Whether you know it or not, you engage in asynchronous communication every day — both inside the workplace and out. Any time you receive a notification, whether it’s your phone screen lighting up or your inbox burgeoning with yet another email, you’re the recipient of asynchronous communication.
When you communicate without expecting an immediate response, including emails, memos, and direct messages, you’re using asynchronous communication. By contrast, synchronous communication is when you interact with someone in real time; your phone calls, video conferences, and in-person meetings fall into this method of communication.
These days, we rely on asynchronous communication to stay in touch in a virtual work environment. Yet, in a fast-paced world where efficiency is imperative, relying on asynchronous communication can seem counterproductive.
In this guide, we’re going to help you truly understand what asynchronous communication is, how it differs from synchronous communication, and how you can use it to maximize workplace productivity.
Asynchronous communication explained
Asynchronous communication is the text you send on your phone, the email you shoot off on your work computer, and the message you ping in your project management software. It’s any type of communication that doesn’t elicit an immediate response.
Sure, the recipient could respond straight away, but you’re not engaged in an active dialogue where you can both communicate at the same time.
What is asynchronous messaging?
Asynchronous messaging, sometimes shortened to async messaging, is what most of us do daily when we use social media platforms or communication software at work.
It refers to the process of sending a message to someone or something (like a chatbot) without being in a live conversation with them.
What is the difference between asynchronous and synchronous communication?
Asynchronous and synchronous communication differ only in one aspect: when the conversation takes place.
If you send an email, for example, there will be a latent response as the person on the other side won’t respond until they have read the email. If you call someone on Zoom or host a team meeting, you’re having a concurrent conversation where anyone can respond immediately.
Before COVID-19, examples of synchronous communication included the water-cooler chat, a conversation at a coworker’s desk, or an in-person meeting. Now, it’s more common to take a video call.
Asynchronous communication has come on in leaps and bounds regarding the platforms that facilitate it, making remote workplace communication and collaboration a breeze.
Examples of asynchronous communication
Now you understand what it is, let’s take a look at some examples of asynchronous communication in the modern work environment:
- Email: Whenever you send an email, you expect to wait to receive a response. It’s one of the oldest forms of asynchronous communication that’s still effective today.
- Messaging: Messaging (not the instant kind) is a form of asynchronous communication because you’re writing a message for someone else to respond to when they find the time.
- Internal memos: An internal company memo or newsletter can be a form of asynchronous communication. Often, it doesn’t require a response at all, but when someone does respond, it won’t be immediately.
- Prerecorded video: Services such as Loom are becoming more popular as a way of explaining something to a coworker or freelancer without having a concurrent conversation.
When is it better to use asynchronous communication?
It’s best to use asynchronous communication when you want to contact a team member or coworker, but you don’t need an instant response.
Here are a few situations in which you’d benefit from using asynchronous communication:
- You’ve made progress on a project and want to update your coworkers
- You’ve completed your task but need a coworker to take a look at what you’ve done
- You have a question for your superior about a project, but it isn’t urgent
- You want an update from a team member on how they’re getting on with a project
- You have to explain something to a coworker, but you don’t have time to hop on a call
Examples of synchronous communication
To make sure you’re clear on the difference between the two forms of communication, let’s go over some examples of synchronous communication.
- Instant messaging: Some messaging tools are designed to facilitate rapid text-based communication. Quickfire conversations where your keyboard is the method of communication can be considered a form of synchronous communication.
- Video calls: Any time you jump on a Zoom call, you’re engaging in synchronous communication, since you’re meeting in real time and can respond whenever you want.
- In-person meetings: The predecessor to the Zoom video conference, an in-person meeting also allows for real-time conversation.
- Casual workplace chats: Whenever you stop by your coworker’s desk for a chat, you use synchronous communication.
- Phone calls: Phone calls are also a form of synchronous communication.
When is it better to use synchronous communication?
