Rise of Asynchronous Communication
Over the past year, a monumental disruption has occurred in the ways we think about work and communication.
The pandemic drove many working professionals into performing their job duties from home, and many indicators point to many workers preferring remote work to the traditional model.
However, the sudden shift into remote work has also laid bare some issues when considering efficiency in communication. In other words, some ideas of how to communicate in the new digital workplace are pretty old school.
We at Vowel believe the future of work will be blended work: some folks report into the physical office space while others either remain as a remote team or only come into the office when deemed necessary. Clear, efficient communication becomes evermore important as this natural shift continues.
Yet, with the increased flexibility of blended work, remote communication makes any company’s day-to-day a bit trickier. For example, if a company holds an in-office meeting, some important stakeholders on remote teams may not physically be in the room when a vital detail is mentioned or some heavy whiteboarding happens and they can’t really see it.
Besides, what are we going to do—trust that someone actually took notes during the meeting? Don’t make us laugh. 😉
All this has led to an important question: How can we best communicate in this new age? More importantly, how do we juggle the mix between synchronized workflow and immediate needs while also maximizing productivity and recognizing the differences in how people work?
We believe the solution lies partly in the embrace of asynchronous communication—even further, the concept of the asynchronous meetings as typified by us here at Vowel. But, before we blow your minds, we’ll have to set a few parameters first.
What the Heck is Asynchronous Communication?
Before we define asynchronous communication, it may be useful to define synchronous communication.
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.
So, what could be considered async communication? Well, in the old days, it was these things called “letters.” In the present day, we have email, messaging in project management systems like Asana, video recording services like Vidyard, edits and comments on content—you could even consider this blog post as asynchronous. Hello from The Past!
Synchronous communication, as stated, is more instantaneous. It’s a conversation between colleagues; it’s a meeting during which you process information and respond in the moment; it’s a phone call or video call.
Tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams sit somewhere in this weird middle between the two.
All that being said, though, some forms of asynchronous communication have come to be adopted—dare we say expected—as synchronous.
Async Communication vs. Sync-Only Communication
The evolution of the remote workplace led naturally (if not awkwardly) to the attempted “synchronization” of asynchronous communication. Gone are the days when you could pop your head into your team member’s office to ask a quick question; now, we shoot emails or direct messages over Slack or Microsoft Teams, expecting an (almost) immediate response.
This muddling of the boundaries between synchronous and asynchronous communication has led to unfortunate growing pains. Your team members are flooded daily by notifications—email, Slack, Zoom, Google Meet, Asana, ClickUp, Calendly, you name it—leading to hypervigilance in expecting and preparing for these interruptions, which devolves into unnecessary stress added to your team members’ workload. In other words: The valuation of immediacy over efficiency ironically leads to a drop in morale and productivity.
Taking this discrepancy a step further, let’s address the elephant in the room—the impotence of meetings.
You read that right. You know it in your heart. Accept this fact and repeat these words: More often than not, synchronous meetings are superfluous wastes of time and money.
Thus, we’re going to say it here and now: Sync-only communication is far overvalued, and to the deficit of high-quality, efficient, asynchronous communication.
Benefits of Asynchronous Communication in Blended Work
Using asynchronous communication tools and techniques in remote or blended work leads to multiple benefits.
- More efficient communication: While you can admittedly expect a delayed response when relying on asynchronous communication, this isn’t a bad thing in the long run! If we grant our team members the time and space to respond to your messages at their own pace, it leads to a better reply, instead of pulling them out of whatever they were working on at the time to shoot off a hipshot response.
- Built-in transparency through automated documentation: Each email we write, every Slack message we send, every Vidyard we record, is all inherently archived and documented for future reference. Put simply: The page doesn’t lie (or, in the case of a recorded video, your eyes don’t lie). This benefit is increased when these modes of communication are public knowledge.
- Better morale, better productivity: When team members aren’t pulled into constant meetings beyond their control, thereby breaking their workflow, they are more able to actually get work done. They can budget their time more easily and plan their days more efficiently. Granting freedom to your remote workers in allowing for more async communication—as opposed to days chock full of meetings striving for some impossible synchrony—will lead to better work.
Best Practices for Asynchronous Communication in Blended Work
Here are some ways to break sync-only habits in favor of asynchronous communication.
- Use chat asynchronously, not in real time: This may be an unfortunate side effect of the term “instant messaging,” but we need to quit thinking of most communication tools as something that requires an immediate response. Letting remote team members practice asynchronous work allows them to respond in their own time. To that end, do not tag people in direct messages unless it’s absolutely urgent; they may be in the middle of deep work, so try to reach them where and when you know they won’t be disturbed.
