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Asynchronous Communication in Practice: How Remote and Hybrid Teams are Implementing It

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By Sivan Kaspi, September 09, 2021
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Almost all work can be done asynchronously with the right team culture and processes in place.

 

The problem is most organizations use asynchronous communication as the backup or secondary way to interact. Most businesses’ primary method of communication involves synchronous, or real-time, communications, like Zoom calls and in-person meetings.

 

The advantages to being an asynchronous-first organization are numerous, including building a calmer, more thoughtful, and inclusive work environment. It removes the feeling that you must respond immediately. Instead, this allows team members to work at a more deliberate pace, so they can respond on their time—whether it’s immediate or at a preferred time.

 

Yet, successfully implementing asynchronous communication can be challenging at first, especially for newer remote and hybrid teams.

 

In this post, we’re sharing several examples of how companies—big and small—are using asynchronous communication to get work done, better serve their customers, and improve employee morale.

 

 

Should You Collaborate Synchronously or Asynchronously?

Like most things, it depends. However, nine times out of ten, you can collaborate asynchronously.

 

Evaluating the purpose of the communication and knowing what works best for your team makes it easier to identify the right communication approach to facilitate successful interactions.

 

When determining the type of communication format to use, consider factors like:

  • The urgency of the information

  • Time zones of the people involved

  • Sensitivity of the information or how critical the feedback is

  • The cohesiveness of the team

 

For instance, one-on-ones with your direct reports, performance reviews, hiring new employees, and letting go of employees should always be done in real-time.

 

 

Asynchronous Communication Examples in the Workplace

Here are some ways businesses are successfully incorporating asynchronous comms in their day-to-day roles:

 

1. Create a more collaborative and inclusive work environment for your team using Spike

Spike is a conversational and collaborative email application that turns email, which is traditionally only used asynchronously, into a real-time and synchronous chat-like experience. By adding Tasks, collaborative Notes, and multimedia to your Inbox, Spike creates a single feed for all of your work.

 

Here are some of the ways our customers are using our software: 

 

  • Send and record voice messages in any 1:1 email, multi-participant thread, and Groups chat (no need for any external instant messenger. Anyone not on Spike can still listen to the message in their traditional email inbox)
  • Manage 1:1 conversations and group chats with fully integrated video and audio calls 
  • Write and collaborate on Notes, including sharing files
  • Run real-time or asynchronous meetings 

 

Since Spike is designed to work both in real-time work and asynchronously, your team can get things done efficiently during their workday without having to schedule their work around time zones. 

 

2. Make time zone differences a competitive advantage

While communication among teams in different time zones can be challenging, some companies use the time zone differences to their advantage.

 

For instance, Spacer is a global team working across nine time zones and four continents. All teams are fully remote, except for their Sydney team members, who are hybrid with one day in-person. 

 

Maddy Brown, the social and content producer for Spacer, worked with the head of marketing to find ways to embrace the 15 hour time difference among team members and use it to their advantage. 

 

For example, we have our Marketing Catch-up every Monday (Mexico Time), which is Tuesday in Australia for the rest of our team. Emma Tippett, our head of marketing, prepares all the data and slides on Monday. I input my slides on Monday morning before the Sydney team is awake.

 

We also find the Sydney team being a day ahead very beneficial, as we have six weekdays covered to tackle urgent tasks. For example, just last week, we had an urgent case study task from our PR team on Friday afternoon in Sydney, but as it was still my Thursday, I could use my extra day to put this together while the team in Australia enjoyed their weekend.

All in all, we've seen asynchronous communication to be an asset rather than a barrier.

 

Dominic Kent, Content Marketing Director at Mio, agrees:

 

I work with two core teams: the operations team based in Texas and a freelance network of writers and designers in the UK.

 

Without both these teams working asynchronously (and doing it well), I’d either have to work Texas hours and never speak to my UK team or vice versa. Neither is an option.

 

Working asynchronously means both teams respect time zones, share as much context and information as possible, and use the tools at our disposal sensibly.

We also record all-important meetings that don’t overlap time zones so everybody can watch back in their own time. For example, nobody wants to join a Zoom call at 8:00 pm after their dinner!”

3. Replace status update calls

Dhruv Rai Saxena, co-founder and CEO of Pause, has replaced most of their live status update calls with async communication in their project management software. 

 

A lot of our synchronous communication happens when there’s a lack of clarity in the way forward, which often leads to a misleading sense of urgency. To tackle that, we use Asana to map out our plans for the next month at least, and then go in every Friday to set deadlines for the next week and add tasks.

 

This setup really helps with asynchronous communication. For example, if someone needs a colleague to take a look at something, they assign them a task or leave a comment. In this way, we have a record, constant notifications don't interrupt deep work hours, and colleagues can see new tasks when they have the time. 

Since this also displays the status of a project and lets us add comments, files, and screenshots, this process eliminates the need for any back-and-forth. It also keeps all information in one place.

 

As a result, it also helps increase efficiency and reduce the need for some real-time, person-to-person meetings. 

 

4. Deliver constructive feedback to team members with short, recorded videos

Sometimes asynchronous communication can feel impersonal and lead to some members feeling disconnected from their manager and team. 

