What remote teams need to know about asynchronous communication

Natasa Milojevic

Last updated on: January 20, 2022

How instant are your instant messages? When a notification coming from your collaboration tool suddenly takes you off guard while focused on a time-pressing task, what is your first response? Do you attend to it immediately at the expense of losing track of your work? Is it better to sit on the message and brush it aside until a less busy time? 

Since our remote communication doesn’t come with an instruction manual, your reactions to different communication situations may vary. However, if you always choose not to be distracted by your team chat app, you may simply favor asynchronous communication. Is this the road to a successfully completed job? Let’s take a closer look at what asynchronous communication is, how it adds to our remote team collaboration and how you can tailor your team chat app to foster a more productive environment without your team having to cling to their keyboards around the clock. 

What remote teams need to know about asynchronous communication - cover

What is asynchronous communication?

According to pioneering studies in virtual teamwork communication, asynchronous communication entails a time lag between the time a message is sent and the time the receiver interprets the same message. Although this type of communication isn’t reserved for remote teams only, it necessarily happens independent of time.

Let’s look at a short history of asynchronous communication, starting with the term asynchronous data transmission.

Originating from computer science to describe data distribution without the clock signal, asynchronous data transmission refers to the information transfer happening at irregular intervals. Unlike the synchronous transmission that follows a regular pattern controlled by the clock signal, asynchronous communication tends to be faster because it’s free from waiting for the clock. 

With the evolution of technology, both terms found their ways to the world of human communication, especially our workplace behavior. The possibility of migrating our businesses to the virtual world has given rise to a change in how we communicate, altering the very concept of teamwork. Without the necessity to be located within the same space or time zone to collaborate efficiently, teams from all over the world have embraced asynchronous communication as a standard practice.  

Asynchronous and synchronous communication — remote team edition

Transitioning to remote work has seemingly led to the adoption of asynchronous communication as a preferred communication style. There always seems to be a vast time distance between the moment we press Send and the moment we receive valuable information, especially when working against the clock. Deprived of the possibility of a quick chat with a team member, we are all convinced that we’ve left synchronous communication behind the moment we’ve locked our office doors. However, despite the alteration in the space dimension of our workflow, both types of communication still pertain, and eliminating either one is hardly the road to increasing teamwork efficiency. In light of their pivotal role in our steady communication process, let’s shed some light on the dynamic of both communication types in a remote setting. 

Synchronous communicationAsynchronous communication
🤝Participating in video conference calls🗂Collaborating in a shared document
☎️Making phone calls📧Sending and receiving emails
📱Communicating in team chat apps📱Communicating in team chat apps

Advantages of asynchronous communication

The fragmented context of our remote day-to-day workflow appears to put a constraint on our communication processes. A thorny issue might arise if you are attuned to making decisions, soliciting feedback, or just rallying your team around a goal in a real-time discussion, gathered around the conference table. Is this process an irrefutable path towards maximum productivity, or have we just wholeheartedly accepted the myth of ‘being always on’ as the only proper way of communicating? Let’s take a step back and put the brakes on our fast-paced communication processes so that we can spot the benefits asynchronous communication can bring forth. 

Not responding immediately helps you maintain productivity

Whether or not your company strives towards creating a performance-based culture, one of the shortcomings of working remotely is the fear of our achievements not being visible enough, according to Forbes magazine. In greatest efforts to avoid our accomplishments remaining out of sight, reactive tasks get the best of us. The vicious cycle of low-priority tasks, such as interrupting your focus to confirm the attendance at a meeting via team chat, can take its toll on your overall productivity. Although it is possible not to miss out on important notices in a team chat software without grabbing your touchpad at every ping, it’s a major hurdle to overcome the habit of being responsive at all times. 

The fear of missing out or not being noticed gradually subsides when we adopt asynchronous communication as a standard team practice. If each team member is granted the possibility to respond to a message at their own speed, nobody is falling behind. Instead of expecting an immediate response, when we use our virtual communication tools as if none of the coworkers is currently available, not only do we focus on transmitting a proper message, but we also make enough room for completing meaningful work instead of just talking about it. 

