Nowadays, I'm willing to bet you rarely – if ever – stroll casually over to a coworker's desk to discuss the details of an upcoming project.
More than likely, if you did attempt to have the conversation in-person, your coworker would say something like: "Hey, I'm kind of busy right now. Mind Slacking me the information? Or emailing?"
This lack of real-time communication is becoming increasingly prominent in the workplace, making it easier for employees to work remotely without fear that they're missing out on critical conversations happening at the office.
Additionally, even if you do work in the office, you're typically on the move and need to adhere to a different schedule than your colleagues. For this reason, asynchronous communication is becoming a preferred means of communication in the workplace.
We're going to explore what asynchronous communication means and how it differs from synchronous communication. Additionally, we'll provide examples to ensure you truly understand how to implement more forms of asynchronous communication in your workspace.
Asynchronous communication is any type of communication where one person provides information, and then there is a time lag before the recipients take in the information and offer their responses.
Simply put, asynchronous communication is communication that doesn't happen in real-time (e.g. on the phone, in-person, or during a live video conferencing meeting).
For instance, in the above example, your coworker is busy and can't properly comprehend the information you're providing when you visit her desk. Instead, she asks you to segue into some form of asynchronous communication – i.e. Slack, or email – so that she can receive, take in, and respond to your information on her own time.
To further understand asynchronous communication, let's explore the difference between asynchronous communication and its counterpart, synchronous communication.
While asynchronous communication doesn't happen in real-time, synchronous communication does. Essentially, with synchronous communication, you and your listener are in-synch – you deliver your information, and your recipient listens in-the-moment and responds immediately. There is no time lag on this form of communication.
There are certain instances in which synchronous communication is a more helpful form of communication. For instance, if you and your team want to brainstorm ideas for an upcoming campaign, it makes sense to do this in real-time – you can bounce ideas off one another, and communicate concerns in-the-moment without fear of any misunderstanding.
However, synchronous communication requires advanced planning to ensure everyone on the team can attend the meeting at a certain time, and it isn't always necessary. Perhaps you find your team can brainstorm productively via an email chain, Slack channel, or Google Doc. All of these forms of asynchronous communication allow each member on the team to communicate ideas when he or she is willing.
Additionally, asynchronous communication can oftentimes allow for better, more productive conversations. If a colleague throws an idea at me in the kitchen one morning, I'm likely distracted and unable to provide the most optimal solution to her needs. Alternatively, if I find an email in my inbox regarding the same issue, I have time to consider how I want to thoughtfully approach the situation.
Plus, asynchronous communication allows for records of a conversation. If you're working on a long-term project and want to collect notes on your colleagues' ongoing feedback, an asynchronous conversation via email chain helps you avoid the difficulties of note-taking in meetings.
Finally, asynchronous communication is often critical for remote workers. For instance, my coworker works remotely in Missouri. I often can't "stop by her desk" for a quick conversation – instead, we communicate through asynchronous channels, such as email or Slack. These asynchronous conversations are critical since she and I work in different time zones.
To fully grasp asynchronous communication, let's dive into some examples next.
There are multiple forms of asynchronous communication. We've mentioned two already – email, and Slack (or an alternative instant messaging tool, such as Chanty or Glip). If your company publishes updates to an internal wiki or shared messaging board, those updates and ensuing comments are also an example of asynchronous communication.
Additionally, you might use an asynchronous video tool, like Loom or Soapbox, to communicate with your team. If part of your team is remote and works on different time zones, an asynchronous video tool might be vital for increasing overall productivity and collaboration on your team. An asynchronous video tool lets you record your message and then send it to colleagues to consume on their own time.
There are a few benefits to using an asynchronous video tool – for instance, asynchronous video allows you to avoid the hassles of finding a date and time that works for each meeting's attendees. If your team works in different time zones, this is particularly important.
Additionally, asynchronous video enables you to craft a well-planned presentation – tools like Loom and Soapbox even allow you to split your screen, so you can provide visuals while you speak. By recording a message ahead of time, you're able to ensure it's the message you want to send. If you were to speak in-person, you might forget key points or get distracted by colleagues' questions.
Best of all, by sending your team a pre-recorded video, you're giving each coworker the time and space to digest information on their own before providing a response. If the information is dense, coworkers can even re-watch the video for clarity.
So, what are asynchronous communication tools? They're used so people who are distributed across different locations can collaborate with one another. Asynchronous tools are helpful no matter where individuals happen to be located, whether they're just down the hall or time zones away.
Google Drive is a prime example of asynchronous communication. It allows you to work on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more – all in separate times and places. It's the perfect tool to edit documents and leave comments for other team members to address at another time.
Another popular asynchronous communication tool is the messaging app, Slack. Slack takes conversations that were traditionally done through email and moves them to a messaging service. You can build out different channels for different teams or topics and reply to messages on your own schedule.
Use Loom when a text description won't suffice. Seamless screen recording makes it easier to explain your points and give direction to others who aren't with you in person. It also integrates with Slack for an even simpler sharing experience.
Tettra is an internal knowledge base that has smart workflows that allow you to answer repetitive questions. It's a place where you can centralize your team's resources and effectively search for and find the content you're looking for. Plus, it integrates with other tools your team uses like Google Docs, Dropbox, and GitHub, and more.
Slab is a knowledge hub where you can find information about your company, teams, and projects. You can search for answers across your company's tools and integrations, and edit files in realtime with other users. Knowledge can be uploaded to specific folders for other teammates to access when they need it, making it an essential tool for asynchronous communication.
Project management systems like Asana are just as useful for asynchronous communication. With Asana, you build out projects and deadlines that are assigned to teammates to work on. Teammates can communicate at their own pace on project boards to get their work done most effectively.
Monday.com is a virtual work hub that helps teams communicate asynchronously and collaborate effectively. It provides visibility into all areas of a project and it integrates with other tools your team uses on a daily basis. Plus, it gives you the ability to automate routine processes so teams can focus on more challenging work.
Twist is a remote team communication app that combines email and chat into one platform. It offers a calmer, more organized, more efficient communication platform that allows employees to disconnect to do deep work and tune in when they have the time. Twist threads conversations so users choose when to reconnect with their team members, allowing them to partake in deep, focused uninterrupted work. Given the shift to remote work in response to COVID-19, Twist is growing rapidly and today is used by 270,000+ people worldwide (91% of Twist users are remote teams).
Asynchronous communication is often critical for ensuring each colleague is able to choose when and where they receive the information you want to provide – and equally equipped to choose when, where, and how they want to respond. In today's fast-paced world, allowing for more asynchronous communication is a good idea for ensuring messages don't get lost-in-translation.
To learn more, read about how to communicate appropriately with remote team members next.