Why Asynchronous Communication Is The Future

In the current situation, COVID-19 has forced companies around the world to impose or create a remote work protocol. This is the opportunity for us to take the challenge and improve our communication better.

Most of the companies in the world have now turned into an industry that demands creativity for each of its individual employees. That creativity will help solve problems faced by the company and achieve company goals. Creativity needs time and space. Therefore, the company must build a supportive culture so that each individual can give a high contribution.

Communication is an important key to how each creative individual can work together creatively to achieve company goals. So the question is what kind of communication is effective to empower creative people?

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication

In synchronous communication, many parties participate at the same time and they wait for each others’ reply. The example is conversations in a group chat or video call. The information and response in this kind of communication are all real-time.

The benefit of a group chat or video call is it can do everything very fast. However, when a group chat or video call become the main communication method in an organization, it would lead to:

#1 — Lack of context.

When things are discussed in the group chat, the only separator is time. The discussion has no context, so it will be difficult to understand if you don’t follow along.

#2 — The number of participants is limited.

If there are more than seven participants, there are limited opportunities for each participant to actively participate in the discussion. It’s about accommodating the maximum amount of information that we can process and react to in a short amount of time. In fact, the human brain has a fairly natural limit. This is called Miller’s law.

#3 — ASAP culture.

Because everything is done so quickly in real-time, communication is about now. In the end, everything becomes a priority.

#4 — Fear of missing out.

If you don’t pay attention all the time, you won’t be able to say anything when something comes up. In contrast, if you pay attention all the time, it will be consuming your time and attention.

#5 — Fatigue and mental fatigue.

Following group chats or video calls, all day feels like being in an all-day meeting with random participants without an agenda. So finally it takes extra time to do the work.

On the other hand, asynchronous communication is different. The main communications are writing and reading, so the responses don’t need to be real-time. For example, you write a message to your team so they know the things you want to achieve during the day. Then, a teammate will read and reply to your message at a different time when they are ready.

That does not mean synchronous communication is not needed as there are things that might be emergencies. It’s just not being the default. Therefore, it creates space and attention for things that really need to be discussed and allows all other things to be discussed thoroughly asynchronously.

Because asynchronous communication does not require real-time, the benefit is people can focus more on work creatively without being constantly interrupted. They have the opportunity to think twice when making the decision or responding to messages. Moreover, every discussion, document, file, assignment, and important date is recorded automatically.

To communicate asynchronously is not easy as changes in processes, habits, and culture are needed. Here are some concrete steps you can take, both as individual and team leader:

#1 — Writing is a must.

Everyone needs to be a writer to communicate anything with others. This will reduce unnecessary meetings that could spend a lot of time and help work get done faster.

#2 — Plan ahead and set an expected time as much as possible.

Write about what you want to do or your expectations and give a clear estimate of time as much as possible. This will reduce back and forth communication.

#3 — Make transparency a priority.

Write the priority of every project or task that you need to do and communicate it to the relevant team. This will reduce silos between teams.

#4 — Summarize the updates.

Everyone needs to write and share updates of projects or tasks to the relevant team. By doing this, each member of the relevant team will be able to follow what is happening just by reading directly.

#5 — Emphasize trust and accountability to the team.

Provide time and space for each individual in the team to complete the task. This will reduce micro-managing.

#6 — Synchronous communication could be a channel for emergencies.

Sometimes, shit happens. So use this channel wisely.

Tools for Asynchronous Communication

In the technological era like nowadays, many tools have been offered to support communication in organizations or groups. From my experience, the most helpful tool to help asynchronous communication is Basecamp. Let me know if there are other good tools out there.

Final Words

In practice, it will be difficult because there are many leaders out there who would like to have group chats or video calls as they can get in and out quickly and talk to many people at once. However, there are many employees out there who sweat all day trying to get involved all the time. They can’t stop thinking about working overtime and having constant interruptions coming during the workday. This is a real problem.

To fix this problem, it must start from the commitment of the organization or group because no matter how good the communication tools, it will not be effective if there is no commitment. Therefore, the role of a leader is very important in this situation to create an environment that supports asynchronous communication.

Stay safe and healthy for the leaders, the future is in your hands :)

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