Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: How to choose?


We’re talking about synchronous communication vs. asynchronous communication. Depending on the situation, you may rely on one type more than the other, but most jobs require a combination of both. 

You may not know when you’ll be commuting to the office next, or if your new permanent workspace is just a few steps from your kitchen. But you’ll be a better communicator and more productive employee by learning more about your team’s synchronous and asynchronous communication methods.

Related: The State of Remote Collaboration 2021

What is synchronous communication?

Synchronous communication is a form of communication that happens in real-time or near-real-time. Most people are familiar with synchronous communication in an office setting. For example, any time a co-worker stopped by your office for a progress check or your boss sent a question over Slack, they were using synchronous communication. This type of communication occurs when team members expect an immediate response.

Synchronous communication via fist bumps. Synchronous communication via fist bumps.

What is asynchronous communication?

Also known as async, asynchronous communication is any communication that is sent without the expectation of an immediate reply. This type of communication occurs when team members can expect lag time between the sent message and response.

This kind of communication is excellent for building personal connections or conveying a sense of urgency, depending on the situation.

Benefits of synchronous communication

This kind of communication is excellent for building personal connections or conveying a sense of urgency, depending on the situation.

Synchronous works best in scenarios where:

  • meetings can be scheduled ahead of time.
  • answers are needed immediately.
  • you’re building workplace camaraderie, such as hosting a team outing (either in-person or virtual).
  • you’re brainstorming a new product or planning a launch and want everyone to start on the same page.

Benefits of asynchronous communication

If your team is working remotely in any capacity, asynchronous communication has to be part of the conversation. Working from home means that distractions can arise, schedules might shift, and you might not make it to every Zoom call on time. An asynchronous strategy ensures that no one gets left behind.

Asynchronous communication examples include:

  • recorded video meetings
  • email
  • shared Google Docs or Vibe boards
  • collaborative team spaces (such as Notion )
  • Slack messages

There are other benefits to asynchronous messaging, too. Face-to-face conversations enhance connection, but they can also steal time away from your work. And it’s hard to concentrate on doing deep work when your email inbox is open and constantly filling up. An asynchronous plan lets workers focus during a time that works best for them without the pressure to respond to every email as it rolls in.

Async communication works well for flexible workplaces. Async communication works well for flexible workplaces.

Tips for better asynchronous communication

Async is great, but since it’s still new to many people, they might find that communicating effectively across emails, messages, and social media isn’t as simple as it seems. Between tones and typos, online communications leave plenty of room for misinterpretation and confusion.

Crafting well-written messages is not only important for getting work done, but also for establishing healthy and friendly relationships with colleagues. So, what does it take to become a communication pro across digital lines? Focus on the big three: clarity, tone, and timing.

Write like you talk

Remember high school term papers? If you were like many students, you did whatever you could to reach the page requirement. Many times that meant using more complex words and phrases as well as longer sentences. These habits often carry over into our professional communication. And while they might be good tactics to hit those page requirements, they don’t work for achieving clarity.

For asynchronous communication, write as you talk:

  • Keep it conversational with contractions and everyday language.
  • Avoid fluffy words and phrases. (Think “use” versus “utilize.”)
  • When appropriate, lean on emojis, memes, gifs and typeface to support your message.
  • Stick to a common vocabulary easily understood by all instead of acronyms and corporate speak .
  • Watch out for idioms or expressions that could be regional, insensitive, or just difficult to understand.
  • Give messages a quick proof before hitting send to avoid confusing typos or grammatical errors.

A man writes in a notebook, writing his asynchronous communication plan. A man writes in a notebook, writing his asynchronous communication plan.

Set the tone to avoid misunderstandings

The biggest thing lacking in written communication? Tone. During in-person conversations, you can use your body language, facial expressions, inflection, and even your surroundings to better convey your message. None of those aids exist in written communication.

That’s why as much as 50% of emails and messages are misunderstood . What might sound like a friendly conversation in person could be misinterpreted as demand over email. Fortunately, there are some foolproof ways to master tone over text.

First, you can follow some of the best practices for having difficult discussions in relationships. Use “I” statements, avoid superlatives like “always” and “never,” and steer clear of assumptions. “You” statements can feel pointed and even overly direct depending on the context.

Making assumptions (especially negative ones) can also be dicey. You can try reframing them as questions. Instead of writing, “You probably haven’t started the project yet,” try, “Have you had a chance to start on the project?” This also leaves room for discussion.

For particularly tricky messages, let it simmer. Your initial response may be a bit more heated than you intend. Even 30 minutes can be enough to cool your head and reflect on your response before hitting send. You can also bring in someone to provide an external review if it’s a critical piece of communication, especially one that will have many readers.

Related: Save Time and Streamline Workflows with Hybrid Communication Strategies

Timing is everything

Do you wake up to a flurry of texts, alerts, and emails each morning? You’re not alone. Since the shift to remote work, working hours have grown longer. Nearly 70% of people who have begun working from home since the pandemic say they now work on the weekends; 45% report that they work more hours a week than before. This shift results in more messages at more hours of the day.

To establish healthy working hours and boundaries, consider the timing of your communications.

  • Be mindful of “deep focus hours,” which for many employees includes the first half of the day.
  • Check your colleagues’ calendars for blocked-off times and PTO before messaging or scheduling meetings .
  • Acknowledge messages promptly even if it’s just a thumbs up or note that you’ll get back to it later.
  • Schedule messages to send during your company’s working hours if you’re crafting them outside of those hours.
  • Update your status on communication platforms when you’re away, on PTO, or otherwise unavailable.
Make meetings matter with the Vibe smartboard

The evolution of workplace communication

As our work situations evolve and the phrase “traditional office” takes on a new meaning, asynchronous communication will become more prevalent. With a growing list of app integrations and a design that fits your communication style, the Vibe board can be one of the solutions to your remote team’s collaboration needs.

[Editor’s note: this post was originally published November 6, 2020 and updated Dec 28, 2021.]

Vibe offers a collaborative solution combining an interactive digital whiteboard and innovative smart software. Increase engagement and efficiency at your brainstorming sessions, virtual training, and classroom sessions by integrating your favorite applications with video conferencing and an infinite, mess-free writing canvas. Collaborate today with Vibe.

Looking for the latest in interactive whiteboard technology? Check out Vibe today!

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