Async vs Sync communication at work

In the previous chapter we explained what async communication is and how to differentiate it from sync communication. We would like to analyse how this translates into your workspace, so you can easily understand when to use each.

In general, we can group company meetings by their purpose. You should be able to map all your day-to-day communication in any of these buckets. For each kind of meeting, we will explain the pros and cons of running them asynchronously.

Types of meetings

Meetings are extremely important at work. They are the main contact point with your peers. Meetings let you sync up, align, mentor, find issues or solutions. They enable your day-to-day tasks. Because of their importance, communication easily ends up predating your productive hours. You end up being blocked by the tool which was supposed to unlock your work. That’s why it’s really important to identify types of meetings and book sync up time for those that truly require it.

In general we can identify up to 6 kinds of meetings

Information sharing

Presentations, seminars, keynotes…These kinds of meetings are meant to share information with the attendees. Depending on the format, they can be mostly unidirectional with a low engagement. The listeners just need to sit down, and get information from the speaker.

These meetings tend to be tedious and boring, as normally one person shares information with many stakeholders. The presenter needs some visual support to keep the audience engaged. Historically, they have been shared in the shape of presentations. Unless there is some value in keeping the group together while the meeting happens, these meetings don’t need to be synchronous.

If you do them asynchronously, make sure you provide some visual information so that the participant is engaged with the content.

Status updates

Probably the most common meeting in your calendar. These meetings are meant to keep workmates updated with the latest progress of the project. If you follow agile methodologies, you most likely have daily stand-ups. If you work with different teams, you probably have some weekly catch-ups with others. These meetings tend to have a fixed structure, with three main topics in the agenda:

  • Progress done
  • Next steps
  • Problems found along the day

Just like information sharing meetings, status updates tend to get boring quickly. Not all information shared is valuable for everyone, so they need to be brief and to the point. Since these meetings are usually not interactive, they are really good candidates to be executed asynchronously.

If done asynchronously, it’s really important to make sure that the information can be consumed easily. The engagement can drop quickly if the listener finds herself drowning in irrelevant information.

Problem solving

This kind of meeting is held whenever a team needs to find the cause, and potential solutions for a specific issue. Not all are meant to solve high pressure issues, sometimes they are more strategic and less tactical. In any case, it’s also important to stick to a fixed agenda. Cassette recommends the following:

  • What was the cause of the issue?
  • What can we do to solve or minimize the issue?
  • How can we prevent it from happening again?

It’s extremely important to come up with a set of actions, deadlines and areas of responsibility as a goal, so you can track progress and make sure that short and long-term solutions are implemented.

If the issue requires to be addressed quickly, asynchronous communication won’t help. As we explained before, meetings that require a high bandwidth should happen in-sync to maximise the amount of information being shared.

For more strategic discussions, we recommend carrying these asynchronously. In these types of meetings, it’s key to have input from everyone. Usually stakeholders will have different visions, or pieces of information that need to be shared to “complete the puzzle”. Running these meetings asynchronously allows every participant to properly gather information about the issue, listen and plan.. The output is usually a more complete solution.

Decision-making

Decision-making meetings are run whenever the team needs to agree on a solution among a set of options.. Examples might include choosing the best tool for your team, agreeing on a plan, or deciding which candidate would fit the role best..

Similarly to problem solving meetings, decision-making is often best run asynchronously unless there is a tight deadline..

The success of this meeting will heavily depend on preparation. There are some important points that the host needs to take into account when running these meetings:

  • Will this decision impact many different teams/people within the organisation? If not, can we avoid this meeting by delegating the decision to the most informed or experienced team member?
  • Is there any option that can be checked beforehand without any big effort? If you can try any option and rollback if you are not satisfied, then consider if it should be kept as an object of debate or not.
  • Can you provide all the content needed to make a fully informed decision? Make sure it’s the case.
  • Is everyone’s opinion equally valid or do you have some experts that should be taken more into account? Set the expectations in your team beforehand to avoid potential conflicts. It’s very important that everyone feels they’ve been listened to and considered, so they have contributed to the final decision.
  • Do you need consensus or do you allow disagreements to the final decision? Again, set the right expectations

Innovation

The meetings where the magic happens. These meetings help refining parts of your product or service, or coming up with new brilliant ideas for them. The most important thing about innovation meetings is to keep everyone engaged with the topic, focused and that they feel they have the freedom to propose. Do not close any door, let everyone express their ideas and encourage out of the box thinking. Just like with decision making meetings, everyone should feel they have contributed by the time it finishes. Also, to avoid frustration, set the right expectations about how the ideas are going to be used.

These meetings are better run synchronously, as they require a high information bandwidth and a quick exchange of ideas. They can also be run in really funny ways, helping the team coming together and aligning them.

Team building

We often see teams making use of normal meetings as “team building meetings”. Especially with remote teams, where the office space is removed and so those face to face moments are lost, we need to allocate time for personal contact. Team building does not mean to see each other. Neither talking about product issues.

The best way to make use of synchronous time is precisely to create personal spaces for your team members. Spaces where they can talk about their lives, their concerns, their hobbies… A team stand-up will help them align at a professional level, but won’t automatically help you build a team.

In Cassette, we recommend teams to move status updates meetings to async as much as possible. And whenever possible, replace that sync-up time with team building meetings. Water cooler conversations, team coffees…let them happen outside of a normal meeting space and see how your team starts creating personal bonds.

Cassette. Structured async meetings for teams

Unlock your schedule with Cassette

Cassette is a free multiplatform app created to disrupt the broken meeting culture using voice notes. We believe that asynchronous work should unlock your schedule and bring back your own time. Cassette provides you an easy way to produce voice messages and consume them efficiently. It enhances meetings by adding structure such as agenda, due date and reactions.

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Cassette Co-Founder

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Sergi Gonzalez

Sergi Gonzalez

Cassette Co-Founder

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