 

Flywheel Digital, a boutique Vancouver-based technical marketing agency, has found that short, recorded video messages can provide an in-person feel to asynchronous communications. This approach can help the teams feel more connected without having to drop everything to jump on a call together.  

Creating videos to share instructions, feedback, and updates is one of the ways we use asynchronous communication,” says Michael Steele, the CEO of Flywheel Digital.

“These short, pre-recorded videos are a great way to leverage the benefits of “in-person” communication (such as facial expressions, tone of voice and the mix of both audio and visual communication) in a way that can be viewed by any employee at a time that’s best for them.

 

This is also an excellent way for people who prefer to communicate or process information orally instead of in written form, without the need for a synchronous meeting.

 

In addition, Brooklyn Nash at Outreach found combining written information with recorded Loom videos allows him to provide the personal feel to communications without the difficulty of scheduling Zoom calls. 

Pretty quickly after I started with Outreach, I started using Loom for async communication with my immediate team, the wider marketing team, and with our team of contractors. I still put quite a bit in writing—briefs for contractors and promo plans for marketing, for example—but recording a video on Loom helps me expand on my thoughts. It also helps add back some of the personality you lose when you are not face to face in a Zoom meeting.

While I use it for initial communication, it's been particularly helpful for providing feedback to contributing authors and to freelance writers. I can share my screen and walk through my thought process visually, without having to make sure I get everything down in the Google Doc comments.

5. Deliver async client presentations

Eman Ismail of Inkhouse finds asynchronous communications a key part of her business since it can save her clients and her time. 

I used to do live copy presentations. But, I found it was encroaching on my client's time, and they are really busy as well. It meant I was able to respect their time as well as mine. Instead of doing live presentation calls, I switched it to recorded videos. 

It is a recorded video walk-through that they watch in their own time. It feels much more relaxed. I let them know in the email first how long it is and plan to carve out the time to watch it. It is a great indication of me respecting their time as well.

 

I also use it to send over strategy recommendations and presentations. That works really well because it gives clients the time to think about all of the heavy stuff that I’m sending across. Instead of expecting them to have a response on the spot like a live call would, I’m giving them the space to think about it and reflect.

 

6. Switch to a four-day workweek or at least eliminate Zoom fatigue 😉

When you replace most of the routine meetings with async updates and check-ins, this means your team can get more done while working fewer hours, such as adopting a four-day workweek. 

 

For example, Adam Nathan at Almanac has found that limiting meetings and check-ins helps increase team members’ productivity and time management. 

Our team at Almanac is fully distributed around the world and works with an async-first mentality. In practice, that means we dedicate a majority of our time to accomplishing our goals without constant meetings or "real-time" email so the team can focus on what matters. 

We’re pretty ruthless about removing unnecessary meetings and check-ins. Instead, we rely on documentation as our primary source of truth for questions we’ve already answered or important information. We also make a point to regularly update task boards and KPIs so team members can see progress and blockers without asking for synchronous status updates.

 

Async is a cultural shift and requires not just new tools but also different processes and mindsets, starting at the top. We evaluate people at Almanac on outcomes over hours and don’t expect immediate replies or constant process updates. Async work requires implicit trust and ownership, which is one of our core virtues.

 

This approach can also work for freelancers and solopreneurs. 

 

Rachael Pilcher, a freelance copywriter at Mighty Fine Copy, finds project management tools can help her and her clients avoid working during non-business hours. 

Using async communication is essential for my work (and sanity) as a freelance copywriter and full-time nomad. I typically work with midsize to large software companies that have distributed teams, and between us, we can easily be working across four different time zones. 

It’s almost impossible to find meeting times that are good for everyone. Zoom meetings often need to be scheduled when it’s 2:00 am for at least one person on the call (usually me!), so async has the huge advantage of letting everyone work when they’re at their best… and not half asleep.

 

I work with clients’ async tools but if they don’t have their own solutions for this, I suggest they use my favorite project management tools to keep files and communication in one place and on track as we work through their project.

 

7. Think of async communication in three parts

Eman Zabi, founder and CEO of Terrain, uses a variety of asynchronous tools to facilitate collaboration among team members. 

I like to think of asynchronous collaboration as having three core parts: Communication, Project Management, and a Company Wiki.

We make full use of Slack’s scheduling features, reminders, and bots like Disco (great to celebrate team members) and Trivia (for some fun before our Friday meetings) to make comms as seamless as possible.

 

Our PM system relies on dedicated check-in updates for in-progress and ready-for-delivery tasks.

 

Our company wiki is where all SOPs, guides, templates, and swipe files live. Team members have access to it at all times, so they can get the answers they need even if no one else is online!

*** 

 

As more companies use remote and hybrid teams, incorporating effective asynchronous communication strategies can help ensure all team members feel involved regardless of their time zone. 

 

However, asynchronous interactions won’t work in every situation. Understanding the purpose of the communication, the urgency, and the sensitivity of the information can help you and your team select the right communication approach to facilitate successful interactions. 

 

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Sivan Kaspi Sivan is the Head of Marketing at Spike. A firm believer that the right kind of tech actually helps us use it less, she is passionate about tools that improve our lives. She starts off each morning reviewing her Spike feed over a good cup of coffee.