Imagine walking down the hall to your coworkers’s office every time you have to ask a simple question. Or if you work in a different space than they do, you have to contact them on the phone.
Sounds old school, right? It is. It’s synchronous, and it’s outdated.
Today, companies use something called asynchronous communication. It might be in the form of a Slack channel message or an email. But essentially, it means you send your coworker the question now, and they answer it later — when they have time.
In this article, we’ll delve further into what asynchronous communication is, along with some good examples. We’ll also explain the benefits and limitations of this form of communication so you can harness the full extent of its power in your business.
Lastly, we’ll teach you to master asynchronous communication by giving you clear steps on how to use it effectively.
Let’s dive in.
What’s asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication is any form of communication that doesn’t happen in real time.
Whether it’s composing an email, leaving comments on a shared document, or participating in a discussion board, you can engage in communication when it suits you best. This communication style also frees businesses of the shackles of time zones and busy schedules.
Asynchronous communication has become a powerful and even essential communication style over the past few years, especially with the increased number of remote teams in many parts of the world.
Async communication has, no doubt, transformed how we work. It allows us to:
- Collaborate and communicate in a flexible, efficient way
- Exchange information at our convenience
- Bypass the constraints of real-time interactions
Synchronous vs asynchronous communication
A great way to better understand asynchronous communication is by learning about its opposite: synchronous communication. In this section, we’ll compare these two ways we communicate and offer examples of each.
What is synchronous communication?
Synchronous communication occurs when people talk in real time. Our communication is “synced” up because we’re either in person with each other or using technology to be together at the same moment.
Synchronous communication is the traditional mode of interaction that we’re used to. It enables participants to:
- Share and address questions
- Bounce ideas back and forth
- Make decisions in real time
And it has its merits, especially in situations where quick resolutions and spontaneous discussions are necessary.
When someone calls on the phone, walks into your office, or schedules a video call, it creates a sense of urgency, so it’s ideal for pressing conversations.
However, real-time communication can interrupt people when they’re busy working on a project. They might be more effective at their jobs if they could pass on the synchronous meeting and watch a video recording later.
Coordinating schedules can also be a challenge, especially if people work in different time zones.
Examples of synchronous communication
Some of the most common examples of synchronous communication include the following:
- Face-to-face meetings
- Phone calls
- Video calls
- Live chat or instant messaging
- Live webinars or conferences
Asynchronous communication examples
Asynchronous communication offers a practical alternative that can enhance efficiency and productivity in various situations.
Some of the most common examples of asynchronous communication are as follows:
- Messaging apps
- Project management tools
- Collaborative tools like Google Docs
What are the benefits of asynchronous communication?
So why do workers and businesses today use async communication? Here are just a few of the benefits:
Asynchronous communication significantly boosts productivity. It empowers people to focus on their to-do lists without constant interruptions.
It promotes deep work and allows team members to delve deeper into complex tasks. They don’t lose time through context-switching.
Asynchronous communication also allows employees to work at their most productive times. They have the flexibility to dedicate thoughtful responses when they have adequate time, leading to improved problem-solving and creative thinking.
And with better productivity, team leaders don’t have to hover over their staff. They’re also less likelty to fall prey to micromanagement.
As discussed earlier, asynchronous communication allows individuals to craft well-reasoned, comprehensive replies. This leads to more in-depth discussions and richer collaboration.
And because this form of communication can happen at any time, for employees, it can happen anywhere.
That’s why it’s great for connecting teams that are spread out geographically and working on complex or long-term projects.
In other words, individuals and teams can work together regardless of their physical location. If there’s no need for everyone to be available simultaneously, many doors for collaboration open.
Asynchronous communication tools also create a valuable record of discussions, decisions, and shared resources.
This documentation serves as a comprehensive reference point. It allows for the following:
- Easy retrieval of information
- Better knowledge sharing
- Historical context for ongoing projects
That’s because async communication is typically written down — so you can easily retrieve it. Team members can access conversations, clarify details, and remind themselves of past decisions that were made.
