Traditional workplaces revolve around the idea that synchronous communication is necessary to do good work. Team members work from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm in the same time zone. During that time, employees are expected to attend meetings, answer emails, respond to real-time chat messages, and–somehow–find time for actual work. Not to mention, team members are required to put the rest of their lives on hold until the workday is over. It’s no wonder work-life balance feels to many like an unachievable dream. Because of these drawbacks, many work from home teams have embraced policies that support asynchronous communication. Doing so grants employees greater flexibility while encouraging productivity and remote team accountability.
The drawbacks of synchronous communication.
In a synchronous work model, work from home employees’ days are frequently interrupted by urgent communication requests. Meetings, chat messages, and emails act as shiny objects that draw team members’ attention away from important projects. What was intended to be a neatly coordinated eight-hour workday becomes a mess of interrupted schedules.
As distractions decrease the time available for deep work, team members work overtime to make up the difference. When this happens, the risk of dissatisfaction, burnout, and turnover increase.
Often, remote managers attempt to course correct by reducing meeting time. But all this does is slow the flow of communication, resulting in more confusion and frustration–not less. Synchronous communication has its advantages after all. During a productive Zoom call, team members exchange information and ideas quickly, allowing them to bypass the lengthy email chains needed to extract the same knowledge.
The bottom line? What work from home teams need isn’t less communication; it’s a paradigm shift. Remote employees need a way to organize and streamline communications according to their work preferences and needs.
Benefits of asynchronous communication.
Asynchronous work–that is, any type of collaboration that does not happen in real-time–frees work from home employees from restrictive timetables while giving them equal opportunity for communication and knowledge exchange. Doing so allows them to overcome time zone differences, capitalize on their most productive hours, and make room for deep work.
Asynchronous communication enables remote team members to set boundaries that maintain work-life balance. At the end of their day, employees feel empowered to exercise their right to disconnect, allowing them to come back to work the next day feeling refreshed and motivated. When done correctly, creativity and productivity soar.
Asynchronous work can take many forms, including email, chat, project boards, videos, voice messages, and more. Each asynchronous workplace creates its own communication ecosystem. To function properly, this system must be carefully designed to meet the needs of your team, and every team member must embrace the system.
How to make it work for your team.
Clear, concise communication is the backbone of every successful asynchronous remote workforce. While the tools each team uses will be unique, there are several favorites among experienced asynchronous workplaces.
Often, project management software serves as a hub where all major communications take place. Task boards act as a point of truth when information is needed. Not to mention, grouping communications by project focuses conversations on meaningful topics. This also provides an easy way to reference historical data when needed.
While exceedingly popular in most of the remote working world, email and chat tend to be used sparingly by those who embrace asynchronous communication. Our team makes it a policy to limit email as much as possible. The rule cuts down on the digital clutter that distracts us from real discussions. Similarly, we use chat messages mostly for urgent matters or private conversations between individuals. Instead, we use project boards to talk through relevant issues.
With a strong asynchronous communication system in place, work from home teams stop using meetings as a crutch and focus on making them as productive as possible. Every meeting has a clear purpose, agenda, and preparation required to make the time constructive. When meetings are held to a higher standard, there are fewer of them–which means more time back in everyone’s day.
Ultimately, every work from home team will need to decide what will make asynchronous communication work best for them. Work with your managers and employees to determine which tools and processes are the right fit for your industry, project goals, company culture, and values.