Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: All You Need to Know
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Effective communication is taking center stage as remote work becomes the new normal.
Strong communication creates facilitates organization, empathy, and understanding. And a McKinsey report shows improved communication could raise the productivity of team members by 20 to 25 percent.
In the remote world, healthy and open communication hinges on which tools you use (and how you use them). One dilemma for remote teams is the question of synchronous vs. asynchronous communication: is one better than the other? When should you use either method? The trick is to understand when each method is appropriate and strive for a healthy balance.
Learn more about the differences between these two styles, their pros and cons, best practices, and a list of the best communication tools for remote teams.
What is synchronous communication?
Synchronous communication is live, real-time communication when two or more people exchange information and messages simultaneously. These real-time interactions can be in-person or virtual, scheduled or impromptu.
The most common examples of synchronous communication are:
- Face-to-face meetings
- Video calls via Zoom
- One-on-one or conference phone calls
- Team meetings and company all-hands
- Lunch and coffee break chats
- Office drop-bys
What is asynchronous communication?
Asynchronous communication refers to non-simultaneous communication: asynchronous messages lag between sending and responding. Asynchronous communication is often unscheduled and never occurs in person.
Examples of asynchronous communication:
- Text messaging (SMS) via mobile devices
- Direct mail
- Pre-recorded video messages
- Notes in project management tools (like Basecamp, Asana, and Trello)
- Instant messaging via any app or communication medium (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or WhatsApp)
Some tools, like Slack, fuse asynchronous and synchronous communication. Slack calls itself a real-time communication tool because people tend to use Slack messages to chat back-and-form on the app. But Slack also doesn’t require an immediate response, making it async as well.
The difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication
The critical difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication is when a specific interaction starts and ends. Synchronous communications have a clear beginning and end: you’re either on the phone (or in the meeting), or you’re not.
Asynchronous communication is less contained. You might receive an email and take a few days to find information and formulate an answer. Sometimes, this delay is a pain. Other times, it’s necessary to work across time zones and allow a team to focus on non-communication work.
Pros and cons of synchronous communication
Synchronous communication is dynamic, but it's not particularly time zone-friendly and can easily become a drain on your team.
Benefits of synchronous communication
It is immediate. Synchronous communication is ideal for answering a particular issue right away. Also, brainstorming meetings are more effective when organized in real-time because they allow for constructive back-and-forth, where teams can quickly springboard off one another’s ideas. Finally, it is instrumental in a crisis when an immediate response is necessary.
It builds connections between team members. Virtual or in-person, synchronous communication is a valuable tool to build a close-knit culture. In addition, synchronous communication enables in-depth interactions, helping employees develop a sense of belonging–one of the main reasons people stay with a company.
It allows more in-depth interactions. Synchronous communication allows teams to get more in-depth with a specific matter, ask follow-up questions, and bounce ideas off each other. Live discussions are ideal when you need to resolve a particular problem immediately.
Disadvantages of synchronous communication
On some occasions, synchronous communication causes more harm than good.
Too many meetings can harm efficiency and lead to Zoom fatigue. Since the pandemic hit, companies have embraced the convenience of video conferencing platforms like Zoom. Some have gone a bit too far, causing their employees to waste valuable time on meetings that could have been an email. All day on video calls causes mental exhaustion, known as Zoom fatigue. In February 2021, Stanford University researchers published an article breaking down Zoom fatigue scientifically.
It’s difficult to coordinate meetings across time zones: Distributed teams often include employees working in different countries and time zones, complicating scheduling. Your window for calls shrinks the more spread out you are, and some employees may have to take calls early in the morning or late at meetings.
Pros and cons of asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication offers flexibility but lacks a sense of immediacy.
Benefits of asynchronous communication
Asynchronous communication took center stage during the pandemic, and most companies have continued using it because of its benefits.
It provides flexibility. Async communication enables people to organize their workday more efficiently. They are not pulled out of deep work and into pre-set meetings. Instead, they can focus on their work and respond to messages when it's most convenient for them.
It allows more time to think about the message. Your first answer isn’t always the best answer. Asynchronous communication allows the recipient to reread the message and take the time to craft a thoughtful response.
Time zone differences don't limit interaction: Unlike synchronous communication, asynchronous communication is time zone-friendly: teams don’t have to waste time coordinating and attending meetings, especially at odd hours.
Asynchronous communication downsides
Despite the freedom it offers, asynchronous communication has certain limitations.
It lacks the human touch. Most asynchronous communication lacks facial expressions, body language, and tone. Regardless of how good someone is in written communication, sometimes it's challenging to determine a deeper context because we can't read people's tone or emotions.
Responses can be delayed or forgotten: Async communication requires respondents to remember which messages they’ve received, read, and must respond to. People sometimes forget to respond promptly–or at all.
Synchronous vs. asynchronous communication: which one to choose
For most teams, the answer is a combination of both. You want to balance your use of synchronous and asynchronous communication to fit your team, your line of work, and the particular situation.
