Every team today uses some form of asynchronous communication. It’s a necessity. But there’s more to async communication than meets the eye.
As teams get bigger and more geographically diverse and projects get more complex, staying in sync is hard. Tools that let people stay aligned while working independently without being in a live conversation or meeting are essential, especially for large organizations. Teams need to have more than one communication channel at their disposal to move fast and stay agile.
More than just a necessity for remote teams, asynchronous communication tools also open the door to real advantages for in-person and hybrid teams.
Asynchronous platforms often have built-in collaboration tools, which streamline communication for all kinds of teams. And the benefit doesn’t stop at increased productivity. Used thoughtfully, increasing comfort with async communication lets teams and people managers rethink how they work and collaborate, too.
As the world of work continues to change and develop, asynchronous communication can help all kinds of people participate in a more flexible environment. It has been especially beneficial for working parents, neurodivergent employees, and distributed teams. There’s even a chance that asynchronous tools could have an important role to play in addressing the connection crisis many workers are now finding themselves in.
Learn what asynchronous communication is, when and how to use it and, the impact it could have on your team.
What is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication is any method of communication that doesn’t require real-time back-and-forth. People receive comments, images, or messages from others and process them on their own schedule, leaving messages for one another and responding when it makes sense for them.
Email is the most basic form of asynchronous communication for many of us. However, many messaging and project management tools are designed to work async. These include platforms like Slack, Asana, Trello, and Loom.
There are many uses for async communication tools. They can be used for brainstorming, workflows, connecting remote workers in different time zones, collaboration, or deep work.
Any time an immediate response isn’t necessary, an async tool could do the trick.
What is asynchronous vs. synchronous communication?
In short, synchronous communication happens in real-time and asynchronous communication functions on individuals timelines that can overlap across individuals and teams.
Most large workplaces leverage a combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication methods. This allows teams and individuals to balance their workloads with fewer meetings and have essential real-time conversations to iron out details or share information.
Here are some more details about each communication system and more examples of each:
Synchronous communication examples
- Phone calls
- Virtual meetings
- In-person meetings
That includes virtual platforms, like Zoom, Google Meet, or even a good ol’ fashioned phone call.
It can also be text-based, like instant messaging or live commentary on a video feed. Anything that’s in the moment, features real-time communication, and provides instant feedback is synchronous.
Synchronous doesn’t necessarily mean that it is interactive or that it does provide feedback, though. Think of a big meeting or conference session in a hotel ballroom or any format based on a “sage on the stage.”
It also includes less formal options. Some, like casual chatting in the hallway or a quick discussion around a whiteboard, are particularly well-suited to in-person work environments, but quick 1:1 phone calls are another common form of synchronous communication.
Asynchronous communication examples
- Messages sent via platforms such as Slack and Asana
- Sharing recordings via tools such as Loom
On the other hand, asynchronous communication doesn’t need to happen in real-time. It’s often done through email, text messages, or with messaging tools like Slack.
To be a bit reductive, what you’re doing is leaving messages for another person or group. That party can check in at their own pace and respond to your comment or question.
Benefits of asynchronous communication
Whether your team is primarily working remote or in the office, employing asynchronous communication tools has it benefits.
Can improve efficiency and productivity
First and foremost, asynchronous communication can significantly improve efficiency and productivity. By allowing team members to communicate and collaborate on their own schedules, you can reduce the need for lengthy meetings.
Instead, you can focus on completing tasks and achieving goals in a timely manner. This can help reduce stress and increase job satisfaction for everyone involved.
Can improve recruiting and retention opportunities
Flexible working environments are a top priority for many employees. And not every top candidate will be local to the office or other employees. By eliminating the need for everyone to be in the same place at the same time, you can expand your hiring pool and create a more diverse and inclusive team. You can also retain the top talent that you have by offering the flexibility they’re looking for and flourish in.
People can work on their own schedule
Asynchronous communication enables team members to communicate and collaborate on their own schedules. This is especially beneficial for those working in different time zones or with other commitments, such as caregiving responsibilities.
This flexibility can help reduce stress and improve work-life balance, as team members can complete tasks at times that work best for them. It can also lead to a greater sense of autonomy and empowerment, which can boost morale and motivation.
Can help reduce distractions and supports practices like time-blocking
Instead of instantly pausing their work and responding to instant messages and phone calls, team members can focus on their tasks and respond to messages at a time that works for them. This can help increase productivity and improve overall work quality.
Helps improve work/life balance
By allowing team members to work on their own schedules, you can accommodate their personal needs and responsibilities. This can lead to a happier and more satisfied team, which can, in turn, lead to increased productivity and better overall results.
Helps reduce meeting fatigue and Zoom burnout
Instead of sitting through endless video calls and meetings, team members can communicate through written messages, voice recordings, and other asynchronous methods. This can help reduce the feeling of being constantly “on” and improve overall mental health and well-being.
