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Synchronous vs Asynchronous Communication: Complete Guide For Remote Teams

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

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Communication: Complete Guide For Remote Teams

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Some experts tell that asynchronous communication is the future of the work. Other leaders say that we can’t refuse synchronous communication. Who’s right? 

In this article, you will find a complete guide on different ways of team communication and practical examples. 

Here are the main topics of the article:

The main goal of this article is to give you best practices and examples of effective communication to increase productivity in your team.

The story about Mike

To understand better what should you use, let me tell you a short story. 

Meet Mike – a software developer in a tech company. He is a nice guy who loves to solve interesting projects.

Developer picture

He should deploy a new feature today – create a new onboarding process. He started to work on it in the morning. He is closed to complete the first piece of work – creating a database structure. 

At that moment, Mary is calling him.

Girl photo

She asks Mike to extend the plan to one of the clients who want to test their product before payment. It doesn’t take a lot of time and Mike helps. Mary is happy. 

Mike comes back to his main work. It takes some time to remember his last step and the main issue he tried to solve. 

He doesn’t manage to finish the first part of work because of the team meeting at noon. He jumps on a Zoom call to discuss current challenges with the engineering team.  

The meeting takes more time than he expected. He plans to continue his work after lunch. 

Fortunately, he finishes the database structure after lunch. It’s time to write backend logic for the new feature. 

Suddenly his manager Derrick is calling him. Their main clients requested to develop the new feature and it’s the main priority now. Erick explains to him how it should work and asks him when Mike will finish the current task to start working on this new feature.

Mike has a new deadline to finish the initial task. Anxiety is growing because he understands that he will not deploy the new onboarding in a time-bound manner. He is still working on the second part of this feature.

He tried to learn more about time management but it didn’t help him. He often doesn’t complete his work in a time-bound manner.

The end of the story. 

Communication challenges for remote teams

The real problem with Mike is not his time management skills. It’s about communication. 

Remote teams are facing main communication challenges:

  • Loneliness and lack of human interaction. It’s not a direct communication challenge. However, it’s important to mention that if you don’t have a lot of friends or family members, it’s easy to feel isolated. 

How to solve it? 

If you feel lonely, try to work from cafes or cowering spaces. Also, participate in different evening events to meet new people. 

  • Interruptions: coworkers, family, pets, etc. 
    It’s mostly the problem of synchronous communication. And we will talk about it later.
  • Misunderstanding. 
    Remote work requires extra communication. It’s easy to misunderstand what your coworkers said in a messenger.

How to solve it?

Clarifying everything. Be proactive in speaking up. And make it a habit in your team.

  • Wrong communication processes 

Marcelo Lebre wrote a great article on why companies should be working asynchronously 

Usually, companies work synchronously where you do everything step by step. The main bottleneck of the waterfall process defines by the weakest part. Total speed depends on the speed of the slowest process in the workflow. 

Synchronous planning
Synchronous planning: Marcelo Leber’s article

It’s the waterfall way of product development. To finish the work, a team should complete 3 projects step by step (A, B, C).

He showed that by separating tasks A, B, and C in (A1, A2, A3, B1, etc.) they achieved three times as many deploys as in the previous example. This methodology allows them to multiplex tasks, combining them to produce results faster.

Async planning
Separating tasks

And the communication was a crucial part of their improvement at work. Meetings are one of the expensive tools in the company and you should use them wisely. 

Synchronous communication
Synchronous communication

And here is the common way of communication in a remote team. Developers are distracted in the meeting and real-time communication. As the result, their productivity is low.

Async communication
Asynchronous communication

In this example, communication is based on good documentation and text answers. It increases efficiency.

Let’s talk about 2 types of communication.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous communication

In the world of remote work, there are 2 types of communication: 

  • Synchronous communication
  • Asynchronous communication

Let’s talk about each of the ways of communication.

What is synchronous communication?

Synchronous communication – real-time communication when you expect to get an answer at the same moment in time. It’s a usual way to communicate for many companies. Think about meetings and calls. 

Synchronous communication examples

  • Live meetings
  • Phone call
  • Zoom, Skype, etc
  • Messengers when you reply in real-time

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication – when you send the message and don’t expect to get an immediate answer. Think about email. 

Asynchronous communication examples

  • Email
  • Ticket in help desk system
  • Project management tools: Basecamp, Asana, Trello, etc
  • Messengers: Slack, Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Teams, Telegram, WhatsApp, etc (the worst example for async communication because people still is waiting for a fast answer in the messenger)
  • Focus (for status updates, stands, 1:1 meetings, etc)

The main difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication is the response time. 

Pros and cons of synchronous communication

Pros

  • Fast replies. Real-time communication allows us to get answers almost instantly.
  • Deep communication. You can communicate deeply and understand better your partner.
  • Build emotional rapport. Messages and emails can’t build strong connections like a real-time conversation.

Cons

  • Continuous distraction. Any brainwork requires high concentration and focus. There were a lot of researches on this topic – how much time do we need to get back to work after distraction. Numbers are different, but the result is the same. It takes a lot of time and our energy to get back to work and repair the previous level of productivity. 
  • As the result, it increases stress. The person achieves less when teammates distract him/her during the workday. We spend more energy to make up for a lost time. Usually, it increases the level of stress. And it leads us to burnout.
  • It takes a lot of time. Meetings are an expensive tool for a company. Especially, team meetings with 4 and more participants. 
  • Reducing the quality of conversations and answers. During a call or a meeting, sometimes you don’t have enough time to think deeply about the best answer. As there result, you make not the best solutions.

