What Is Asynchronous Communication & How Do You Use It?

Have you felt the need to be  “always on”, constantly responding to messages and notifications? 

While the convenience of real-time communication is undeniable, it can sometimes come with its own set of drawbacks. In fact research confirms that increased screen time correlates with stress, poor physical health, and cognitive impairment, poor decision-making and declining motivation levels

Therefore, also expecting your employees to always respond to all communication instantly isn’t always the best idea. Instead, fostering an asynchronous communication culture can be preferable in several scenarios spanning today’s world of dynamic, interconnected teams. 

Let’s explore what it is and how to use it to your advantage.

Difference between asynchronous vs. synchronous communication

Synchronous communication involves all real-time communication with back-and-forth information exchange between communicating entities.

Asynchronous communication involves two-way communication that’s permissible with a time lag between initial communication and the corresponding response. Simply put - it does not occur in real-time.

Why is asynchronous communication in the workplace important?

Allowing asynchronous communication in most scenarios eliminates employee pressure to respond to communication instantly. Here are four reasons why asynchronous communication in the workplace is important:

  1. Employees who are “always on” have an increased risk of suffering from poor performance and mental well-being, in addition to experiencing increased cognitive load. Letting employees respond at their own pace can improve their concentration on important tasks and enhance their well-being and productivity.
  2. Employees end up spending as much as 23% of their time responding to emails that may not be urgent, and on average, they send about 200 messages per week. Minimizing having to respond to electronic communication constantly gives employees agency over their communication patterns and thus enhances work satisfaction as well.
  3. In one survey, 58% of respondents admitted that software issues were the biggest challenge of virtual conferences.  Asynchronous communication eliminates time-consuming delays such as technical glitches during video conferencing or loss of time resulting from attending meetings that could have been an email instead.
  4. Over 63% of companies will likely embrace remote work permanently. Asynchronous communication can eliminate coordination problems with varying time zones, especially among remote and globally dispersed teams.

Now, let’s look at how to implement it quickly and efficiently in your organization.

Implementing asynchronous communication: Steps to Follow

Implementing an asynchronous communication culture starts with accepting that communication doesn’t always have to occur in real time. You can follow these 4 steps to make it a robust organizational practice:

  1. Identify when to use asynchronous communication, especially for non-urgent updates.
  2. Choose suitable tools that accommodate various work styles.While some employees may do well with the ability to respond to messages when free, others may need to turn off notifications while on the job. Therefore, choosing tools  accommodative of both scenarios is key.
  3. Encourage employees to use the chosen tools, provide guidance, and set turnaround time expectations. This will help you build employee motivation towards using the tool on a day-to-day basis and get the asynchronous culture on track
  4. Track key performance indicators like activation rate, employee engagement, and response times to gauge effectiveness and areas for improvement.

Despite your best efforts, you may still encounter challenges. 

Potential asynchronous communication challenges and ways to overcome them

When implementing asynchronous communication in your workplace, you may encounter some challenges. Remote work and different time zones can lead to delays and the potential for messages to be overlooked. To address this, it's essential to normalize delayed responses while establishing clear expectations for response times. 

Miscommunication can also arise due to time lags, so it's important to foster a culture where employees are encouraged to ask questions and clarify details.  As a part of your culture, always encourage employees to ask questions and clarify things for consistency. At the same time, ensure that you’re measuring communication effectiveness regularly.

Information overload can be another hurdle, but instilling the habit of checking updates regularly can mitigate this issue. However, when dealing with emotionally sensitive matters like hiring, firing, or performance appraisals, it's advisable to stick to real-time communication to ensure better control and understanding of employee reactions. Overcoming these challenges ensures a smooth transition to an effective asynchronous communication culture in your organization.

Tools and technologies to simplify asynchronous communication 

Implementing asynchronous communication is straightforward using technology. So helpful tools available today include:

  • Video recording tools: Loom, for instance, helps record videos with briefs or instructions for employees to watch at convenience
  • Collaboration tools: Google Drive, Miro, Slab, and Asana help encourage delayed responses without productivity loss. 
  • Employee communication tools: Advanced tools are also available that allow both real-time and asynchronous communication with an organization. For instance, you can use Speakap as a single communication medium for campaigns that require immediate response (such as responding to a push notification/beep) or response as per convenience (surveys, social updates, etc.).

Bottom line: Flexibility, adaptability & productivity start with right communication

Mastering asynchronous communication in the evolving modern-day workspace is a valuable skill for teams and organizations. It works brilliantly in situations involving global and remote teams, autonomous work, and documentation-driven environments towards improving productivity, employee experience, and overall output. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution and may not suit all environments, such as those involving extensive collaboration or thriving in emergency-driven industries. 

The key to success with asynchronous communication lies in assessing your organizational culture and requirements. This can help to determine the most compatible communication methods and the infrastructure needed to facilitate it. With that, monitoring outcomes regularly to identify any bottlenecks and addressing them timely helps in ensuring superlative workplace flexibility, adaptability, and productivity.