Higher quality of records, notes, and information-sharing
With written messages, you have a clear record of what was discussed and what was discussed and which decisions were made. This can help prevent misunderstandings and improve accountability.
Encourages different forms of participation
Asynchronous communication allows for a variety of communication styles and encourages participation from all team members, regardless of their communication preferences.
This can make it easier for neurodivergent employees, who may have difficulty with verbal communication or social cues, to contribute to the conversation. It can also help create a more inclusive workplace culture, where all voices are heard and valued.
Challenges of async communication
Response time is a major factor to remember when choosing what type of communication to use. However, it’s not the only thing to keep in mind. Here are some considerations for choosing how to get in touch with your team.
Lack of immediate feedback
Asynchronous communication typically involves a delay between sending a message and receiving a response. This can be frustrating for team members who are used to getting immediate feedback and can lead to misunderstandings or delays in decision-making.
Difficulty establishing rapport
In-person communication allows for nonverbal cues and personal interactions that can help build trust and rapport between team members. Asynchronous communication can lack this personal touch, which can make it more difficult to establish strong working relationships.
Over-reliance on written communication
Asynchronous communication often involves written messages, which can be more prone to misinterpretation or miscommunication than face-to-face conversations.
This can be especially problematic for teams that are working on complex or nuanced projects, where misunderstandings can have significant consequences.
Lack of real-time collaboration
Asynchronous communication can make it more difficult to collaborate in real time, which can be a disadvantage for teams that need to work closely together on certain tasks or projects. For example, brainstorming or problem-solving sessions may be more effective when done in real time.
Potential for information overload
Asynchronous communication can lead to an overwhelming amount of messages and notifications, which can be distracting and make it difficult to focus on important tasks. Team members may need to develop strategies for managing their communication channels and staying organized.
Difficulty with tone and context
In written communication, it can be more challenging to convey tone and context, which can lead to misunderstandings or hurt feelings. Team members may need to be more intentional about clarifying their intentions and avoiding miscommunication.
It’s important to be aware of the potential pitfalls and to develop strategies for mitigating them, such as setting clear expectations around response times, using video or voice messages to add a personal touch, or establishing clear communication protocols for complex or sensitive issues.
When to use asynchronous communication
This communication method can make life easier when you’re dealing with the following situations:
1. Time differences
At times, you’ll need to communicate with someone who isn’t available at the same time as you are. This might be because you’re working across time zones, messaging someone on PTO, or who just has a different chronotype. Asynchronous communication is the key to making productivity hacks like time-blocking work well.
2. Documentation needed
Async is the way to go if you want to have a written record of the conversation. Emails and Slack channels create a record of your communication as a matter of course. Many of these tools are searchable, making it easy to go back and find what you were talking about.
3. Information overload
Do you need to convey a lot of information or detail? I generally can’t absorb everything I hear at once — and neither can most people. Research indicates that, on average, people only absorb a fraction of what they hear. Providing information in a way that they can digest on their own increases the potential for retention and adoption.
4. Avoid misinformation
Async platforms necessarily require spelling everything out, since you can’t respond in real time. But the benefit to this is being able to provide additional information. You can add links, charts, and other tools to clarify your message.
5. You need time to think
It’s impressive to speak off the cuff, but most people need a minute or so to process and formulate a response. Moving conversations to an asynchronous format allows people to process and respond constructively.
When not to use asynchronous communication
At times, synchronous communication will be a better method. Here are some examples:
If you need immediate feedback, direction, or real-time collaboration, it makes more sense to work synchronously. Often, work happens faster if everyone is available and focused on it at the same time.
2. A personal touch is needed
One of the downsides of async messaging is that it often eliminates nuances like body language and tone. Difficult or sensitive conversations are better handled in person or with video conferencing.
3. You don’t need notes
This isn’t to say that you can’t have great notes from a synchronous conversation. However, in lots of meetings that happen in real-time, people throw out a lot of great ideas and have no record of them afterward.
If you have a designated note keeper, they’re often unable to fully participate in the conversation. But if you don’t need lots of notes, synchronous calls can often be more personal and engaged.
How asynchronous communication impacts employee wellness
For many of us, constant connectivity can feel like a necessary evil. We’ve become so accustomed to being on all the time that the idea of unplugging can be daunting. But if we could learn to disconnect in a way that didn’t feel like we were missing out, it would pay huge dividends. The benefits would impact our productivity and well-being — which are intrinsically linked.
Asynchronous communication may be the key. For some people with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, this connection might relieve them from feeling like they always have to be ready to respond. These individuals can focus on their well-being first, replying when it makes sense for them to reply.
Async teams also struggle less against a culture of presenteeism. When we drop the expectation of immediate response, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal to step away from the desk. Whether this is to take a 15-minute break, grab a snack, visit a doctor, or climb Mount Kilimanjaro, people can bring their whole selves to work. And sometimes, that means not showing up to work — or at least, not showing up constantly.
