Asynchronous communication: save yourself from frustration of awaiting a response NOW!
Wohoo, congrats! You've just finished your very first project in your full remote work reality! Great job, both your mother and I are very proud of you. Now one thing that you care about more in this world than being nice to your mother and petting cute puppies is being punctual - so immediately after finishing your job, you send it to your colleague who was supposed to do the other half of this very important and absolutely extraordinary project. Your pal is from India, which makes contacting him while you are sitting in your flat in Vancouver a tad bid difficult, but come on, we are living in the XXI century, remote work is something you both are quite familiar with so it's obvious that, come hell come high water, he will answer your message right away!
Juuust a little bit longer.
Well, maybe he’s away? What the hell is he doing now?
Ok, maybe something happened?
Yeeeah, I don't think he will be responding very soon.
What went wrong?
What our hypothetical remote worker has just experienced is a very common thing among many remote teams - when different time zones (and not only!) all come together, it becomes significantly harder to organise and schedule efficient communication between co-workers. Our dear little pal from India from the example above was without doubt a flawless professional - but when the hero of this story was in the middle of his working hours, his Indian friend was in the middle of well-deserved sleep.
What the main protagonist of our little story expected was synchronous communication - a type of communication in which the opinions and comments are exchanged simultaneously, without having to wait for the other party to answer. The best example of such communication would be a video conference which I have recommended many times as a way of uniting and organising our remote team - other forms include, but are not limited to all sorts of phone calls, video calls and live chats. Then again, such a video conference, especially while working across different time zones, may require some really tricky organising and scheduling, and even then it may turn out that while we are just drinking our second coffee around 2 pm, someone had to stay up late until 1 am to join the call, and someone else had to wake up at 4 am, and quickly bring him or herself to the point of looking at least mildly alive for the meeting. So, while synchronous communication definitely has a part in every - remote or not - company, it has to be applied with caution and care, because while mishandled, just like any other tool - it may cause more harm than good.
If we start expecting our employees to get up or stay up late to take part in an essential meeting with the board, we set them up on a quick road to burning themselves out and losing all kind of motivation, not mentioning all the other problems that will appear in their lives when their job starts to disorganise all other aspects of their daily routines. Some would say that, in order to avoid such problems, we should limit ourselves and build our team only in a handful of time zones, but that is not the point in remote work - one of the most important benefits of working remotely is a possibility to gather talents and professionals from all around the world without having to worry about the prices of travel and/or accommodation in their new workplace. Limiting ourselves to only a small part of the world may lead to our company missing out on some great and passionate workers, and that may very well be the cause for staying behind our more open-minded competitors.
Let's get asynchronous
On the other side of the board, we have the synchronous communication's absolute opposite and main star of this article, namely asynchronous communication, which, unlike its more sophisticated and traditional sibling, doesn't require you to answer right away and will still go on a date night with you even if you do not necessarily reply "I love you too" exactly one minute after it’s been said.
Jokes aside, asynchronous communication consists of all sorts of emails, comments and messages other than live chats. It will certainly prove itself useful when working remotely regardless of the circumstances as it becomes absolutely crucial when we are trying to combine different time zones in our company. It is the only way of communicating that doesn't require scheduling or sacrificing one's daily routine to an unhealthy extent and allows us to cooperate with teammates all around the world. As a matter of fact, we should also apply it in our teams working in the same time zone. I mean, this will save us from unpredictable frustration of awaiting a response NOW and getting suspicious about our teammates not working at all if they don’t reply right away…
While certainly a little bit confusing in the beginning ("What do you mean - HE WON'T answer my message right away?!"), asynchronous communication packs a lot of important benefits, that sometimes will prove useful, and in other cases - may prove to be crucial:
- Working between different time zones - quite an obvious matter - asynchronous communication doesn't require us all to be available at the same time, which allows multinational teams to cooperate without some members having to additionally sacrifice their time and health.
- Avoiding loss of focus - I can safely bet that while reading this article, you have received at least three different notifications from your social media or your work. The first part is not so bad, but the second one? It requires attention - and when you are dividing your attention between constantly checking new messages and working at the same time, you will not be as productive as you can be while remaining uninterrupted. Asynchronous communication allows you to check your messages exactly when you have a time to do so - and while we're at the topic of time...
- Giving yourself time to think - synchronous communication requires you to answer right away, without even a momentarily delay - after all, the person on the other side expects it. While it is understandable in cases of emergency, in some cases it may be more useful to wait a little bit and think about our answer. And that is exactly what asynchronous communication does - it gives you this much needed time to think and consider all aspects of the matter before answering.
- Allowing you to not be online all the time - an incredibly important matter when it comes to our health and maintaining proper work-life balance. While using asynchronous communication and, what is important, having informed all your co-workers about that fact, you can simply switch off of all the communicators and check them during the designated hours, instead of being constantly available and expecting to receive a message at all times.
Not as easy as it seems
While undoubtedly useful, asynchronous communication is just a tool, and like every tool, it provides expected results only when used properly. Let us go through some key matters that you must remember when trying out asynchronous communication:
- The setup of a communication window - it is about saving your time, not cutting off anything work-related completely! When switching to asynchronous communication, it would be wise to set up at least one fixed hour every day when your co-workers can call you or they can expect you to respond to any messages from before. Taking some time off from being online constantly is a sign of respect for yourself but answering and keeping in touch with your co-workers is a sign of respect for them.
- Learning to write - I know, I know, most of you should be past elementary school, and yet you still make the same silly mistakes, sending me a "Hey Nadia" at 7 in the morning followed by NOTHING. If we are thinking seriously about asynchronous communication, we must stop writing those small welcoming messages and preparing to follow up with the main point after someone responds - the other party may very well be unavailable for the next few hours, and even then he won't answer the questions we haven't asked! And that is why our text messages should be few (if we are going to bombard everyone with messages, it ruins the purpose of being asynchronous), but full of content - write exactly what you need, how you need it done and when you would like someone to contact you. And by the way, I guess that one deserves its very own point:
- Don't spam your co-workers - even if you know how to write a correct message, it doesn't mean you should send it in nice little battalions to every co-worker unfortunate enough to be in your team and have an e-mail address - you are writing a message, not commanding at a battlefield, so no need to flood the other side with a full-blown tsunami of content. Limit the number of messages and try to include as much content as possible, so that you get the most out of every sent text or e-mail.
Which one is better?
The correct answer is - none! Both synchronous and asynchronous communication have their well-deserved place in your company. And as it usually is with those kind of completely-different-but-sorta-complementary tools, only by using them together and experimenting with them you may create a truly efficient communication flow in your company. After all, imagine socialising with your teammates by using asynchronous communication - sometimes a little bit of face-to-face talk is not so bad!
 I mean, there is always correspondence chess, but I don't think it's a proper way of socialising during your standard 20-minute lunchbreak...