The term “remote” implies distance—but with regard to working remotely, time is just as critical a factor as the distance between you and your remote team members. Why? Because time affects communication.
The completely remote company I work for uses both synchronous (real time) and asynchronous (not concurrent) communication. We do so because we’re spread out over North America, within four different time zones.
The smaller marketing team I work on consists of two people in California (Pacific time) and two in the Philadelphia area (eastern time). So I’m going to tell you about how we use both synchronous and asynchronous communication, to not only be productive, but to maintain positive working relationships.
How we use both synchronous and asynchronous communication:
Working in Different Time Zones: Sea to Shining Sea
Our Philly folks (my boss and my direct report) generally start at 8 a.m. eastern time. I’m not ashamed to say that my alarm hasn’t even gone off when they come online. So I will say that my mornings are like “drinking from the firehose”—there are a lot of “asynchronous communications” waiting for me! These include informational email messages, meeting requests, messages about changes to our shared Google documents and spreadsheets, and more.
The first hour or so of my day involves going through email, accepting meetings, and reviewing all the work that’s been done while I was still drooling on my pillow.
From about 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 am. Pacific time is when our synchronous communication begins kicking in. This time period is usually reserved for instant messages and one-on-one phone calls. These synchronous communications are often tactical in nature: make these copy edits, approve those visuals, and so forth.
Synchronous Communication: When the Magic Happens
What I call “the big overlap”—10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (PST)—comes next. This is where the magic happens with our team and the other people we collaborate with in the company. It’s reserved mainly for strategic meetings; we’ll have five to eight or so people on a call to discuss higher-level objectives. For example, we’ll brainstorm our next campaign, discuss overall marketing and branding themes, or talk about how we can turn our latest competitive intelligence into opportunities.
For these conference calls, we use Skype, but without video. When we have larger calls, such as our all-company meetings, we use UberConference and other dial-in solutions. One reason we’re not on video is we’re often looking at a shared document, via Google Drive, or screen-sharing using Skype or Join.me. It’s these modern tools that help make our company’s synchronous communications so effective.
Asynchronous Communication: Ketchup, er, Catch Up Time
When it gets to be around 2:15 my time, our team switches mainly to asynchronous communications. These asynchronous messages are tactical communications, such as, “Check out the design I just posted in Basecamp,” or “I added a new headline to the Google doc.”
This time of day is when I do most of my individual work—writing and editing—and preparing the asynchronous communications for the next day. For example, I’ll create a new document, write draft copy for a marketing message, and share it so my Philly colleagues have work to review while they’re drinking their coffee.
Relative Proximity Equals the Best of Both
I think it’s obvious that the more spread out your virtual team is, the more asynchronous communication you’ll have to do—and the more care you have to take with scheduling synchronous communication. We’ve all heard of teams on different continents having meetings where one part of the team is about to go to lunch, while the other part is up past their normal bedtime.
If your team all works on the same continent, though, it’s easy to agree on a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communications (and workflow) that benefits everyone in your company.
Here’s What I Suggest:
Synchronous: Agree on an “overlap” time where people in all the time zones your company covers can communicate and collaborate in real time. Remember that instant messaging is great for tactical items, while voice communication is better for strategic discussions.
Asynchronous: Take special care to craft your asynchronous messages for clarity. This will enable the receiver to easily respond to or act on them, without having to wait to reach out to you in real time for an explanation.
If you have thoughts you’d like to share about these types of communication, I’d love to hear from you (as would the nice people at Remote.co who gave me this guest-posting opportunity!).
Chuck Vadun works for Fire Engine RED [Q&A with Remote.co], a company that creates innovative marketing, technology, and data solutions for the education market. He has a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from Pepperdine University.