When it makes sense to use sync communication
Simultaneous interactions help you address issues immediately and nurture interpersonal communication. Use a sync communication style for:
- One-on-one meetings
- Discussing sensitive topics
- Explaining complex topics
- Problem-solving sessions
- Strategy-building sessions
- Onboarding check-ins
When to use async communication
Asynchronous communication prevents unnecessary interruptions and helps employees stay focused. In addition, it enables more flexibility, giving more freedom and autonomy to team members to match working hours with their work style.
It is best to use it when:
- You don't need immediate feedback
- You want to connect with someone in a different time zone
- You need to provide context prior to or after a live event
- You respond to a message you received through async communication
- You want to share a message with a group of people who can't get together at the same place at the same time.
Video messaging: a bridge between synchronous and asynchronous communication
Video messaging is an async communication form involving the exchange of short video messages. It resembles instant messaging (sending/receiving short text messages) but with video instead of text.
Recipients don't need to be online when you send the message to consume it. You can create a video and send it whenever convenient for you, and recipients will consume and respond to it at their own pace.
Video has the edge over text because it allows you to capture facial expressions, gestures, and voice. It gives your message a human touch and additional context typical for sync communication.
Considering people talk faster than they type, video messaging allows you to deliver information quickly. In addition, video messaging enables you to share complex and nuanced ideas without feeling pressure to type out a digestible novel.
Best practices for synchronous communication
The type of communication you choose is only effective if you use it correctly.
Create and share an agenda
If you want an upcoming meeting to be successful, define its purpose and set an agenda upfront. Make it clear to employees why the topic warrants a meeting and what the end-goal of the meeting is.
In addition, when creating an agenda, include talking points, expected outcomes, and additional notes to help employees prepare for it. A well-thought-out plan ensures everyone comes prepared, so no time is wasted and the meeting’s mission is accomplished.
Start with small talk
Real-time communication enables you to build rapport with your team, whether you manage on-site or remote workers.
That’s why you should open every meeting with small talk, asking your employees whether they want to share something exciting from their private life or any work-related concern you can help them resolve.
Remember, the key to healthy employer-employee communication revolves around transparency, respect, mutual trust, and understanding. It is a path to building a company culture your team resonates with.
If some team members can't attend a meeting, consider recording it and sending it to them to keep them up to date. They can always pitch in with their feedback or input asynchronously.
Also, every video is a valuable resource you can reference in future meetings and use to recapitulate past actions and events and revise decisions.
Best practices for async communication
Be clear, concise, and detailed
Asynchronous communication requires transparency and conciseness. However, be as detailed as possible because the receiver won’t have the opportunity to immediately get clarification if your message is confusing. Try to boil down each message to a single takeaway and put that at the top, so the core point of the message is never lost.
Help your team get organised
It may take some time for employees to get used to async communication and the liberty to respond to inquiries at their own pace. Therefore, motivate them to create their work schedule and assure them there are no penalties for not responding to a colleague’s message immediately.
However, to avoid delays and misuse of this perk, set clear expectations, whether on a general or per-project basis, to ensure every employee knows how to divide tasks by priority and complete them within a defined time frame.
Choose the best asynchronous communication tools
Asynchronous communication depends on the company's tech stack. Different communication channels are available nowadays in the market. Here are the top communication tools for remote teams:
- Slack is one of the most used communication apps. The list of features includes file-sharing and one-line messaging. In addition, it can use different integrations and plug-ins, allowing users to create separate channels. It's easy to install, and many teams use it as their virtual headquarters, where they mainly integrate tools and share files.
- Microsoft Teams offers similar options as Slack. However, as one of the most collaborative tools, it is primarily used for managing day-to-day tasks, including meeting scheduling and back-and-forth communication. It also allows users to create separate channels. As a result, it is ideal for teams that already use other Microsoft products.
- Basecamp 3 is one of today's most popular project management tools. It is a perfect solution for medium to large teams with a handful of ongoing tasks and projects, ensuring seamless workflow. Both in-house and remote teams use it for chat and messaging, task and document management, file sharing, and milestone tracking.
- Loom is a video messaging tool that allows you to simultaneously record your microphone, camera, and desktop. Once created, your video is available to share via Loom's patented technology.
- Voice recording solutions are ideal when you need to take notes. Most video recording tools today are easy to install, so once you have it on your smartphone, plug in a mick and start recording. You can also use it to share information with a colleague in a different zone with whom you can't organize a phone or a video call with them.
Use Deel to expand your international team while you focus on communication
Finding the right communication tools and principles is only one of the challenges you may face when building an international team. You'll also need to keep up with different local labor laws, taxes, and mandatory employee benefits for each country.
Luckily, Deel keeps up with it all for you.
Deel lets you hire anyone, anywhere in the world, within minutes. Plus, you can rest assured legal experts vet your contracts to be completely compliant, so your new hires are set up to work correctly in no time.
Want to learn how it all works? Book a demo today to find out.