Synchronous communication is best when you need to talk and plan with your team in real time. Here are a few situations in which you’d benefit from using synchronous communication:
- You want to encourage cross-functional collaboration between departments and break the ice with team-building exercises
- You have to determine a new course of action for a project and need to brainstorm ideas
- You have sensitive issues to discuss, such as an individual’s performance or an incident in the workplace
- You have to communicate complicated ideas that would be hard to convey without a real-time conversation
Advantages of asynchronous communication
While there are certainly some who believe the old-fashioned in-person meeting is most effective, this isn’t always the best approach.
In fact, according to Buffer’s 2022 report on the state of remote work, 52% of employees would embrace an asynchronous-first work environment. In other words, most people prefer to communicate using asynchronous messaging over meetings.
It’s easy to see why, too.
Better for dispersed teams
Take the remote work factor, for example, which has teams scattered around the globe across different time zones. With an international workforce, synchronous communication is a challenge, and asynchronous communication can become the default.
If you’ve assembled a dispersed virtual team, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the forms of asynchronous communication to keep everyone in the loop without requiring them to attend calls outside their respective office hours.
For example, you might make a prerecorded video outlining the details of the next project they’ll be working on, which they can watch at the start of their workday.
Effective collaboration at work is another one of the advantages of asynchronous communication since real-time conversations can inhibit progress. If you’re constantly having to drop what you’re doing to jump on a call with others, you’ll fall prey to distraction. It might take you a few minutes after the call to pick up the loose thread and start working again.
According to a Forbes analysis of time management data, 71% of people report frequent interruptions while they work. This state of constant interruption is counterproductive and doesn’t allow team members the space to be creative and engage in meaningful work.
Asynchronous communication, such as sending a message or an email, doesn’t have to impede your coworker’s workflow. Provided they mute notifications during work hours or assign a certain time to check their email, they won’t be distracted the moment the message reaches their inbox.
Encourages deep work
Just as asynchronous communication can ensure team members aren’t bombarded with distractions, it can also encourage deep work. A term coined by computer science professor and bestselling author Cal Newport, “deep work” is all about dedicating time to meaningful activities.
For a team member to be productive, you need them to focus most of their energy on high-priority tasks. If their time is spent going from meeting to meeting, they’re likely to be in a constant state of distraction and unable to commit to performing deep work.
Newport advocates creating a distraction-free ‘bunker’ in your home to shield yourself from anything that could throw you off your game. Of course, for most of us, this isn’t possible. Yet, the idea of immunizing your team from distractions is key if you want to get more done.
How can you expect to make real progress on a project if you constantly have coworkers stopping by your desk for a chat or initiating Zoom calls?
When you rely more on asynchronous communication, you can engage in “cognitively demanding activities that leverage our training to generate rare and valuable results, and that push our abilities to continually improve,” in the words of Newport.
Asynchronous communication allows each team member to wrestle back control of their time and respond to messages on their own terms.
Allows for collaboration
Asynchronous communication makes it easy for teams to work together. To collaborate effectively, you need time alone. That might sound counterintuitive, but if you trust in the idea of deep work, then you’ll understand why.
When you rely on asynchronous communication, you don’t have to stop what you’re doing every time a team member has an issue to raise or a comment to make. Instead, you carve out time to check important messages and emails in a way that doesn’t interrupt your flow.
Discourages meeting fatigue
We’ve all been there: You come out of your third meeting of the day feeling exhausted — if not physically, then mentally.
You’ve sat quietly and taken on board more information than you know what to do with, and now you have to somehow muster the energy to complete the work on your plate.
With asynchronous communication, you don’t need to expose yourself to frequent meetings that drain your energy reserves and leave you feeling depleted.
Enables thoughtful responses
When you talk to someone over the phone or on a video call, you aren’t always getting thoughtful, considered responses. Social anxiety can interfere with one’s ability to express themselves succinctly, and it’s easy to get caught up in the conversation, lose your train of thought, or be interrupted by someone else.
With asynchronous communication, you have all the time in the world to conjure up a well-thought-out response.
Creates a true record
Transparency is imperative with most projects, as there are many stakeholders and superiors that will want to know every detail of how things went down.
With asynchronous communication, you create an ongoing transcript that documents project progress from start to finish and includes each team member’s input.
Allows for better control
With asynchronous communication, you can control the direction of a project with just a few comments and messages.