- Consider level of urgency: Think of different forms of communication as sync-only or async communication. Save a sync-only form of communication exclusively for when time is of the essence. What needs an immediate response in real time, and what can wait? For example, all-hands meetings, quick one-on-one video conferencing, brainstorming sessions over complex issues, social time, and emergencies can be the time for synchronous communication. On the other hand, you should think of email, direct messaging, pre-recorded videos, in-context edits and suggestions on content, or comments in project management software as asynchronous communication.
- Send messages and requests thoughtfully: We aren’t necessarily asking you to inquire how everyone’s day has been (though that is nice of you!). This is about efficiency over anything else. Don’t hit someone with a notification without crystal-clear intent. Be precise and concise with your language.
- Schedule blocks of time for email: This dovetails a bit with the prior point about using chat as async communication, but email blocks are much more structured than that. Instead of considering yourself or team members as on-call to respond to emails in real time, set buffer times for when you open and send replies to emails. That could be 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., or any combination of any times, but this will ensure less inbox urgency and stress. You can even set up an automated template email letting people know your email blocks.
- Respect time differences: In our globalized society, we’re working with people across the country and the world. But even with remote workers in the same time zone, make sure to respect boundaries set forth by your team members. With the spread of blended work, some people may be taking care of their kids or taking a scheduled break as your nose is on the grindstone. Respect your remote team members’ schedules.
- Establish async check-ins: Set a space where you can catch up with your team’s workflow without making it a time-wasting meeting. Whether that space be a chat service, like Slack or Skype, or project management software, like Asana or ClickUp, there will be a spot where everyone can drop a quick message updating everyone about what’s on their plate at the moment without having to sit through a stand-up or play catchup through the workday.
Actually, with that last point, we’re getting dangerously close to what we teased early on in this blog post…
Asynchronous Meetings with Vowel: The Key to Success in Blended Work
Asynchronous communication doesn’t have to stop at check-in spots and email blocks. You can make your meetings asynchronous, too.
You already know how we feel about meetings. But give us another moment to invite you on this journey with us, now: Imagine a world without days full of meetings. Admit it—doesn’t that sound lovely?
This world is possible when we dispel with the sync-only communication model and normalize async communication, up to and including asynchronous meetings, with tools like Vowel.
Vowel is an asynchronous meeting tool that enables teams to plan, host, transcribe, search, and share meetings with ease. You can hold a remote video call, an in-person conversation, and anything in between when using Vowel. And when it comes to all the ideals of asynchronous communication, Vowel allows you to end a meeting with all ideas, questions, and decisions intact, verbatim, and shareable to anyone who couldn’t make the meeting.
- Automatic transcription and recording: No more FOMO. Vowel video conferencing automatically records and transcribes meetings, so no one has to act as a stenographer (since we all know how that goes). This falls directly in line with the idea of increased transparency inherent with asynchronous communication—not to mention the respect of people’s flexibility and time concerns.
- Note taking on steroids: Speaking of taking notes, Vowel has reimagined the craft of note taking. You can collaborate with other team members by sharing meeting notes, and later, you can see those notes in line with the transcription, or listen to the recording from the moment the note was created. You can mark an idea or decision with a hashtag of your creation to save a moment for later (or for remote team members). Again, transparency is key with this facet of Vowel, as well as marking important moments and notes for distributed teams, so it makes asynchronous meetings even easier to recall and recite.
- Share anything with anyone at any time: With Vowel, you can share the right amount and not a moment more. Use clip sharing to pass along parts that matter to team members, and leave out the rest. You can share in Vowel or with expiring links with anyone, regardless of whether or not they use Vowel. This way, you can share only the most important moments of any given meeting without wasting time—and considering how efficiency is important to async communication, it’s a game changer.
- Organize your invites only to relevant stakeholders: Channels in Vowel allow you to organize your team communication and meeting invites, as well as share a meeting to one or more channels, so the right people stay in the loop. That way, you can choose only to invite folks who need to be in a meeting, while letting remote team members work in peace if need be, further respecting boundaries of asynchronous work.
The past year has established some new normals. If distributed teams and blended work is indeed the future, then the way we communicate must change with the times, and we must respect our team members’ time. Asynchronous communication and asynchronous meetings will be the mode of the new workplace, and Vowel is poised and prepared to be one of the premier collaboration tools of this bright, new future.
, Head of Marketing
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