Future of work

What is asynchronous communication?

If you’ve been paying attention to the recent buzz around remote working and hybrid work models, you may have heard the term ‘asynchronous communication’. And for good reason. With millions of us now having experienced home office, there’s been increased awareness that it’s not always so easy to hold ‘real-time’ conversations and dialogue, or so-called ‘synchronous communication’. If you have any doubt, just think about how much time you’ve spent scheduling and conducting video meetings during lockdown. This widespread experience has led to the reimagining of how remote work communication could look in the future. At the top of the list of potential solutions is using asynchronous communication. Going ‘async’ can help solve the communication and collaboration problems of remote work. If you want to find out why, keep reading.

What is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication?

Synchronous communication is likely the method of workplace communication that you’re most familiar with. It refers to real-time communications that take place in person. Examples include meetings (either in-person or via video conference), phone calls and instant messaging. Another way to think of synchronous communications is that all participants need to be present together in the information exchange. They need to be present either in the same place or at the same time. 

Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, refers to a means of communication in the workplace that does not occur in real time. When we use asynchronous communication, we do not have to be available to respond instantly. Moreover, asynchronous communications can take place independent of the time and location of the participants.

How is asynchronous communication used in the workplace?

Most of us tend to use the oldest and most familiar forms of asynchronous communication in the workplace, like email. However, in recent years there has been a noticeable shift towards newer asynchronous communication platforms, such as online document collaboration platforms and project management tools. Voice messaging is also a new medium being applied to the category of asynchronous communications. 

We all know the pains of video meetings; from start to finish they are a considerable time investment. From negotiating a time that fits everyone, to having to interrupt your work flow to attend them, they can be draining and disrupting to orchestrate. With asynchronous communication there’s no need to schedule anything. You just type (or speak) your message and send. Giving workers the flexibility to carve out more focus time is why many companies, including big names such as the investment bank JP Morgan, are increasingly dropping the video meeting in exchange for asynchronous communication.


How is asynchronous communication used by remote and hybrid teams?

Asynchronous communication is used by hybrid and remote teams to give workers more flexibility over how they use their working hours, as well as when and how they connect with their team. The easiest way to think of asynchronous communications is as an added layer or alternative to existing, mostly synchronous, workplace communication mediums. 

Video calls proved to be an excellent remote communication channel during the pandemic. Teams could see and speak to one another in real time, no matter where they were. However, the rapid switch to all video calls, all the time, proved to have some downsides. In fact, Stanford researchers were even able to identify the reasons behind the phenomenon of so-called “Zoom fatigue”. Their findings are definitely worth reading. The increase in eye contact, seeing yourself all the time, lack of mobility when you’re sitting in front of the camera all day and the increased cognitive load are all incredibly draining.

However, the answer is not simply to stop having video calls. Video calls are an incredibly powerful remote collaboration technology. And there is certainly a growing need for remote collaboration. Microsoft reported that the average video meeting time is now 10 minutes longer compared to 2020, having increased from 35 to 45 minutes. But remote collaboration does not need to be limited to having meetings using video calls.

How we use asynchronous communication in the workplace

Asynchronous communication can reduce the burden of being on camera all the time. At VoiceLine, we’ve started doing some of our meetings async instead of video. Our daily check-in, for example, takes place in a designated workspace in our web and mobile applications. Here team members can send in and view the updates every morning without having to dial in and be on camera. It also gives team members the flexibility to participate while working from home, during the commute into the office, or even during a morning workout. 

Instant messaging is also an excellent tool for remote collaboration. It’s especially useful when it comes to sending a short, simple message and getting a quick response. But sometimes the constant notifications can become distracting or even disruptive. Using asynchronous communication can be a great way to reduce these disruptions when trying to carve out focus time. With asynchronous messages, you are not expected to be available in real-time. This can make it easier to focus on a task and only check and respond to messages after it’s complete. Even doing this for a couple of hours each day can significantly increase productivity. 

Video calls and instant messaging are just a couple of examples where adding an async alternative can improve the workplace. There is huge potential for asynchronous communication to ease the burden of remote collaboration while still enabling workers to have the flexibility to work outside the office.

Take Away

The future of work is taking shape and asynchronous communications will play an important role in enabling remote and hybrid teams. It’s time to rethink synchronous methods as the only option for remote communication. We’re in a new age of work where the technology and tools available to us are advanced enough to handle efficient distance collaboration without us needing to be together in real-time.

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