What to Know About Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
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You might not realize it, but your workplace communication strategies fall into two main categories. No, those categories aren’t “meetings” and “email,” though some days it might feel that way. 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. At Vibe, we’re fans of real-time collaboration. (That’s why we made the Vibe board!) But with 37 people on our team distributed across five cities on two continents, there’s no way we can work on the same schedule all the time.
We’re not alone in this remote setup. There are already companies with completely remote teams and plenty of other companies who have extended their work-from-home plans for this year. One survey showed that 55% of executives plan to offer their employees at least one day of remote work per week after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. In that same survey , 72% of employees hope to work at home at least two days a week.
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 Vocabulary of Remote Work
What is synchronous communication?
Synchronous communication is a form of communicating 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.
In addition to face-to-face conversations and instant messaging, other synchronous examples include phone calls, live online chats, and live video conferences. The biggest defining characteristic of synchronous messaging? If you send out a message, you can reasonably expect a reply within seconds to minutes.
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.
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.
Asynchronous communication examples include:
- recorded video meetings
- shared Google Docs or Vibe boards
- collaborative team spaces (such as Notion )
- Slack messages.
Email and Slack messaging also work in the synchronous category, but are often used with more asynchronous intentions.
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.
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.
How we communicate at Vibe
As a remote team at Vibe, we’ve done our share of both synchronous and asynchronous communications.
Our Vibe digital whiteboard is built for collaboration, so we turn to real-time interactions when possible. With a 15-hour time difference between our Hangzhou, China and Seattle groups, we’ve found that meeting between 4-9 p.m. PST works best. Each team picks a weekday or two for a group meeting. That gives us enough synchronous time to engage with our projects as a team.
But you can’t always plan on having your best ideas when the whole team is around. For those times when we’re flying solo, it’s easy to get log into the board and work alone. And because anyone with the link can access the board , the work stays updated for everyone. (No need to get each member of the team up to speed individually.)
The right mix of both communication strategies will largely depend on your team and its unique needs. Laura Reigel, Vibe’s Director of Marketing, estimates that the team’s time spent communicating sync/async are “probably 25/75. When we do have scheduled meetings, there’s always an agenda and we’ve typically started collaborating and reviewing the project ahead of time,” which further helps to keep the synchronous time focused.
Team collaboration software
Now that you know the types of communication you’re working with, you can consider ways to make the most of the collaboration software applications and tools you already use. Or maybe your communication toolkit could use a refresh. While the exact apps you’ll use will depend on your business and the type of projects you’re working on, here are a few options that we like.
This messaging platform is great for quick communication and lets us send reminders, files, and updates whether or not the entire team is online. Creating separate threads for different teams and projects keeps everything organized, too, especially if you’re working after-hours and want to make sure your co-workers know exactly where the project stands.
Every team has their set of workflows they like best, or a combination of steps that helps them work more efficiently. And for those asynchronous times, co-workers need to know what’s going on at any given time. Notion organizes timelines, workflows, and other work-related schedules in a reader-friendly and customizable layout.
Laura says: “We use Notion for just about everything. I think that it’s been most embraced by team members who have planning as a significant part of their role; product road maps and marketing campaign targets come to mind. We also use it for team meeting minutes and for weekly/quarterly updates.”
Google Sheets and Docs are easily shareable and have an easy-to-access edit history. It’s simple to see who is simultaneously working on the document and to message within that file without having to switch to a separate messaging platform.
We at Vibe love a brainstorm, and we have a strong need for a design app that encourages that kind of creative collaboration. Figma is a browser-based app that lets us brainstorm as well as create UI/UX design, graphic design, wireframes, and more.
Laura says: “Our design team uses Figma daily. It’s what they use to wireframe for product design, on top of any changes we’re making to the website or to graphics. If we’re meeting in real-time, we’ll follow the presenter—click on their icon and then the view goes wherever they go—through the project. We’re much more likely to do this sort of visual communication—in Figma or on Vibe—than using video conferencing.”
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.
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!