Asynchronous communication isn’t anything new — think about how handwritten letters were a common form of communication generations ago — but with the proliferation of new tools that support both written and oral communication methods, it’s getting easier, faster, and more interactive than ever before. As a result, more teams are prioritizing asynchronous communication to get the job done.
Here’s what you need to know about how embracing asynchronous communication will make you a more effective and efficient communicator.
What is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication (async communication for short) may sound like a techy buzzword, but it simply refers to any type of communication that occurs when there’s a lag between when the sender imparts information and when the recipient digests it (as opposed to synchronous communication, also known as real-time communication). In other words, it's ideal for messages that don't require an immediate response.
We all use asynchronous communication both at and outside of work: emails, text messages, Slack exchanges, social media posts, voice notes, and video messages are all examples of asynchronous communication.
3 benefits of asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication often comes up in conversations around remote work, remote teams, and the future of work, but co-located and distributed teams alike can benefit from it. Below are three of the top reasons why we at Loom advocate for asynchronous communication at work.
1. Asynchronous communication is flexible
Everyone faces the same dilemma at work: How do you foster collaboration, culture-building, and transparency, but also budget enough focus time during the day to actually get work done?
Most of us try to find balance by squeezing our focus time into those small pockets when our calendars are actually clear. But the constant gear shifting can make it difficult to regain focus — it only takes 20 minutes to feel significantly stressed after an interruption at work — and time spent in synchronous meetings adds up quickly. In fact, 15% of a company’s time is spent in meetings, and it seems like that number is only increasing over time as more of us adapt to remote work (and the virtual meetings that come with it) due to COVID-19.
Because it doesn’t require all parties to be present, asynchronous communication can help you keep the conversation going on your own time, which means fewer interruptions in your workday and more time to do deep work. In other words, relying more on asynchronous communication can help you build synchronous meeting time around your focus time, instead of the other way around. You can still keep an entire organization on the same page, deliver and solicit feedback, and provide and receive team-wide updates, and share metrics without having to constantly hop in and out of meetings or schedule Zoom calls across different time zones.
Of course, there are times when real-time, synchronous communication is the best way to deliver your message, such as a brainstorming session.
If you’re unsure which type of communication to use, remember this tip: When you don’t need the recipient’s input right away, then you can (and should) communicate your thoughts or ideas asynchronously.
Similarly, when you would benefit from gathering your thoughts before socializing a response, it’s probably best to opt for asynchronous communication.
2. Asynchronous communication makes you a better communicator
Among the major causes of workplace stress is poor social support, lack of participation in decision making, and unclear management, all of which essentially boil down to ineffective communication. It comes as no surprise, then, that 76% of workers want more communication tools available to them in the future. Using tools that allow for flexible communication will only improve your workplace communication.
While synchronous communication methods are quite limited given their real-time nature (in-person meetings, video calls, and phone calls), asynchronous communication methods are more varied and can carry more nuance, which can help accommodate different communication styles.
For example, when you can get your thoughts across sufficiently with text, an email or text message might be appropriate communication channels. If facial expressions, tone of voice and other nonverbal cues will enhance your message, you might benefit from sending a video message.
You can express yourself in more subtle yet effective ways through asynchronous channels, too. For example, Slack and Loom also allow for emoji reactions, which add another dimension to your communication.
Depending on which medium you choose to deliver your message, asynchronous communication can help you to embrace your vulnerability and build trusting relationships with your teammates in the same way synchronous communication does. In fact, many of our daily standups and other recurring meetings have been replaced by asynchronous tools, and we've enhanced our workflows with project management tools like Asana and collaboration tools like Notion to keep our work moving forward.
3. Asynchronous communication is efficient
Asynchronous communication produces higher-quality, better planned responses. As a result, it gets you in the habit of self-editing to get your point across faster, which will serve you well even during synchronous time. Because you can rely on asynchronous communication for updates that don’t require feedback, you can focus your synchronous time on anything that requires more active engagement (e.g., asking and answering questions, advance preparation for future collaborations, working through issues together, and generating ideas), which can lead to higher productivity.
As an added bonus, asynchronous communication also creates a record that can be referenced later on, so you’re never left wondering what was said or how something was phrased, reducing back-and-forth and need for clarification. Having streamlined communication channels can prevent and remove bottlenecks more easily and help you push projects forward with confidence, all while respecting you and your recipient’s time.
Embracing asynchronous communication leads to better work outcomes overall
Asynchronous communication, be it in the form of text, voice, or video, keeps conversations moving along even when your recipient isn’t present. Defaulting to asynchronous communication whenever possible allows you to spend less time just trying to stay afloat between meetings and more time creating impactful work.