Synchronous communication works great for:

  • Brainstorm or creative work. Synchronous communication is great for teamwork when you need to brainstorm new ideas.
  • Strategy sessions or problem-solving sessions. Meetings with rapidly changing context where you need the full attention of all participants at the same time.
  • One-on-one meetings. It’s crucial to build an emotional connection to understand all unclear moments on one on one meetings. And synchronous communication is the best way to do it.
  • Sales calls. 
  • Onboarding new employees.

Pros and cons of asynchronous communication

Pros

  • No distraction. Nobody calls you and you can do more focused work. Nobody distracts you during eating another “Pomodoro”. Increase productivity. You better plan the work. Reduce stress.
  • Better answers. You can better formulate thoughts in the written mode. Also, it helps to document processes. Mike would like it.
  • Communication is saved. You can think more before answer. As the result, you get better answers. And it’s written answers that you can use in FAQ then.
  • Better goals. Asynchronous communication requires thinking twice and better formulate goals or tasks. 
  • You can work from different time zones and it’s not necessary to be in the same place.  

Cons

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

Asynchronous communication works great for:

  • Daily check-ins and weekly updates
  • FYIs and process documentation
  • Meeting about meeting
  • Status updates
  • Feedback requests
  • Polls 

Best practices for synchronous communication

Prepare agenda

Good agenda is 50% of a successful meeting. Align everyone before the meeting by created a clear agenda. Everyone should be on the same page and understand why you meet and what you want to achieve at the end of the meeting.

Ask feedback

Ask for instant feedback after the meeting. What can you improve? It’s a good time to understand what you can improve by asking for feedback. 

Build personal connection

Focus on personal connection. Real-time communication allows building strong emotional rapport. Use it. Don’t waste your time and build strong relationships with your team.

Best practices for asynchronous communication

Plan and prepare

Urgent tasks and things that should have done yesterday are not compatible with asynchronous communication. It’s ok if you have a rush job. However, it’s not good, if you are always in rush. That’s why it’s crucial to be organized.

Bad exampleGood Example
Hey, are you here? Help! Please send me analytics of the Product that you showed a month ago at the marketing meeting. Hey Mary, I’m creating a presentation for partners about the Product for SMB. 
I’m looking for Product analytics in 2019:
– unique visitors
– amount of orders, average check
Could you please send me it until tomorrow evening? 🙂

Communicate clearly

Formulate each request clear. Your coworkers should have a minimum amount of questions. Add important details. Describe the goal.

BadGood
Hey, let’s discuss what we should do with Confluence. Any ideas? Hey everyone, we need your feedback. 
It depends on how we will spend from $20k to $200k each year.

What does it mean?
For building a productive work environment, including asynchronous communication, we should use new tools. Our current knowledge base is outdated. Obviously, the current solution in Confluence doesn’t work for us. That’s why we are looking for a new tool. Notion is a leader. However, the setup we need will cost $200k per year for our team. 

Your feedback
Does anyone have the experience to work with different knowledge bases or services for storing a company’s information? Please share your experience in threads. Tell us how do you use it.

Formulate meeting summary and be responsible for results

BadGood
Guys, it was awesome! Great brainstorm! Let’s do it!Thanks, everyone. Here is the meeting summary:
– Run Conference in November
– Type: online conference 
– Project manager: Clair
– Budget: $30k
– Marketing: Monica
– How to choose winners: John
– Website: Perry
All discussion about Conference in special channel #Awards21

These tools we use to not distract each other in the team:

  • Focus: for goal setting, daily check-ins, weekly updates, and 1-on-1s meeting
  • Github: to maintain the software
  • Dropbox: for documents and files
  • Google Docs: for documents and spreadsheets
  • Slack: for urgent communication 
  • Zoom: for video calls

How to communicate?

How should you run communication now? You can’t do only synchronous or asynchronous communication. The right answer is the balance.

You should identify things that you want to keep running synchronously. We recommend you keep only these type of synchronous meetings:

  • Sales calls.
  • Brainstorm or creative work.
  • Strategy sessions or problem-solving sessions.
  • One-on-one meetings.
  • Onboarding new employees.

Other things you can run asynchronously.

The ratio between synchronous and asynchronous communications should be 20/80.

How we do it in Focus

Here is our communication workflow in Focus. Quick note, we eat our own dog food and use Focus for several processes. You can use any other tools. The main goal of this example is to show you how you can organize communication in your company.

Quarterly meetings:

  • Setting objectives: Zoom + Focus
    We run several real-time meeting on Zoom to create OKRs and use Focus to save them. You can read more about OKRs here.
  • OKRs Retrospectives: Zoom + Focus
    The same process
  • Quarterly team recaps: Slack
  • Strategy session: Zoom
OKR in Focus
OKR in Focus

Monthly meetings:

  • Monthly team recap and announcements: Slack (+Zoom, if it’s necessary)

Weekly meetings:

  • Weekly updates: Focus
  • 1-on-1 meetings: Zoom + Focus
  • Sales call: Zoom

Daily meetings:

  • Daily check-ins: Focus
Daily check-ins
Daily check-ins in Focus

Occasional meetings: 

  • Brainstorm session: Zoom
  • Urgent meetings: Zoom
  • Onboarding new employee: Zoom

In this article, you can get more guidelines on how to run asynchronous meetings.

Conclusion

Building the right way of communication in the company is crucial. It allows you to achieve more and don’t feel anxiety because of unaccomplished things. Distraction and the lack of the right processes affect not only team productivity but also employee burnout. 

Using tips and examples from this guide, you will be able to improve processes in your company. Set the right habits for synchronous and asynchronous communications to work better. And join Focus to try async check-ins, updates, and other forms of asynchronous communication. 

P.S. All names and events are fictitious. Any coincidences with characters and facts from real life are pure coincidences.

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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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