It’s clear that technology has changed the way we work. Companies no longer need to have all their employees in one physical place to operate. We can now communicate easily across different time zones and remote work is slowly becoming the new normal. However, it also creates a new set of challenges.
Since remote workers are often located in different time zones, it’s tougher to schedule a group meeting. As a result, something that would take two minutes to solve in a typical business setting might take one or two days when working with remote teams.
What’s the solution for more effective collaboration? Asynchronous communication. In this post, we’ll cover the differences between synchronous and asynchronous communication and why asynchronous communication is the future of work.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication
In synchronous communication, multiple parties are participating at the same time and they wait for replies from each other. For example, I would call someone on the phone and wait for them to pick up. Then, I’d give them information and they’d receive the information at that exact moment.
Asynchronous communication is different. For example, you write an email to your team letting them know what you accomplished during the day. Then, a teammate in another time zone reads your email 6 hours later when their day starts. The recipient is neither expecting nor waiting for an incoming message, so they may not get to it right away.
Why Synchronous Isn’t Ideal For Remote Work
As remote work grows in popularity, jobs become decentralized and workers are more likely to be located in different regions. This comes with many challenges because having the entire workforce accommodate to one specific time zone (usually the head office) isn’t realistic.
This lack of real-time communication can also lead to loneliness and isolation. It adds stress and anxiety for those who need instant recognition to feel grounded. In addition, not being located in the same office as your manager can cause people to over-communicate in an attempt to ensure that their work is appreciated.
Synchronous communication isn’t the right fit in many remote work scenarios. It can lead to quick, careless responses because people don’t make the best decisions when they have to answer on the spot. It also pressures people to focus on getting their share of time in group meetings, instead of listening to others on their team.
Why Asynchronous Communication Is the Future
One of the main benefits expressed by remote workers in surveys is the ability to concentrate for longer periods of time. In a work paradigm that rewards productivity, this is the ideal state. Asynchronous communication is ideal for remote work because it solves several communication problems without disrupting productivity.
You can decide when to check your messages and when to respond to them. This doesn’t mean you can be inattentive, but you don’t need to immediately respond to messages. Of course, if it’s the middle of the night in your location, people don’t expect you to answer unless this is a prerequisite for the job. So, all workers need to do is respond in a timely manner to contribute effectively and ensure that projects stay on track.
With face-to-face interactions limited to once or twice per week when working remotely, communication needs to be concise, simple and implied. This means you need to have excellent speaking and writing skills, which can be challenging for non-native speakers. In short messages, context is usually assumed. However, if the context isn’t understood, the concept of the message will be lost. Choosing asynchronous communication gives you more time to think about things before you respond.
With asynchronous communication, you also have a record that you can refer to when you need it. This provides that necessary context and layers of back and forth that can be explored on your own time. That way, when you connect with people, it’s more impactful because you’re caught up with the context. Documenting everything also means you have the record for every discussion which provides a frame of reference for results and the next steps.
Best Tools for Asynchronous Communication
At Crossover, we’re trying a tool called Loom. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like a huge innovation but it covers all the bases for effective communication. Loom is a set of asynchronous, video-based tools for remote team collaboration.
Our teams use Talkshow to leave short 1–2 minute videos of their work plans and accomplishments for the week. It helps workers overcome one of the greatest challenges in virtual communication, which is the inability to see body language.
In an article from the Atlantic called When Working From Home Doesn’t Work, Jerry Useem provides an excellent example of the importance of body language in the workplace.
A transcript of the cockpit audio doesn’t reveal much communication at all. The flight engineer reports a “funny situation.” The pilot says “Hmmm.” The co-pilot says “Ohhhh.”
Match the audio with a video of the cockpit exchange and it’s clear that the pilots don’t need to say much to reach a shared understanding of the problem. That it’s a critical situation is underscored by body language: The flight engineer turns his body to face the others. That the fuel is very low is conveyed by jabbing his index finger at the fuel gauge. And a narrative of the steps he has already taken — no, the needle on the gauge isn’t stuck, and yes, he has already diverted fuel from engine one to no avail — is enacted through a quick series of gestures at the instrument panel and punctuated by a few short utterances.
We can’t underplay the significance of body language. Technology provides countless benefits for global communication but translating body language in the virtual world is difficult. Solutions like Talkshow do a good job capturing body language with video. The best part is, it isn’t limited to just video, you can also add notes and emoticons.
The Future of Work
We’ve had many asynchronous tools at our fingertips, but we’ve been using them like synchronous tools. We rapidly respond to emails like we’re picking up the phone and saying hello, which creates a whole new set of communication issues. When we understand how to communicate well, we can start using these tools effectively. There are solutions like Talkshow that offer an excellent asynchronous communication platform for small groups.
That said, asynchronous communication with large groups in the 25–500 range can still be a struggle. If you’re facing that challenge, get ready for things to change. As businesses leverage a global talent pool in different time zones, asynchronous communication will be key to getting work done. Many companies are building products designed specifically for this scale of asynchronous communication and embracing the future of work.
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