The ability to share resources asynchronously also contributes to knowledge sharing.
Whether it’s sharing documents, files, or links, asynchronous communication allows team members to distribute and access relevant materials conveniently.
This convenience removes the need for redundant requests and fosters a culture in which individuals can help themselves. They can go back into their communications and find the resources they need when they need them.
What are the limitations of asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication isn’t always the best way to communicate. As with anything, there are limitations. Let’s discuss a few of them now.
We mentioned the benefits of having a time delay between sending and receiving asynchronous messages. But this gap can also be a problem when you need a prompt response. Time-sensitive tasks are typically situations where synchronous communication is necessary.
Asynchronous communication may also delay collaboration, as one side may be waiting on the other to respond.
Increased potential for miscommunication
Without immediate feedback and nonverbal cues, the chances of miscommunication occurring increase greatly. We’ve all sat puzzled by a text message, trying to read into its tone or connotation.
Teams or individuals who are new to asynchronous communication may struggle to communicate clearly and effectively. Or they may have a hard time empathizing with and interpreting their teammate’s message.
Make sure your team knows how to communicate clearly. Doing so can help close the gap on what often gets lost without body language.
Less real-time interaction
In-person communication has a certain magic to it. It can allow for dynamic brainstorming sessions and on-the-spot decision-making. It also allows for spontaneity.
Some of these factors may be lost when teams rely too heavily on asynchronous communication.
This is a major reason that the asynchronous and synchronous modes of communication aren’t an either-or choice. The way forward is to strike a balance between them.
How to master the art of asynchronous communication
You can’t simply use this style of workplace communication and expect productivity to go up. You need to use it well to see the benefits.
The following three tips should go a long way in helping you hone your skills when using asynchronous communication:
Set clear expectations
Some of the limitations we mentioned above are really the result of unclear communication guidelines. Your team needs clear expectations and a shared understanding when communicating at different times.
That means articulating:
- Preferred communication channels
- Expected response times
In other words, team members need to know which tool to use for which function and how much time is appropriate before responding.
They also need a clearly defined system for different urgency levels. That way, there’s a process in place for prioritizing tasks that need an instant response.
Lastly, create the expectation that workers will carve out times when they can work without notifications. A steady stream of distractions can lead to habitual procrastination.
Avoid that drag on productivity by creating opportunities for deep concentration and states of flow.
Train your team to communicate well
Communication is a two-way street, so you need to train your staff on both communicating well and listening well.
First, offer written communication training that emphasizes clarity and conciseness. That means being direct and avoiding assumptions when writing messages.
Then, offer training on active listening skills that’ll help employees interpret messages. Employees should also be encouraged to ask for clarification where needed.
With a little investment, clear communication will become part of your organizational culture.
Lastly, foster an environment of constructive feedback that will help keep your team on the same page going forward.
Incorporate time for synchronous communication
Remember: while asynchronous communication tools are valuable, there are situations that benefit from real-time communication.
One of the best ways to get the most out of asynchronous communication is to mix in video conferencing or in-person meetings. Or use instant messaging for rapid brainstorming exchanges.
Balance is the goal.
When your team interacts face-to-face — even if it’s virtually — they can more genuinely get to know each other. That’ll help them communicate and interpret async messages.
By incorporating both communication styles, you can capture the power of asynchronous communication while limiting its negatives.
Harness asynchronous communication to power productivity and drive collaboration
Now that you have an in-depth understanding of this type of communication, you have the tools to unlock its full potential.
Asynchronous communication is a powerful enabler of efficient and collaborative teamwork.
To further improve your team, you need the right software for scheduling and task management.
Motion’s powerful AI software is the perfect complement to effective asynchronous communication. It allows your team to manage projects, tasks, and schedules all in one place.
Try it for free today.