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Asynchronous Communication: How To Run Meetings

Introduction

Anton Cherkasov

Anton Cherkasov

Anton is a founder of Focus, which is a team management platform. He is also a writer in HackerNoon, The Startup, Good Audience, and other media. Previously Anton has worked in Wildberries (#1 eCommerce store in Russia). He is falling in love with growth hacking, product management, and football.


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Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous Communication: How To Run Meetings

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Asynchronous Communication

Stop wasting your time on team meetings. Asynchronous communication is one of the core principles why remote work is effective. 

A growing number of remote companies last year proved dozens of reports about remote work. Employee productivity increases during work from home. For example, Stanford’s research and Cisco’s study told the same.

Why?

Asynchronous communication.

In this article, we will talk about the most important things that make teams’ communication productive:

  • What is asynchronous and synchronous communications
  • Benefits of asynchronous meetings
  • Why you should focus on asynchronous meetings (and should you do it?)
  • When you should use synchronous communication (and why you can’t eliminate it)
  • 3 steps how to run effective meetings 
  • Examples of meetings for asynchronous and synchronous communication
  • How to balance both types of communication: status meeting example

Seems a lot? Yeah, true. However, it’s a short guide on how to build communication in your team to increase productivity.

Let’s start with the basics.

What’s asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication is a way of communication when you don’t expect to get an immediate answer to your message. For example, email is asynchronous communication.

As opposite, synchronous communication is communication when the recipient is waiting for an immediate answer. The real-time meeting is an example of pure synchronous communication.

However, digital forms of communication might be synchronous too. For example, real-time answering in a messenger becomes synchronous. 

If you want to learn more about both types of communication, you can read our article What is Asynchronous Communication?

Benefits of asynchronous communication?

Better control of the time. As the result, employees are more happier and productive. Employees have almost full control over how to plan their day and schedule. Some of them prefer to work at night, others like to work in the morning. Also, it helps to find a better work-life balance because employees might spend mornings with their children and do work later.

Better quality of communication. Asynchronous communication is slower. However, many companies admit that the quality of communication is higher. People learn to discuss the topic without empty conversations. They have time to think about a question and give a deep and thoughtful answer. 

Better planning = less stress. People learn how to plan like a pro because now they can’t do everything at the last minute. They can’t send ASAP messages to co-workers because response takes time. It leads us to more effective scheduling to complete everything according to the plans. It reduces pressure and the job is done in a better way.

Deep work by default. It’s not necessary to jump on Slack or another communication tool to check messages each hour. Co-workers can check messages 1-3 times per day and get more time for focused work which increases productivity.  

Why should you focus on asynchronous communication?

The benefits of asynchronous meetings speak for themselves. Add to it the cost of synchronous communication and you will get the combo.

According to an article on Inc.com, more than $37 billion is spent on unproductive meetings every year! 

The cost of update meeting

The monthly cost of a weekly status update meeting for a team of 8 people is near $1k.

Duration: 30 minutes
Team: 8 people
Salaries: from $50k to $120k (1 – $50k, 1 -$60k, 3 – $70k, 2 – $90k, 1 – $120k)
The total cost of weekly meeting: $217
Total monthly cost: $868

It means that the cost of weekly update meetings for a team of 8 people is $10k per year. But let’s be honest, this meeting can go more than 30 minutes. 

It’s the main reason why you should eliminate the amount of real-time communication. Peter Arvai, a CEO and Co-founder Prezi, also tells that the async meetings will be the future of work.

Downsides of asynchronous communication

However, asynchronous communication is not ideal, and here are several downsides:

  • Wait to respond
  • Misunderstanding
  • Not so emotional as real-time communication

It shows that you can’t remove sync communication in your process. However, you can balance these two types of communication to be more effective and reduce the amount of stress. 

3 steps how to run meetings in a better way

Step 1: Identify when to start async first

The first step is an understanding type of meetings that really important to keep in real-time mode. And what’s better to use in an asynchronous way. Here are recommendations from GitLab, which we completely agree on. It’s best to avoid real-time meetings for the following items:

  • Status updates
  • FYIs and process documentation
  • Meeting about a meeting

Step 2: Set the agenda and talking points

If you don’t have agenda – you spend the company’s resources to empty meetings. “Jump on a quick call” without agenda might sound good for the participant but it’s counterproductive. 

Always set agenda and talking points that every participant understands the reason for the meeting.

All meetings must have an agenda and a documentarian, enabling everyone to contribute asynchronous regardless of time zone or availability.

Darren Murph, Head of Remote in Gitlab

At Focus, we realized that it’s not necessary to do each morning video standup call. It’s more efficient to run daily check-ins in an asynchronous way. Here is how it looks.

It takes few minutes to answer the main questions. For daily check-ins, you can ask the next items:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you going to do today?
  • Any blockers?

