The remote working era has emphasised the need for effective communications. On the one hand, synchronous forms of communication like VoIP are critical, but dynamic methods of asynchronous options have also become increasingly essential.
This blog will give a full overview of asynchronous communication and how it can improve productivity in the workplace. However, if there’s a specific topic you’re particularly interested in, you can use the quick links below to jump to a particular section of the article.
6. Tools to use
What is asynchronous communication?
To make the differentiation crystal clear, synchronous communication is when two or more parties communicate in real-time - this includes video conferencing and the common phone call. Prime examples of asynchronous communication, conversely, are collaboration tools and messaging platforms, which provide more flexible means for distributed teams to work together efficiently.
Many can relate to the disruption caused by non-essential calls and meetings, the ones that could often have been handled via email. These synchronous activities can pull various team members away from their priorities unnecessarily, getting in the way of important tasks. This is where asynchronous communication can dramatically boost productivity, fluidity, and overall workforce morale.
Visibility and agility are some of the key advantages unlocked by asynchronous communication methods, particularly for remote teams that engage with international stakeholders and clients. In this article, we will identify more benefits of using this kind of communication, explore the types of tools available, and provide an understanding of how they work.
How does it work?
In telecommunications terms, asynchronous (or async) communication refers to the intermittent transmission of data. In simplified language, this form of communication does not demand a response in real-time, enabling the other parties involved to act at a time that suits them. A high-profile example of an asynchronous communication system is Slack, enabling teams to send messages, share documents, and track the progress of tasks.
Some may feel that this increased flexibility could put deadlines in jeopardy, but the opposite is usually the case. Platforms like Monday.com encourage flexibility, but also enhance transparency with a traffic light progression system. This approach allows stakeholders to flag the status of their progress, making it easier for support to be requested if need be. This asynchronous method enhances workflows and keeps teams on track, while negating the need for unnecessary meetings.
We have covered how asynchronous communication works on a level of tools and technicalities, but the right culture is also crucial. New platforms, tools, and approaches take time to bed in, requiring practice and diligence to get new communications up and running. This is an important step in preventing a return to an overuse of real-time calls and meetings. Routine is still vital, and an ‘always-on’ mindset should not transition into working unreasonable hours.
What are the advantages of asynchronous communication?
Building on the advantages already touched on in this article, there are a range of other plus points associated with asynchronous communication. There are significant benefits associated with having additional time to process the information you have been sent by other team members, enabling you to formulate more calculated, high-value responses. This productivity often accelerates progress and productivity while minimising interruption.
Another important benefit of asynchronous communication is documentation. What we mean by this is the ability to capture key information that may be missed in a synchronous interaction. This includes action items and minutes, which, if missed, could result in setbacks or failure to capitalise on valuable opportunities.
Inclusivity is a further advantage of asynchronous communication that complements those we have mentioned so far. Synchronous communication may only involve two team members sharing information verbally in real-time, which risks excluding other important stakeholders. This limited visibility in a team environment could result in roles and objectives being unclear, reducing accountability and limiting progress.
Synchronous vs. asynchronous communication
As noted at the outset of this article, synchronous communication is critical. Organisations today must take a hybrid approach to communications, ensuring that the best synchronous and asynchronous methods are being utilised in concert. Traditional PBX phone systems may no longer be providing the synchronous communication your company requires, but leading cloud-based VoIP systems are one solution.
Having discussed the host of benefits associated with asynchronous communication, we must also explain why synchronous communication remains mission-critical. To begin with the obvious, teams need the ability to conduct call and video conferences securely and seamlessly. The value of real-time, face-to-face interaction cannot be superseded when it comes to brainstorming and creative sessions, which form the basis for organisational innovation to thrive.
Hosted VoIP systems that run in the cloud are particularly well-suited to modern synchronous communication needs. This is because the service they provide is interoperable amongst devices, secure, flexible, and enables teams to interact internationally at a high-quality level. They also include features that allow visual and audio files to be exchanged easily, which helps to capture the plans and ideas generated in real-time sessions.
Embrace asynchronous communication in your workplace
An important guardrail to have in place when introducing new methods of asynchronous communication is a standardised approach to documentation. Communicating flexibly is powerful, but it can easily become chaotic without some structure. It can become highly problematic when updates and contributions are spread across email and instant messaging platforms without a governing logic, but the right collaboration tool can help to organise updates and contributions made by various remote stakeholders.
It is also of paramount importance that you deploy the right tools for your organisation in the first place - this improves alignment across your business while preventing the cross-over of tools that are not complementary. This is especially important when it comes to tracking project progress, a fundamental element of any collaboration that should be kept as simple as possible.
