With the rise of flexible and hybrid working options, it’s natural that more staff will be working and communicating at different times. But what is asynchronous communication all about and how can you make it work best for your business? HR consultant Kate Marchant gives her tips on how to communicate smoothly with staff, no matter the time or place.
What is asynchronous communication?
Simply put, asynchronous communication happens in situations where participants don’t need to be ‘present’ at the exact same time to communicate.
Contrast this with synchronous communication, which is best described as a meeting where participants need to be present at exactly the same time – and if they are not, then it may not happen at all. It’s more about real time communication.
Asynchronous communication and remote working
It is important to acknowledge that remote working and asynchronous communication are not one and the same. It is true that remote working can involve a lot of asynchronous communication; however, many companies enabling remote working expect much of the communication to be done in real time – the fact that it might be done on Zoom makes it remote, but not asynchronous.
The advantages of asynchronous communication
As asynchronous communication does not need to happen in real time, it means it is truly flexible. It enables people to work on the same projects but at different times and, often, in different time zones. The ability to work in this way has made it much easier for businesses to introduce flexible and hybrid working options for their teams.
More focus, fewer interruptions
Much of asynchronous communication has to be in writing or in video format; as such, this type of communication really comes into its own when workers need time to focus without interruptions or the need for an immediate response. Because of this, asynchronous communication also lends itself to learning or projects that require a large amount of reading and digestion.
So, for example, this type of communication is really useful for company announcements and employee onboarding programmes, with the worker being able to consume such information at a time convenient to them.
It suits flexible schedules
Asynchronous communication has been very relevant during the pandemic, as so many people have had to juggle different personal and work schedules from their own home, including home schooling, so it has enabled them to work more at a pace and time that suits them better – depending on what needs to be juggled.
The disadvantages of asynchronous communication
Because asynchronous communication allows for true flexibility, it can mean that the lines between work and home are blurred – especially if you are working remotely on your own… is your home your workplace or somewhere you just happen to work from? This is becoming an issue with remote working in general, as remote employers are working longer hours. It may sound good at first glance, but overworking can become a big problem for businesses.
This type of communication can make people feel isolated, as they’re not communicating in real time – this could lead to feelings of loneliness in employees, which is important to consider as loneliness has been linked to serious health issues, lower levels of productivity and engagement, and increase the likelihood of burnout.
Teams can get out of sync
The possibility for collaboration is potentially reduced when people are working asynchronously. Because so much interaction is done on email or messenger platforms, it certainly doesn’t fit activities such as brainstorming, which typically needs all team members present at the same time to enable quick fire exchanges and idea generation.
A lack of body language
The modes of asynchronous communication can also make it difficult for either party to understand each other’s intent, as they can’t see facial expressions and body language and there is no way to pick up on the ‘tone’ of voice. Using videos may go some way to overcome this hurdle.
Asynchronous communication tools
There are many forms of asynchronous communication, such as email and instant messaging. Tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams allow you to work within organised spaces called channels; you can have a different one for everything you are working on and have all the people, messages, and files related to a topic in one place. If you are a company that publishes updates to an internal shared messaging board, then this is also an example of asynchronous communication.
There are many video tools you can use such as Loom or Soapbox to communicate with your team – especially useful if you operate across different time zones, as it allows colleagues to consume a message in their own time. Such tools also allow you to, for example, pull together a presentation by enabling you to split the screen, so you can provide visuals as you speak. Again, this type of presentation allows for consumption at a time convenient to the individual.
How can you manage asynchronous communication?
As a manager, it’s important to get your head around how it all works, but at the same time trust your team and avoid anything resembling micromanagement! Whilst it is clearly a good thing to keep in touch with your employees’ progress, it is important to not overdo it.
Constantly checking up on them will send a loud and clear message that you don’t trust them very much. Instead, agree with each employee what will work best given the project in hand and their individual requirements.
Asynchronous teams and performance management
It will make sense (as it always does) to have robust performance management policies and procedures in place that everyone is aware of so they know what to expect and managers know their responsibilities. Effective manager training is a must to enable management by quality of output for this style of team or workforce.
Learn how to manage staff performance and appraisals for a variety of employees and teams with performance management software.
Ultimately, like all forms of communication, asynchronous communication works well in certain scenarios; however, it is always best to have a blend. Plus, it would be good to give it a name that’s easier to spell and pronounce. Or maybe that’s just me!
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Written by Kate Marchant
Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.