Step 3: To document takeaways 

If you run real-time meetings, don’t forget to document highlights after the meeting. If you do it in an asynchronous way, you have already documented it. Congrats!

The main point is to make takeaways after meeting to sync the team. It will help to be more accountable and productive in the next steps. Paul Axtell recommends doing these 2 things to recap meetings.

Examples of asynchronous and synchronous meetings.

Asynchronous meetings:

  • Daily check-ins
  • Weekly status updates
  • Weekly announcements
  • Monthly updates
  • Quarterly team results recaps and celebrations
  • Project sprints and milestones
  • Backlog refinement
  • New team member introduction
  • Missed deliverable retrospective
  • Alternate times for recurring scheduled meetings (for people who can’t attend synchronous meetings because of different timezones)

Synchronous meetings: 

  • Sales calls
  • Direct reports (1:1 meetings)
  • Celebrations and retrospectives 
  • First-time meetings with external parties
  • First-time meetings with team members who have not previously worked together
  • Difficult decisions for important topics (e.g. when stakes are high)

How to sync a team (daily check-ins case)

Let’s talk about specific use cases. 

How can the team use asynchronous daily standups to sync the team? There are 4 ways of running updates: 

Synchronous

1. Video calls. You can use Zoom, Google Meets, or another software. 

Pros:

  • The main benefit of this way of updates is face-to-face communication. You get real-time statuses in the morning and then go back to work. 

Cons

  • You don’t document your current statuses, which means that you don’t have a history of what you did last week. Don’t have history – you can’t analyze your productivity and find points for improvement. 
  • You spend more time compare with async meetings. Everyone should wait until the end of the meeting. Compare it with async check-ins when everyone answers 3 questions (2-3 minutes) and reads the answers of coworkers. Usually, it takes few minutes because speed reading faster than speed talking.  
  • Less quality of information compares with written updates.
  • Not good for co-workers in different timezones

Asynchronous

2. Manually gather updates in Slack or any other messenger. 

Pros:

  • Free
  • You have written answers, which is much better than only conversations.
  • High quality of answers

Cons:

  • You should remind co-workers who haven’t sent an update
  • Resources for managing it
  • Don’t have analytics (only text answers)
  • Still not good for different timezone because someone should manage this process

3. Special standup bot. It’s a bot that runs standups in Slack or MS Team.

Pros:

  • Hight quality of answers 
  • Written answers
  • Integration with Slack and MS Teams
  • Automate notification and reminders
  • Have analytics
  • Good for different timezones
  • Reports

Cons:

  • Using the whole tool only for this specific process

4. Team management pulse software Focus. 

Pros:

  • Hight quality of answers 
  • Written answers
  • Integration with Slack
  • Automate notification and reminders
  • Have analytics
  • Good for different timezones
  • Connected with 1:1 meetings and goals
  • Keep a history of goals’ progress and daily check-ins
  • Connected with employee development plans
  • Get feedback from employees
  • Running all kind of async meetings
  • Email reports

Cons:

  • New tool (even if it’s simple)
Daily check-ins

Daily check-ins in Focus

How to balance both types of communication for daily check-ins?

Some teams don’t want to run async check-ins because they don’t want to lose personal communication. But status updates meeting is not designed for personal communication. 

How the hell should we run all meetings asynchronously now?

And you will be right – it’s not healthy to stop running synchronous meetings because of 3 main struggles of remote work: disconnecting, loneliness, and communication. You should keep using synchronous meetings but do it wisely.

Here is the better way of running asynchronous daily check-ins and team synchronous meetings:

  1. You run daily check-ins asynchronously (choose one of three methods above you to prefer more)
  2. And now you set group calls for solving key issues and questions if you want to keep the personal connection. Otherwise, you can use async communication even for solving problems. 

In this case, you don’t waste your valuable time gathering updates. You run asynchronous check-ins to gather this information. And now, you spend your time in synchronous meetings for making an important decision or solving problems. This is the most convenient and cost-effective way to run meetings in this case. 

Conclusion

Asynchronous communication still is not a common process for businesses. Many teams prefer to jump on a call to discuss their current statuses or sharing weekly announcements. It’s a legacy they have from the pre-COVID time when inefficiency was a frequent fact for many businesses.

I’m sure that more success will get companies that are ready to change and be more effective in processes. Teams that don’t require employees to be always in touch, allow asynchronous communication, increase the time of focused work. And create self-organized teams where employees are responsible for results. 

We are happy to invite you to this journey.

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Anton Cherkasov

Anton Cherkasov

https://usefocus.co/

Anton is a founder of Focus, which is a team management platform. He is also a writer in HackerNoon, The Startup, Good Audience, and other media. Previously Anton has worked in Wildberries (#1 eCommerce store in Russia). He is falling in love with growth hacking, product management, and football.

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