To make asynchronous communication work, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. Here’s how to successfully implement and get the most out of asynchronous teamwork:
Best practices for implementing asynchronous communication
1. Embrace “always off”
The heart of asynchronous communication is that no one is expected to be working at any given time. If one party is expecting a near-instantaneous response, it will create a lot of frustration and mistrust.
Embrace the idea that people will likely not respond immediately. Your team and organization may set expectations around whether async means not in the same hour or even not on the same day. Not responding immediately doesn’t indicate a lack of commitment or professionalism.
Give others (and yourself) the freedom to let messages wait until it makes sense to respond. At the same time, be mindful of your organization’s standards and your teammates’ need for information. It’s best to be explicit about expected response times and choose the form of communication suited to the need to allow work to proceed effectively.
2. Be clear and concise
When writing messages in team workspaces, prioritize clarity. Async platforms are, by nature, low-context cultures — meaning you’ll need to be direct and explicit with your messaging.
Write out what you need or want, and be specific about deadlines or dates. Add links, charts, and next steps so that people know how they should respond — and by when.
3. Use more than text
There are many ways to communicate, and many platforms have ways to communicate that go beyond text. Forget what you’ve been taught about “professional communication,” and augment your conversations with emojis, reactions, and GIFs.
A little humor at work can go a long way. When we’re sending messages, we lose much of the nuance of a face-to-face meeting. Using emojis, GIFs, and memes can soften some of the harshness of text. They can add personality to team communication and contribute positively to team culture. Tools like Slack even allow you to import custom emojis, so you can create your own inside jokes or reaction buttons.
In addition to these, make use of statuses, out-of-office messages, and auto-responders to let people know when you’re available or when they should expect a response.
4. Take time to unplug
One of the biggest challenges for remote workers is learning to set boundaries around work. In particular, those of us who come from corporate, in-office life may feel pressure to respond immediately.
Take time away from your screen and from communication — ideally, at least every hour. Designate “focused time” so you can work without interruptions. And set boundaries around work hours and non-work hours. You can set these tools to pause notifications at the end of the workday automatically.
5. Choose the right tool
Not all asynchronous tools are built the same way. It’s essential to pick the tool designed to accomplish what you need to do.
Asynchronous communication tools
Here are some of the most popular tools and how to use them for your team:
Asana is a project management platform where you can assign deadlines and specific tasks to team members. It makes it easy to see and track the status of multiple projects at once.
Confluence is a content management system for internal resources. It’s similar to Wikipedia, in that it can be edited by anyone on the team with access. With wikis, multiple users can contribute to one document, then publish it for reference by the rest of the organization.
Google Workspace is a popular choice for remote work because it provides an entire suite of collaboration software. Users can work together on spreadsheets, Google Docs, presentations, or keep assets in a shared drive. Google Meet even provides options for video meetings.
As one of the most widely used cloud-based solutions, it boasts a large number of integrations to increase an already-impressive range of features.
Jira was originally designed as an issue management tool, helping teams track bugs and usability errors. Now, Jira has expanded to include project management, making it a useful option for teams to manage both in-house and external efforts.
Loom is an asynchronous video platform, similar to Marco Polo. With Loom, you can record your screen, presentation, message, or voiceover to share with others on your team. For example, one coworker frequently creates looms to demonstrate how to do things like creating CTAs or pulling metrics on the HubSpot marketing platform. Her peers can revisit her excellent instructions multiple times and she doesn’t have to take valuable time to give the same training every time someone new encounters the problem.
Trello is a project management tool that organizes large projects into boards. It’s similar to Asana, but in my experience, it’s better suited for people who think visually.
Slack may hold the current championship title for the most widely used messaging platform. Small teams or entire companies can send a communication through a shared workspace. These can be organized into channels, threads, and groups. Slack supports integrations with many other popular platforms and is the number-one choice for many remote and hybrid workplaces.
Asynchronous communication FAQs
Why would you use asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication can be useful when team members work remotely or have different schedules, as it allows for flexibility and can help reduce distractions. It can also promote inclusivity by accommodating different communication styles and preferences.
What is an example of asynchronous communication?
Examples of asynchronous communication include email, instant messaging, text messaging, and collaborative software tools such as Trello or Asana. These tools allow team members to communicate and collaborate on their own schedules, without needing to be in the same place at the same time.
How do you communicate asynchronously?
To communicate asynchronously, you can use a variety of tools and strategies. Some common approaches include sending emails or instant messages, posting updates on a shared platform or project management tool, leaving comments on shared documents, or recording video or voice messages. It’s important to establish clear communication protocols and expectations, such as response times or preferred methods of communication, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
Final thoughts on asynchronous communication
Communication async gives employees more freedom to process information and respond on their own time. This pays dividends in reduced stress, better work-life balance, and improved productivity. It’s well worth making the shift.
While it’s important to recognize that asynchronous communication is not a one-size-fits-all solution, with the right approach, asynchronous communication can be a powerful tool for improving efficiency, productivity, and collaboration in the workplace.