples of how async communication is benefiting companies

We know how valuable async communication is, but what does the real-world impact look like? Let’s take a look at how companies are using asynchronous communication as a competitive advantage. 

✅ Greater awareness

“When we started shifting toward async communication, we found that it helped us keep track of what was going on with each other's projects. We'd send each other notes about what we were thinking about doing, who we were talking to about our ideas, and what progress we'd made so far. This made it easier for us to move forward without stepping on each other's toes or working in silos.” — Will Yang, Head of Growth, Instrumentl

✅ More relaxed atmosphere

“Asynchronous communication can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed because recipients can take their time to respond. This creates a more relaxed environment where people feel comfortable communicating with each other. For example, when sending out an internal memo, we email it to everyone instead of hopping on a call. This way, everyone can easily access the information when they need it and there will be no disruptions to our daily operations. This helps create more efficient and effective workplace communication.” —  Craig Anderson, Founder, Express Dentist

✅ More time for deep work

In a thread about running an async company, Sam Corcos, Co-Founder and CEO at Levels, explained that with fewer meetings there’s more space for deep thinking and deep work.  

Async communication doesn’t just make it easier to catch up, share progress, or follow up. It creates meaningful room for the work that makes the biggest impact. 

✅ More personal touch with video

“Our team works across multiple time zones, leaving brief windows when we are all online together. Rather than cramming meetings into a short time frame, we opted instead to develop an async comms strategy. I believe that for async communications to function effectively, you must create definitive operating procedures. By setting out how, when, and where your team should communicate builds trust between members. 

As the COO, it's important that my team sees me as a face rather than just a name. Communicating asynchronously, we no longer hold full team meetings and as an alternative, I regularly speak to the team through videos. I believe that using video as a medium to get your message across adds a personal touch that connects you better with your employees.” — Amy Bos, Co-Founder and COO, Mediumchat Group

These examples of asynchronous communication in practice help us see the benefits in shifting towards this way of communicating.

What are asynchronous meetings?

Are meetings a waste of time in a remote team? Not necessarily, but there are better ways to do them — like asynchronous meetings. 

Asynchronous meetings are discussions about a specific topic that happen over a longer period of time. You’re not expected to join a video call at a certain time, and instead can contribute ideas, talking points, and comments when it suits your schedule. 

One of the major benefits of asynchronous meetings is that they’re more inclusive. Team members can participate no matter what their working pattern or time zone is. People have breathing room to think and consider their ideas or reply, without the pressure of the traditional meeting environment. Nobody’s excluded, and everyone can take part in their own way. 

“One of the great things about asynchronous communication is that it leaves a lot of time for reflection. This can be really helpful for managers and leaders, who may need to take some time to think through their responses before sending them,” says Brandon Schroth, founder of Reporter Outreach

Effective asynchronous meetings also give you the opportunity to share higher quality ideas and suggestions. When you have more time to think, you have space to challenge, explore, and come up with the best version of a concept. 

Async meetings are perfect for team meetings and daily standup meetings, where you can all check in, share status updates, and follow up. They’re also built well for brainstorming sessions and hackathons, where you provide guidelines and "pre-reads", then uncover ideas, debate, and propose suggestions over a longer period of time. 

8 tips for better asynchronous communication

We have some incredible async communication tools available to us now, but often they’re used poorly. Bad habits slip in, and people come to expect instant replies from their distributed team members. 

Avoid those growing pains and give your team the best chance to unlock the power of async communication with these tips. 

1. Set guidelines for your team

Not everyone is used to async communication. Even if you are, every team works differently. Take the time to set guidelines, rules, and boundaries for your team members so they know what to expect. 

Decide which platforms or apps you’ll use, and how you’ll use them. Agree on how long is a reasonable time to wait for a response, and the best way to ask someone a question. Set the tone for how you want to communicate as a team, asynchronously. 

2. Use chat asynchronously, instead of expecting responses in real time

It’s tempting to turn your Slack notifications on and reply to everything as it comes in. After all, you’re at your desk, right? This doesn’t help anyone though — your team members get used to getting that instant response, and you lose focus on what you were working on. Instead, be slower with your responses. 

Real-time communication has moments where it’s useful, but a question about a report or a suggestion for an agenda item doesn't need an instant response. Use your instant messaging tools wisely so they help you maintain good async communication, not work against it.

3. Think about the level of urgency

Adopting async communication doesn’t mean letting go of synchronous conversation completely. Sometimes a phone call, video call, or in-person meeting is more appropriate than an instant message or email. Consider the urgency and importance of your message to choose the right mode of communication. 

