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Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Communication: 7 Tips For Remote Communication

Learn the merits of async vs. sync, and when either communication method makes sense for you and your team.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Communication: 7 Tips For Remote Communication

If you work remotely, asynchronous communication is a necessity.

That's why it's important to understand the difference between asynchronous and synchronous communication, as well as when it's appropriate to use one or the other.

Asynchronous communication allows for asynchronous dialogue to take place - meaning that people can respond whenever they have time, rather than at a specific time like with synchronous communication.

Today we'll be covering 11 tips for doing better remote communication.

Definitions: Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Communication

Synchronous communication is when two or more people communicate at the same time, like in a chat room where everyone is typing messages simultaneously.

Asynchronous communication is when each person communicates one after another. Yes, this can be slower than synchronous because there are gaps between responses. But, it can also be more thoughtful and structured, and it works even if you aren't in the same place, time zone, or continent.

7 Tips For Better Remote Communication

Rather than debate the merits of async vs. sync, its easier to understand when to use either mode of communication through these tips and best practices of how and when to use either.

<h-circle>1<h-circle> Set expectations for asynchronous communication.

When you're working on a project with a remote team, assume asynchronous communication is the best method. Then explain to your team that people should generally be checking in at their convenience and not necessarily exactly when they receive an email or message from another person. That way, people won't be constantly monitoring their inbox, and can instead focus on their work.

<h-circle>2<h-circle> Always send follow-up messages if you don't hear back from the other person.

If you don't hear back from someone, send another message to check-in. If it's still not clear that there was an issue with the communication channel or if your colleague didn't get your original email or Slack message, try doing an audio call as a Slack huddle or even using a regular voice call and ask for clarity.

Remember: Asynchronous communication can get missed, so be sure to follow up with your team and ask for clarification.

<h-circle>3<h-circle> Meet in person if you're working on a project together or are able to do so.

Even if you're a fully remote team, from time to time it's great to get together in person. Being together in a space will help you develop deeper bonds with your colleagues, which will ultimately help you with onboarding new hires.

When you are working together in person or can get together for a meetup, asynchronous communication is not as necessary because the context of the conversation is much more clear since there's no possibility of miscommunication through asynchronous means like email.

Meetups also allow remote workers the opportunity to get out of their homes or workspaces and interact with other people in real life.

<h-circle>4<h-circle> Use asynchronous communication for work conversations that need structure, and synchronous communication when emotions are involved.

One of the most important things to remember is that asynchronous communication isn't appropriate for every type of conversation. If you need a quick answer, or if feelings are involved, it's best to have synchronous conversations so people can respond as soon as they're able.

When working with your team on projects and tasks, asynchronous communication usually works best.

Synchronous communication is best when dealing with urgent issues, such as emergencies and disasters.

<h-circle>5<h-circle> Remember asynchronous vs synchronous isn't always black and white.

Some conversations are more suited to asynchronous or synchronous methods of discussion depending on the circumstances. Sometimes a hybrid approach is necessary.

A meeting is a good example. Before a meeting, collaborate asynchronously on the meeting agenda, sharing discussion topics and any materials to review beforehand. This makes the synchronous time—the meeting itself—far more efficient and valuable. After the meeting, again, you can follow through on action items asynchronously.

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<h-circle>6<h-circle> Be aware of the impact asynchronous communication can have on your team and how it makes you feel.

It's important to know that asynchronous communication is slower than synchronous, which means people will take longer to get back to you when using asynchronous methods. This also takes a toll emotionally because you're not able to communicate in real-time with other people.

First, be respectful of the other person's time by sending messages at appropriate times rather than constantly checking in to see if they've checked their inbox yet. Asynchronous communication can feel emotionally draining, as you're not communicating in real-time with team members and instead have to wait around for responses, so if something is urgent, make that clear.

If this sounds like something that might affect your productivity or happiness on a remote team, consider changing up how much asynchronous vs synchronous communication happens on your team. If you need to give feedback on this, do so.

<h-circle>7<h-circle> Know the strengths of async vs sync.

Asynchronous communication is better for planning and asynchronous tasks, while synchronous communication works best in urgent or emotional situations where you need an immediate response from another person.

Synchronously communicating with your team will give them a more realistic sense of what it's like to work on a remote team since they'll be able to check things off their to-do list faster.

Synchronous communication is always better for urgent matters, but asynchronous actually often works best when you need people's undivided attention and time on a project or task.

Takeaways

And remember that async vs sync isn't an all-or-nothing type of thing, even for remote teams and hybrid teams. Many conversations happen somewhere in between, with elements of asynchronous and synchronous communication.

More important than using one as a preferred method is using the right method under any given circumstance.

For more on mastering asynchronous communication, check out our guide, the Art of Async.

<blue-bar>Get "The Art of Async"  (Free Download)<blue-bar>

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