Communication records remain at hand

Poor information sharing and the lack of proper communication channels that encourage cross-departmental interaction are the principal reasons team silos emerge. However, improper utilization of virtual communication tools isn’t the only catalyst for a siloed mentality. Synchronous, real-time communication could lead to unintentional withholding of information, regardless of how prolific or tight-knit your team is. Somebody could be absent from a meeting or simply unaware of who is held responsible for sharing the updates, and both the transparency of your projects and their outcome could easily be compromised. 

On the other hand, asynchronous communication allows for the input to remain intact if properly implemented. Various communication tools, from collaboration software to team chat apps such as Pumble, allow creating a shared knowledge pub at every team member’s disposal. The communication transparency that access to different channels, threads, and message history entails promotes inclusivity among your team members despite differences in time zone or space. 

You can keep the workday under your control

Retaining the office-centric culture even when it takes away from the team’s productivity and prompts long working hours is the primary cause of remote workers experiencing burnout. Living at work instead of working from home has given rise to the influx of 69% of US remote employees struggling with burnout symptoms during 2020, according to Forbes. The blurry line between work and out-of-the-office hours becomes even more indistinguishable if we entertain the illusion that the fluidity of the office talk naturally shifts across time and space dimensions. 

Leveraging asynchronous communication bypasses the culture of being always available and permits each team member to be in control of their own engagement with the information. Instead of participating in back-to-back meetings to remain in the loop, embracing asynchronous communication tools could keep different departments informed without being simultaneously online. When team members are allowed to block time and allocate an exact amount of hours they spend engaged in online communication, the risk of being overwhelmed significantly decreases. Apart from keeping the burnout at bay, favoring time-independent communication bridges the gap between different time zones, allowing each team member to strategically tailor their own workdays instead of grasping at straws. 

You have time to reflect before responding

A fruitful brainstorming session appears to be correlated to in-synch communication. Problem-solving and decision-making are complex communicative processes that we traditionally associate with real-time conversations. However, does this intuitive communication method contribute to the successful outcomes of your team members’ ideas-sharing processes? Science might dispel this illusion. According to a business communication literature overview, not only is the quality of decisions influenced by the communication method we choose, but the time pressure further weakens the choice your team agrees on. Without having enough time to carefully consider all the options before making their decisions, your team members are prone to choosing a faulty solution instead of the most prosperous one. 

Putting a brake on the hastiness of team discussions benefits all the analysis processes and can also relieve everyone of the stress from being pressed for time. When you transfer a brainstorming discussion to an asynchronous communication channel, such as your team chat app, the steady pace of threaded conversations allows everyone to reflect before they respond. The quality of each discussion enhances, and team members are more likely to share their thoughts. The implementation of such asynchronous teamwork collaboration can be especially beneficial to introverts who tend to require different communication dynamics

Disadvantages of asynchronous communication

Collaborating in a distributed and remote team undoubtedly poses challenges to our communication processes. Some communication situations call for a delay in handling them due to more urgent tasks at hand. Other times, the gravity of the information requires a quick discussion, which is an assignment asynchronous communication method might not be able to complete. Is the implementation of time-independent communication into your team’s workflow the best scenario to follow? Let’s highlight the downsides of asynchronous communication and settle on whether it takes more value than it brings to your distributed team. 

We may experience an information delay

Whether you have agreed on using your team chat software for asynchronous communication only or your team collaboration software entails time lag by its nature, it’s impossible not to notice its faultiness when a need to quickly transmit a piece of information arises. When you send an email informing your team about a traffic jam that will potentially keep you from accessing a virtual conference call in time, relying on asynchronous tools for communication might leave you empty-handed. Although agreeing upon which information qualifies as urgent might solve the issue, it’s best to opt for another means of communication when in a hurry. 

If your team decides upon implementing the asynchronous communication practice despite this limitation, attempt to establish some principal guidelines and clear expectations on approaching different communication situations. Soliciting feedback might not demand a phone call, but your company’s website being down could be a reason enough to alert your coworkers. 