For sensitive or urgent matters, it’s often best to schedule a call with someone. To make a suggestion or offer feedback, use async communication like email, an online form, or a digital suggestion box. If you’re ever in doubt, choose the method you’d most appreciate in the moment.

4. Deliver your whole message at once

A bad habit that’s snuck in thanks to tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams is sharing one-liners instead of your entire message at once. This leaves people waiting, produces a flood of notifications, and doesn't respect the async nature of the app. Always share your whole message at once. 

Giving your team members all the information they need helps them stick to their own async communication preferences. They can think, review, and reply when the time is right. You also avoid lots of back and forth conversation and it’s easier to stick to the point. 

Don’t forget about formatting, though. In the rush to share everything at once, people often send a giant chunk of text. Take the advice of Jia-Bin Huang, Research Scientist at Meta Reality Labs, and structure your text instead: 

5. Don’t expect a response right away

Unlike synchronous communications, async conversations don’t demand an immediate response. This takes some getting used to, especially if your team members haven’t worked this way before. Manage expectations and make it clear that responses come when they do.

You’ll need to set some guidelines here around response times — maybe within a day or two for non-urgent questions. Outside of this, let people reply in their own time. If you encounter any challenges here, remind everyone about your async “house rules” and what to expect when talking out of sync. 

6. Schedule blocks of time for email

Constantly being available can mean there’s little time for deep work in the workday. Move towards async communication and create specific blocks for email and conversation in the day, so there’s enough space for your best work.

Experiment to figure out what time works best for you, and encourage your team members to do the same. Your times won’t always sync up, but that’s not a problem. Adapt to email being another form of async communication, instead of another instant messaging app. 

7. Respect time differences and working patterns

With a remote team, you could find your coworkers living anywhere in the world. This means you need to be more conscious than ever of time differences and working patterns. Luckily, with async communication, that’s less of an issue. 

Avoid the challenge of scheduling virtual meetings across different time zones by hosting an async meeting instead. Respect your team members’ work hours by not expecting them to reply instantly when it’s 9pm their time. Honor your coworkers’ workflows and encourage them to get in touch when it suits them. 

8. Create a place for async check-ins

When your team works remotely or you favor async communication methods, sometimes that casual conversation can get lost. To avoid this, create a specific place for everyone to hangout and check in with each other.

If you’re using Slack or another team chat app, create a #watercooler channel for casual talk. Make this your go-to place to find out what’s happening, share news, and spend (virtual) time with your favorite team members — all asynchronously. 

Support your team with asynchronous communication tools

The move towards more async communication means you need to reevaluate your tech stack. If all you use now is Zoom and Microsoft Outlook, now’s the time to consider switching to tools that match your newfound appreciation for all things async. 

Figure out what your team needs the most, and explore popular async communication tools and apps like: 

Each of these remote collaboration tools can help you create a better experience for your team members. By removing the need for sync communication and introducing more effective ways to communicate, you’re giving your team more time and resources to work at their best. 

How to master asynchronous communication

Async communication makes a lot of sense for remote teams. Not only does it help you respect each others’ time better, but it gives you more freedom to focus, rest, and innovate.

With these values front and center, it’s time to move to a video conferencing tool that shares these — like Vowel. It brings you video meetings with instant recording, live transcription, collaborative agendas + notes, and more — all in one place.

It’s designed for remote teams that want to host more productive meetings, have fewer meetings, and make it okay for non-critical participants to skip meetings and catch up on the recording later.

Here's what else you can do:

✅ Collaborate on meeting agendas, so everyone can add their items and talking points when it suits them.
Vowel meeting agenda
✅ Invite only those that need to be there, knowing you can easily share recorded videos after.
Share meeting recordings with others in Vowel
✅ Create clips of meetings to share valuable details or ask questions to others who weren't there (it's easier than typing out, and gives additional context!).
Share clips of meetings in Vowel
✅ Use live transcription as your record of the meeting and bookmark moments so you can easily search/find pieces of information later when you're working.
Live meeting transcription in Vowel
✅ Create folders of saved meetings so that new employees can view them async during onboarding — think project meetings, all-hands meetings, town halls, or customer calls.
Folder of recorded meetings in Vowel
✅ Record presentations, interview questions, feedback and more in your Vowel personal room and share the recording for people to view async.  

You don’t need to ditch live video calls completely, but adding more async communication into the mix can help your team work at their best. Gain more time for deep work, set your own schedules, and lean into a way of staying in touch that respects everyone’s preferences and needs. 

It’s time to embrace all that’s wonderful about asynchronous communication. If you’re ready, sign up for Vowel (it's free!) and experience a better way to host remote meetings and work async.