Productive Skills: Asynchronous Communication
In the world of telecommunications, communication is said to be asynchronous when data is transmitted intermittently, and synchronous when data is transmitted in a continuous flow.
Within a business (and also personal) environment, we talk about asynchronous communication when it’s not done in real-time, therefore an immediate response is not expected. For example, when you send an email or WhatsApp to someone, the other party can reply at any time. And we talk about synchronous communication when it occurs in real time and all interlocutors must be present in some way at the same time. When you Skype or call someone on the phone, synchronous communication takes place.
Communication is something inherent to human beings and is absolutely necessary for good teamwork, but the way we do it can dramatically affect both our personal productivity and that of our work team.
The most productive way to work as a team and avoid absurd distractions is to communicate in a way that everyone can:
- Ignore a message the moment it is generated, and
- Choose the time that suits them best to process it and act on it if necessary.
This can only be achieved through asynchronous communication.
Synchronous communication is often synonymous with interruption, so it should be avoided whenever possible. A phone call, for example, takes you completely out of the task you are executing, and it’s estimated that it takes about half an hour for a person to recover from an interruption and fully concentrate on the task they were previously working on.
The vast majority of things don’t require an immediate response and therefore asynchronous communication will be the most appropriate approach in these cases.
With the rise of remote work, asynchronous communications are increasingly used and needed. By avoiding interruptions, concentration spans last longer, which helps to increase productivity and improve work-life balance. Simply put, more gets done in less time.
Another advantage of asynchronous communications is that they invite more thoughtful and valuable comments, as you can spend as much time as you need to elaborate your response.
But be careful, in the use of asynchronous communications there are also bad practices that can waste the time of others and should be avoided. One example is sending mass emails and regularly using the “reply to all” option. Being always connected to a Whatsapp or Slack group, where everyone receives everyone’s comments and is constantly interrupted, is another pernicious way of using asynchronous communication.
For asynchronous communication to be efficient, notifications should be turned off and specific periods of time should be set aside for responding to pending messages. In addition, appropriate tools should be used for this purpose:
- Messaging apps (Microsoft Teams, Slack, * WhatsApp, etc.).
- Task management tools (Asana, Trello, Todoist, FacileThings, etc.).
A recent study from the University of California suggests that synchronous communication contributes to increased employee stress, as employees feel compelled to work harder and faster after interruptions to make up for lost time. Asynchronous communication does not produce this pressure.
Meetings are one of the forms of synchronous communication that most undermine a team’s productivity, and therefore you need to be very careful with them.
There are meetings that could be replaced by one or several emails. Whatever the case, the need for a meeting should always be evaluated and, if necessary, only those people who are really involved should be called. To be efficient, meetings must be properly prepared in advance, defining the topics to be discussed and setting a maximum time limit.
The clear conclusion is that you should communicate with your coworkers asynchronously whenever you can. Of course, there will be times when direct communication is necessary, but it should not be the default mode of working.
To sum up, these are the main benefits of asynchronous communication:
- Decreases interruptions.
- Facilitates long-lasting periods of deep work.
- Gives each person more autonomy and control over their workday.
- Reduces the need to be always available.
- Allows a better work-life balance.
- Eliminates rushing and unnecessary pressure.
- Helps reduce stress generated by the false sense of urgency that comes from synchronous communications.
- Improves the quality of responses.
- Eliminates communication problems in teams operating in different time zones.
- Allows you to keep a record of conversations that can be called upon later.