A Guide to Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication For Remote and Hybrid Teams
Since leadership and management stabilized as concepts, those who consider themselves skilled in both, have embarked on a quest for building high-performance teams.
While there’s no single way to approach an issue this complex, many leaders agree communication is the key to helping people do their best job.
4–5 decades ago, communication was limited to in-person meetings, phone calls, and letters. Then, the Internet came around and introduced the world to emails — a major improvement over traditional email. But it’s over the last decade that the collaboration market exploded, introducing new approaches to work, management and communication.
In 2022, it’s possible for people to work successfully without ever having met in person. Some of the biggest teams — think Zapier or GitLab — are remote-first, meaning they didn’t have an office to begin with.
Having access to a variety of communication approaches and work styles is, undoubtedly, a privilege.
However, it comes with considerable challenges, one of which is balancing synchronous and asynchronous communication.
In this post, we will try to draw the line between the two, giving team leaders clear guidelines about which one they should choose depending on the context.
Synchronous and asynchronous communication: definitions
By definition, synchronous communication includes all activities that require participants to be available here and now (in sync). It is applicable to instant chat messages, video conferences, and audio calls.
On the flipside, asynchronous communication implies that the recipient doesn’t have to react to the message immediately. Teammates can take more time to think about ways to reply to a asynchronous message. This kind of communication includes emails, announcements, comments in collaboration tools.
Synchronous vs asynchronous: which one is better?
There’s no clear-cut answer to this question as the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, high-performance team leaders do so well precisely because they skillfully balance synchronous and asynchronous communication.
It’s worth noting that, in few contexts, the balance between synchronous and asynchronous management is a 50–50 split. In most cases, one should prevail.
Let’s take a look at a some examples to understand what it means:
Scenarios where synchronous communication prevails
Brainstorming: 70% synchronous, 30% asynchronous
Creativity requires focus and presence — that’s why brainstorming sessions are most fruitful when all participants are on the same page and can build upon each other’s ideas at the same time.
Synchronous communication is the backbone of brainstorming and is great for:
- Sharing inspiration
- Discussing new ideas
- Analyzing existing ideas
Having said that, there are parts of brainstorming that should be committed to documentation and other forms of asynchronous communication, such as:
- Summarizing all the research you prepared for the session on paper
- Documenting key insights
- Organizing ideas and plans in mind maps, mood boards, etc.
One-on-one communication: 90% synchronous, 10% asynchronous
1-on-1 performance reviews are another area where having your colleague’s undivided attention and giving her your own is paramount. That’s why successful 1-on-1 sessions are typically synchronous: video calls or in-person meetings.
However, attendees shouldn’t be expected to make all decisions on the spot. It’s a good practice to share the agenda beforehand so that the colleague you are catching up with can think about the talking points and share feedback.
Similarly, if, during the call, you came across complex questions or problems that cannot be solved immediately, summarizing those in an email and getting a thoroughly researched answer is a way to go.
Onboarding new hires: 80% synchronous, 20% asynchronous
Establishing a strong sense of presence, unity, and engagement is important when introducing a new employee to the team. At the beginning of a new hire’s journey, a team leader should emphasize synchronous communication (instant messaging and conference calls).
Be sure to proactively react to the teammates’ questions to make sure you don’t leave them hanging on a bottleneck.
The asynchronous part of onboarding has to do with checklists and formalities — when it comes to these, you want to give employees enough time to fill in the details and get used to the infrastructure.
Client calls: 90% synchronous, 10% asynchronous
Talking to a prospect is one of the most famous forms of synchronous communication. In most cases, team leaders want to get a prospective client on a call to quickly address their objections — and rightfully so.
Through emails and texts alone, you might not be able to engage leads and get them to act while the buying impulse is still strong.
Having said that, you want to send prospects on their way with a few collaterals they can look through, share, and discuss with the team.
Asynchronous communication might amount to only 10–15% of client onboarding but it’s crucial in convincing a customer-to-be that your offer is the right one.
Scenarios where asynchronous communication prevails
Process documentation: 80% asynchronous, 20% synchronous
When it comes to documenting processes and workflows, you want to make sure everyone on the team knows the drill — not just those present on a meeting.
That’s why all documentation is primarily asynchronous, with leaders committing their vision to writing and organizing it in a clear, easy-to-grasp format.
Synchronous communication can make documentation more digestible — for example, a team leader can hold a few meetings to explain the key points and answer live questions.
Feedback requests: 70% asynchronous, 30% synchronous
Assessing the performance of your teammates is not an easy task so key points might slip through the cracks during a real-time interaction. That’s why a growing number of team leaders put together forms and surveys to create a standard and complete approach to talent assessment.
If you want to go the extra mile, it’s a good idea to set up a short video or phone call to let teammates know how much their work means to the team. By being vocal in your praise, you will boost engagement, motivation, and fulfillment in the workplace.
Polls: 90% asynchronous, 10% synchronous
When you want to know the opinion of the entire team on a product launch, team building event, or other issues, putting everyone on a call will be both difficult to organize and resource-straining. On the other hand, running a poll in Slack or other platforms will give everyone the opportunity to mull over the matter at hand and make an informed decision.
Of course, once the poll is closed, you can set up an announcement meeting where you confirm the decision and answer questions your teammates might have.
Best Practices for Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
Both synchronous and asynchronous communication are powerful tools when implemented with consideration and reason. To make sure you make the most out of video and audio calls, instant messaging, emails, and other types of interactions, add these quick tips to your stack of team management practices.
Never come unprepared
“The man with a plan” is the right type of management approach for any synchronous interaction.
Be it a meeting or a short phone call, make sure you know what you want, have organized your talking points, and prepared a concise list of questions or concerns to address. This way, leaders protect both themselves and the team from wasting time.
Listen rather than talk
During conference calls, it’s tempting to have the spotlight to yourself. Sharing the company’s mission and vision is what leaders love — but it’s equally important to listen to what the team has to say, address all feedback, and answer questions.
Come to connect
While time efficiency is important, make sure your synchronous meetings are not “programmed”. The opportunity to get to know each other on a human level is the selling point of synchronous communication — make the most out of it by finding out what motivates your teammates, and what their passions, and aspirations are.
By discovering everyone’s personalities and worldviews, you’ll build a deeper bond that’ll ultimately improve the organization.
Be concise but precise
Make sure you don’t keep your summaries too short and non-informative. Rather than writing “we need to discuss the issues on the project”, specify which challenges on which project you want the team to address.
Also, a few extra words to greet and thank the teams are never wasted breath.
Set the timeline
While asynchronous communication should give teammates time to think and research, leaders should make sure their messages don’t go unnoticed.
You can encourage your peers to reply by adding a line: “I’d love to know what you think by [date]”.
Limit the range of asynchronous tools
If you have too many channels for sharing announcements, chances are, your teammates might stop following every one of them.
Make sure news or announcements are lost by creating a single hub for all asynchronous messages (for example, Notion).
There’s a lot of talk about “synchronous communication vs asynchronous communication”. At oVice, we believe that both are equally valid and your successful handling of the two determines the performance of your team.
oVice helps teams connect seamlessly using synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. We support businesses with virtual offices, allowing them to quickly jump on audio and video calls (synchronous), or share files and text messages (asynchronous).
Find out how we foster productivity and effective communication in SMEs and enterprise companies.