Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: Benefits, Strategies, and Our Advice
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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 smartboard !) But with our team distributed across multiple 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.
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.
Are there drawbacks to synchronous communication?
One main drawback is that time zones can cause communication challenges. That means that there must be planning and access to high-speed internet access. It can also offer challenges for employees that have poor social skills.
Learning at your own pace leaves many individuals to struggle with synchronous learning because it requires active participation. Some employees will excel at this. This helps you to see what employees work best in social settings and easily connect with customers.
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.
How does asynchronous communication work?
Asynchronous communication is perfect for non-pressing matters and allows individuals to take complete control of their time. It offers a balance that can prove to be highly effective. The delay in reply also allows participants to think more about their responses.
Asynchronous communication examples include:
- recorded video meetings
- shared Google Docs or Vibe boards
- collaborative team spaces (such as Notion )
- Slack messages
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.
Is texting asynchronous communication?
While texting is an example of asynchronous communication, we treat it as if it is synchronous communication more often than not. (Alternatively, email and Slack messaging also work in the synchronous category, but are often used with more asynchronous intentions.)
Texting still allows the communicators time between messages to multitask. While we spend most of our time looking at our cellular devices, we don’t necessarily want to reply to everything constantly.
How we communicate at Vibe
As a remote team at Vibe, we’ve done our share of both sync and async 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 log-in to 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. 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.
At Vibe, we use Notion to store product road maps, marketing campaigns, team meeting minutes along with weekly and 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. Our designers create wireframes and share website and graphics projects with the team through Figma.
So, is asynchronous communication better for remote teams?
Without scheduling, geographic, or device barriers, asynchronous learning has a massive leg up on the scalability of worldwide delivery. Everywhere becomes perfect for learning. This communication system allows people to access info on their schedule and work through things at their own pace.
Using async allows you to gather information from multiple experts all in one place. Creating content in this manner, you can continually improve upon projects, making async methods perfect for growing and evolving your business.
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 like 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.
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 a 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.
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% reporting 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.
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 July 22, 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.
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