Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication for Remote Teams
It’s a mouthful: “synchronous and asynchronous communication.” But these terms are more straightforward than they sound, once you understand the jargon.
“The key difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication is synchronous communications are scheduled, real-time interactions by phone, video, or in-person. Asynchronous communication happens on your own time and doesn’t need scheduling,” explains Ashley Marie Fernandez, CEO of the career development and personal growth company Ashley Marie Coaching, who also works full-time in HR for a professional services firm.
Read on to dig into how these communication methods work, what tools make sense with each of them, and how can you harness the flexibility with remote teams for best results.
When Do You Use Each Type?
Synchronous communication can be helpful for one-on-one meetings and project update meetings when working on a strict timeline, such as a technology implementation, according to Fernandez.
Asynchronous communication can work well when multiple individuals are working on a project and each is completing certain components that aren’t chronologically dependent upon one another. “Asynchronous can be more inclusive, as it shows consideration for those who may not be in the same time zone, are traveling, or are structuring their day around other commitments, potentially at home,” Fernandez said.
Lorraine K. Lee, a virtual keynote speaker and Head of Editorial at the fully distributed company Prezi, believes that async work is one of the most underutilized and lesser-known ways to collaborate—but it’s one of her favorites because it allows teams to work at a time that’s most convenient for them.
“This means that the work is better and they’re happier because they’re not being forced to join a meeting at a time that’s inconvenient for them,” Lee said.
What Tools Are Associated With Them?
Fernandez shared that while some tools can be used for either type of communication, some are better suited to one format over the other. These include:
- Standard email (better for asynchronous communication)
- Microsoft Teams call feature/meeting (better for synchronous communication)
- Microsoft Teams chat feature (can be leveraged for either)
She added that Google’s suite of products offer ways to collaborate in real time, and other tools—such as Slack, Voxer, and project management tools like Asana or Trello—can all be used as communication vehicles.
A few of Lee’s favorite tools include:
- Prezi Video (for more productive and collaborative meetings and presentations when sync is required)
- Slido (for live polling, Q&A, etc. that facilitates async connections)
- Figma (for design collaborations across a big whiteboard, sync or async)
- Slack (for chat, sync or async)
How Do You Implement Async Most Effectively?
Since async offers the most flexibility for remote workers in distributed teams, it’s important to know how to effectively implement it.
Lee says that when it comes to async communication, there are a few ways this might look in practice. For example, she always try to see if there’s async work that can be done before a live meeting. “Often, this helps the live meeting be more productive and focused, and it pushes meeting organizers to think more deeply about what actually needs to get done during that call,” Lee explained.
She shared that a few months ago, she and a team were going to meet to discuss what they wanted to include in a guidebook. “To me, it felt like it’d be a lot more productive if we actually went into the meeting with something to comment on,” Lee said. “I jotted down notes and ideas, got async input from others who were in different time zones, and then we never ended up scheduling that meeting. We didn’t need it.”
Lee also asks her remote teams before certain meetings whether the group would prefer to discuss async or in real time, and finds that often, the overwhelming vote is yes for async. “The important thing here is to remember that if the group agrees to async, deadlines need to be specific and firm, otherwise the work gets dragged out over Slack (Teams, etc.) because you’re not being pushed to all work at the same time,” she said.
With this in mind, she noted that sometimes, you just don’t need that live meeting. “Take stock of the meetings on your calendar regularly, and don’t just meet because you’ve always done it. See if the work can be done async. It’s important to break out of the status quo,” Lee said.
As convenient as async communication is, Chris Martinez, founder of an AI-driven platform called Idiomatic, whose team works remotely across the U.S., recommends developing a policy around asynchronous communication to clarify expectations about how quickly replies are expected to messages while being realistic about work-life boundaries.
“Burnout is a huge risk, especially to a remote team where everyone can set up their own (sometimes unhealthy) work habits,” Martinez said. “Keeping communication open about that, as well as work, is key.”
Open Communication Is Key
For more tips on successfully communicating with and managing a remote team, check out Remote.co’s remote management best practices!
By Robin Madell | Categories: Remote Management