Agile teams that are spread across the world can run into the issue of time zone bias, and this should be avoided if you are to unlock the benefits of asynchronous communication. It is common for the time zone of certain regions to be prioritised when it comes to a range of activities. Instead, time zones should be rotated to ensure that teams in other parts of the world are not at a disadvantage. Choosing not to do this reduces the effectiveness of asynchronous working, resulting in reduced flexibility for employees in certain geographies.
One of the most powerful aspects of asynchronous communication is the ability it offers to iterate. Take Google Docs, for example; rapid and meaningful progress can be achieved when multiple experts have full visibility of a document and the opportunity to contribute. If your version control and feedback structure are well-established, quality work can be completed without the need for frequent, unnecessary synchronous catchups and meetings.
At the end of the day, effective integration of new ways of working takes time and practice. Therefore, in successful adoptions of asynchronous communication, the organisations aim for incremental progress and celebrate their wins along the way. This approach helps to encourage innovation amongst your teams, who will in turn be more inclined to experiment with the new capabilities enabled by asynchronous communication.
Tools to use
Making strategic and aligned decisions on which tools to use should be made by leaders at the very beginning. Key factors that need to be considered include compatibility, interoperability, and the number of communication channels being used.
Decision-makers should aim to limit how many channels they use, so as not to create a convoluted system. The main risk of having too many channels of communication is that fragments of projects and updates are spread across chats, emails, design tools, collaboration platforms and other locations, becoming counter-productive in the process.
Unsurprisingly, there is a vast range of asynchronous communication tools to choose from, enabling you to make a strategic selection that is bespoke to your business needs. The first tool an organisation might consider is a communication app like Slack, which enables teams to communicate and collaborate effectively by sending instant messages and sharing documents. A leading synchronous system like one of BT’s VoIP offerings works well in tandem with asynchronous communication tools, ensuring that teams can adopt an end-to-end approach when working remotely.
Asynchronous video is a type of communication tool that is growing in popularity. This tool makes it easy to film short videos such as tutorials, instructional videos, or text-to-speech videos to enhance accessibility. A company leading the charge with this kind of solution is Loom, a platform that also enables teams to share their screens during the recording of short clips. This can be of immense value to small, agile teams where skills need to be shared and training needs to be conducted on the move.
Project boards are another primary example, which allow multiple stakeholders to deposit ideas and updates in a unified location. This tool also works well alongside cloud telephony solutions, providing an excellent way to visualise ideas generated in a brainstorming session, for example. There are several companies providing popular examples of these tools, with Trello and Miro offering two of the most noteworthy examples.
We have already mentioned Google Docs, but there are several other leading examples of document collaboration tools. Dropbox Paper also enables teams to work collaboratively regardless of location or time zone, facilitating instant updates, comments, and general editing. The system makes it easy to allocate access to those involved in the project, while also improving version control by removing the need to share constantly changing master documents.
Email has remained a stalwart tool during the pandemic, allowing teams to transition into increasingly dynamic and remote ways of working. This reliable tool continues to be the mainstay of teams across the globe, especially with today’s emails enabling larger files and content types to be shared among relevant stakeholders. The ability to integrate calendars and tools like Zoom also makes emails an enduring asset for any business.
How does asynchronous communication improve the employee experience?
Remote working is here to stay for most businesses, and while synchronous communication systems continue to be the backbone of modern work, their use of asynchronous methods will be a major success factor for a long time to come. The Digital Age has made us all more collaborative, with technology users becoming increasingly familiar with and adept at using apps and instant messaging platforms. Because of this, teams naturally want to communicate in the same way when working.
Although face-to-face meetings and emails have long been the established way of doing things, they are limiting the pace at which teams can innovate and make progress. Meetings and emails are set to maintain important roles, but the employee experience can be dramatically enhanced with the addition of dynamic asynchronous tools. Project boards and collaborative tools like Slack help to increase transparency and productivity, while document sharing tools offer efficiency and version control.
On a more human level, asynchronous communication tools also reduce stress and increase employee wellbeing. This is achieved through the reduction of information overload, with collaboration apps making it easier for team members to identify their own responsibilities and act. Many platforms of this kind also provide the opportunity to easily flag blockers that are inhibiting the completion of a task, notifying other team members who can help solve key problems.
Asynchronous communication can also be used to make content easier to consume. This is especially important for training, at a time when knowledge-sharing is arguably more important than ever. For example, video content can be created and made available on an on-demand basis, equipping employees with resources that can help them overcome challenges. This method can be used to enhance company-wide communication, training, and productivity in equal measure.
Culture is key when it comes to beginning any asynchronous communications journey. Creating the right mindset and environment for new, agile ways of working will have the greatest impact on the employee experience. These solutions ultimately offer the ability to optimise the use of time, boost morale, increase productivity, and drive enhanced results. When used in tandem with an innovative, secure form of synchronous communication, asynchronous solutions offer a rare opportunity to transform business performance.