Async Communication: You Mean Those Things Us Deep Work Folk Already Use And Love?
Async is blooming. But it just reflects the preferences that deep work enthusiasts have had for years.
Since becoming a bit more active on Twitter, I’ve felt more tapped into some of the key debates and trends that are currently shaping the future of the tech industry.
Undoubtedly, there’s an enormous amount of discussion taking place right now about the future of the workplace.
Virtually everybody who has a presence on LinkedIn is already thoroughly familiar with the rough dynamic: some people are cheerleading for a hybrid-first world and others love the idea of never stepping foot in an office again (that’s the fully remote side of the argument). Employees and employers are also often divided about which represents the best way forward.
Another key discussion taking place is about the value of asynchronous communication in facilitating more effective remote work.
The skinny of it is that after a year and a half working from home, many of us have started to realize that endless Zoom meetings — just because it’s easy to set them up — actually represents a major impediment to productivity.
I’m delighted to see that there are many fantastic asynchronous communication tools making it to market. I’m talking about tools like Loom and Yac — to scratch only the very top layer of the surface.
Thanks to the fact that there’s an entire movement of advocates backing these tools, they’re getting plenty of attention.
But I also want to say that for many of us concerned with getting deep work done — the writers and ADHDers of the world, and especially the writers with ADHD! — these tools just reflect something we’ve been trying to do for a long time already.
Email Is The Async Tool We All Stopped Loving (For No Good Reason)
Asynchronous communication refers essentially to any communication method that doesn’t require that both parties participate in real time.
A Zoom meeting isn’t async because you need to interrupt whatever you’re doing in order to participate in the meeting. So, of course, does the other side.
Synchronous communications encourage people to be impatient and to expect reciprocal communication immediately.
And when enough synchronous channels are being used simultaneously in a workplace — say a boatload of Zoom meetings plus WhatsApp plus Slack as the default internal comms stack — it becomes nigh on impossible for any workers to mark out long enough stretches of uninterrupted time to get deep work done. Which is a particular problem for people like me who get paid to concentrate and write things.
The result? A lot of action and a lot of “collaboration” but a deficit of meaningful work. Every day of the week.
What are some other synchronous channels?
People would argue against this point, but I’d make the case that Slack is really intended for synchronous communication.
Yes, you can use Slack like a more engaging version of an inbox for internal comms and take hours to respond to messages — that’s sometimes what I do — but you’ll quickly find that you’re the outlier among a team of instant responders. And if you’re trying to fit into a team culture, particularly one that doesn’t have the cohesiveness of working face to face, deviating from the norm can be risky business.
And what does async look like?
Email — that much maligned tool which remains my all time favorite mode of communication — is an asynchronous methodology. You don’t need the recipient to be there when you send your communication.
Therefore, you can compose the message and the recipient can read it at whatever time is more convenient for both parties. At the expense of a slightly slower transition of information and back of forth, both parties can create their schedules around when they need to communicate. More deep work all round. Studies bear out that collaboration doesn’t have to suffer.
Async Is Great, But It’s An Updated Spin On An Old Concept
At the moment, #async is one of the hottest buzzwords in technology.
If you didn’t know better, you’d almost assume that it had dropped out of the sky yesterday.
Energetic startup founders are wasting no time in touting its benefits.
And make no mistake.
I’m absolutely delighted to see the benefits of asynchronous communication being recognized. It’s long overdue. I’ve been exploring tools like Loom and Yac and encouraging as many of my clients and coworkers as I can to use them. I now have a Google search term that will dredge up the type of tools that I’m comfortable communicating through.
But while the platforms might be new, the concept certainly isn’t.
For most of human history until this date, async was the only communication that could be facilitated unless people met face to face.
Think about telegrams (no, not Telegram!) and before phones.
Or about SMS before tools like WhatsApp baked in the functionality to see when the other side was typing therefore creating an expectation that the other side would issue a near immediate response.
It was the mushrooming of the newer synchronous communication methods rather that resulted in an inevitable onslaught of notifications, expectations for real time responsiveness (among an unreasonably large pool of correspondents) and the subsequent distraction and stress.
Async is great. So are remote and hybrid working.
As society journeys towards a workforce that much more fully embraces the latter, it’s also finding itself having to ask questions about how remote teams can most effectively communicate.
We’re tired of sitting in often pointless Zoom meetings all day. And just as remote work often recommends a better alternative to sitting in an office during designated times, asynchronous communication can represent a better alternative to real time meetings.
I’m embracing the change. I’m proud to see that being an email-friendly Luddite is finally almost starting to seem hip. And I’m excited for what’s around the corner in terms of tools.