If you’re in charge of a project’s success, you can micromanage effectively with asynchronous communication. You can add a few comments to a team member’s written draft to allow them to make the necessary changes quickly or include client feedback in your central hub of information.
Disadvantages of asynchronous communication
For all its upsides, there are disadvantages to asynchronous communication, too.
Lack of spontaneity
Sometimes, you need to get someone’s attention immediately. Asynchronous communication isn’t the vehicle for eliciting rapid responses.
It could be that the budget has been pulled on the project, rendering any further work on it redundant. Maybe there’s an external event (such as the outbreak of COVID-19) that threatens to change the way you and your team work. You may simply need to react to client feedback to submit work for the next day, and you don’t have any time to lose.
Lack of team culture
Communicating exclusively via messaging platforms and email can become tedious. It can create rifts between teams, as it’s easy to forget there’s a person behind every message.
One of the most significant concerns of the post-COVID work environment is that team members can feel more isolated without in-person interaction — this can even lead to burnout in the long run.
As such, it’s wise to implement some synchronous communication, so your team can interact freely from time to time and benefit from face-to-face conversation.
Lack of face-to-face problem resolutions
Sometimes nuance is difficult to communicate with a text, message, or email. Text is easy to misinterpret, so you risk making an issue even worse with asynchronous communication.
For conflict resolution and major incidents that affect several team members, it’s worth meeting in person or hopping on a video call to talk through possible solutions.
Tips for making asynchronous communication work
Asynchronous communication can be slow and time-consuming, or it can elevate your team’s productivity levels to new heights. To ensure it does the latter for you and your team, here are some tips for making it work:
Collaborating as part of a team requires strong communication, which isn’t achieved by chance. To create solid communication lines, you need to outline your expectations for the team from the outset, in accordance with your company culture.
Say, for example, you have a new project come through the pipeline. Answer the following questions early on:
- When should team members provide updates on what they’ve accomplished?
- How often will you have check-ins with the whole team?
- Is it necessary to keep everyone in the loop regarding changes or edits you’ve made or just a couple of people?
When you’re not speaking in real time often, it’s wise to be as transparent as possible with your team and any potential stakeholders on the project.
The minute you’ve finished task A, for instance, you can timestamp it with a comment, message, or email. That way, you can create a timeline for progress, and everyone on the project can stay up to date.
Ensure clear goals
With asynchronous communication, you want to work towards clear goals. Otherwise, you might feel as if your coworkers have fallen off the face of the earth due to the long periods of radio silence.
Make sure you establish from day one what you’re working toward, so everyone can be on the same page as to how to contact one another, when to do so, and how much information to include.
Build trust between teams
Trust is a prerequisite of effective asynchronous communication.
Without it, you might not believe that the recipient of your message or comment will be able to interpret the meaning and act upon the message accordingly.
Respect time zones
When you reach out to a coworker in a different time zone, you won’t always receive an immediate response. As such, it’s important to respect everyone’s office hours and personal response times.
Set reasonable response times
It isn’t realistic to expect team members to respond within a few minutes of receiving a message, especially if you want them to engage in deep work. Make it clear from the start of any project how often you expect your team to check for messages.
Why use Wrike as your asynchronous communication tool?
A collaborative work management tool like Wrike can help improve asynchronous communication at your company. With Wrike, you can reach all of your team members, regardless of location, and communicate with them effectively.
Beyond just sending an email or message, you can contact your team members according to context with Wrike. If your message pertains to a specific project, you can add a comment to a task within that project, for example.
You can also optimize your messages by sending them as voice commands or smart replies using Wrike’s advanced communication tools, capturing all the nuance you wish to communicate.
Full project management transparency means you and your team can instantly check up on a project or task’s progress, while stakeholders can quickly assess your work.
The actionable meeting notes template streamlines the note-taking process and provides universal access to the notes as soon as you’ve finished writing them. From there, the team can come up with an action plan and create tasks to propel you towards project completion.
Meanwhile, the communication plan template gives you a framework for establishing communication lines for a major project, keeping everyone updated.
Are you curious to discover how Wrike can improve asynchronous communication in your team and beyond? Sign up for a free two-week trial and find out why two million+ users trust Wrike.