Chances for conflict increase

Dealing with particularly complex issues such as resolving conflict or clearing up a misunderstanding requires an immediate response. Allowing a team argument to linger instead of addressing it without delay will lead to eventual conflict escalation. Studies have shown that teams collaborating virtually are more prone to conflict, which gradually affects their overall performance. When there is no opportunity for an in-person conversation, being as transparent and clear in communicating your message could become a stepping stone towards conflict resolution. If an asynchronous communication tool, such as email appears either insufficiently pacy or inept to transmit the subtle nuances of non-verbal communication, a video call could help steer the discussion in the right direction. However, a virtual team chat could also assist in reaching a consensus due to its instantaneous nature. By selecting a private channel in a team chat app like Pumble as an environment for conflict resolution, your team retains privacy while not giving up on the instantaneity a real-time conversation entails. 

Maintaining the company culture becomes a challenge

Remote work has contributed to restructuring a myriad of workplace procedures, from providing feedback to maneuvering onboarding and team-building activities. Starting a new job at a remote company couldn’t be further from the first day of a new hire in a physical office space. Although this work climate redesign does not necessarily have to entail negative side effects, retaining a company culture while holding onto asynchronous means of communication poses a challenge. Assuming that sending a lengthy Welcome email or a document with basic guidelines will substitute the onboarding process directed towards transmitting the company’s values leads to limited team interactions and prevents cross-functional collaboration. However, even if your team adheres to asynchronous communication tools, not all hope is lost. Forbes Business Council suggests that a remote onboarding process can still be conducted by promoting proactive communication, assigning work buddies or mentors, and encouraging active participation. Team cohesiveness can also be retained in an altered environment by engaging in virtual team-building activities that don’t necessarily require a conference call. Numerous team-building games can successfully be conducted in your team’s virtual team chat app due to its fast-paced and engaging quality. 

The best of both worlds — your virtual team chat app

With the idea to promote a functional and fruitful virtual environment in mind, it became impossible to overlook the importance of both types of communication — synchronous and asynchronous. However, balancing between different software in order to communicate effectively has taken a toll on the remote employees’ work hours and productivity. 

Despite the widespread belief that the speedy nature of team chat apps contributes to the ‘always on’ harmful culture, the variety of options for disconnecting help navigate both productivity and team collaboration. Apart from the option to set an availability status and reduce the disturbing alerts that many chat apps, such as Pumble, offer, introducing chat etiquette guidelines could help find an optimal balance between both types of communication. With a vast array of options for both the hasty transmission of an urgent message and the opportunity to silence the distractions, it would be unjust to let whatever software we use to take the blame. If your team treats their team chat app as an ongoing real-time conversation or ignores its existence altogether, maybe it’s time to quit the approach, not the software. 

Wrapping up

Hand in hand with the evolution of the workplace dimension goes the transformation of both the communication methods and the software teams engage with. Finding the adequate mechanism to support the continuous changes teamwork communication is subject to in the virtual landscape doesn’t come easy. The implementation of asynchronous communication arises as a potential resolution to the recent hardships remote teams are struggling with. However, leaning on one individual communication style at the expense of the other brings forth its deficiencies, and they appear more harmful than ever. Although the formula for rewarding team communication lies dormant until proper guidelines are established, rethinking your virtual communication tools is a certain shortcut to success. Instead of your team adjusting their communication styles, the right virtual chat tool should be customizable to your preference. The stretch and adapt mindset is already a thing of the past now that the future of work is in a different dimension — your comfortable armchair.

Author: NatasaMilojevic

Natasa Milojevic is a writer and researcher dedicated to exploring the depths of human communication and collaboration. You can usually find her engrossed in her research on the quickest and most reliable ways of transmitting ideas in a remote work environment. Leaving no stone unturned until she discovers the most valuable advice for fostering efficient teamwork collaboration, Natasa spends most of her days behind the keyboard.

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