What is asynchronous communication?

What is asynchronous communication?
Photo by NordWood Themes / Unsplash

If you have ever said or heard someone say “Can you just send it to me through….” In that case, you have experienced the world of asynchronous communications.

Asynchronous communication is any type of communication where one supplies or requests information, and the sender has no expectation of receiving an immediate response because communication is not happening in real time.

The old-timey version of this is letter writing. But now in our world, you can send a message to someone in a different time zone and they can respond whenever it is convenient for them. Maybe you’ll get lucky and the conversation happens in real time, but in many cases there is no expectation of an immediate response.

The sheer reach of asynchronous communications is just one of the many great things about asynchronous communication tools. Other awesome things about it are:

Less pressure to have an answer immediately. If your first answer is not usually your best response, async messaging gives you time to rewrite until you can say what you want to say. No more walking away from a conversation feeling like you want a do-over.

Creates a record of communication. Not to sound paranoid, but real time conversations that include decision making can often leave room for miscommunication. No one wants to have that awkward conversation full of misunderstanding.

You: “But you said this is what you wanted!”

Them: “No, that’s not what I said.”.

You: “...”

Meanwhile, using an async communication tool, there is always a record of what you did write. Luckily, you can follow point 1 and think about what you want to say so what’s on the record is more well thought out than what you would say in conversation.

Reduces the stress of real time communication interruptions. According to studies, interruptions in your day create more stress, frustration, and pressure in a workday. Working asynchronously means you can make sure your instant messaging settings aren’t pinging at you while you are doing work that requires deep focus. You can’t really turn off the co-worker who comes to your desk and needs your immediate attention, but you can ignore their messages for a time.

The Human Side of Async

All of this might lead you to ask, if asynchronous communication is so great why do people even bother talking to each other in person anymore?

Humans are still social animals, at least according to Aristotle. Unfortunately, there are struggles that some employees contend with when working remotely. According to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work, the top 3 struggles of remote workers are:

Collaboration and Communication

When working in an office, asynchronous communication tools are frequently used to create a real time conversation. “Did you get my email?” is a question often asked in the time it can take from sending the email to getting to your desk.

It’s commonly thought that immediate conversation is more powerful. That it yields better results. More spontaneous idea-generating magic. However, the truth about collaboration and brainstorming is that while people who brainstorm in real time feel like they have accomplished a lot. The data points to that being a false perception. The reality is that more creative ideas can be produced by remote teams. This is a result of a combination of factors.

  • Social loafing:  the psychological phenomenon of doing less while being judged as part of a group setting. Basically, that person in the group that puts their name on the project but doesn’t do any of the work. We all have either been that person or know that person.
  • Evaluation apprehension:  the fear of being evaluated and can result in someone not including their ideas for fear of either being ridiculed or rejected.
  • Production blocking: having one or more persons whose ideas dominate the brainstorming session and it silences other ideas that may be just as good if not better.

It feels obvious to say but if a teammate is worried about adding their ideas and voice to the group for fear of the response to those ideas combined with co-workers who do share their ideas and having them blocked by the more dominating idea of the moment that you might end up with less creative ideas and less value out of the brainstorming session itself.

Whereas remote asynchronous idea generation with anonymous features built in allows for more creative ideas to be evaluated on their face rather than who they are coming from and with less fear that your ideas either won’t be heard or rejected. No one wants to feel like their contribution isn’t valued and the way to clear the blocks to great ideas is to give people tools to contribute to the group.

Here at Discourse, we use Discourse to collaborate as a team. Most of our topics are open for discussion and collaboration, even your score on Wordle. If you think something needs a smaller set of eyes on it, send a personal message.

Loneliness and Isolation

When a work culture is remote and does not encourage regular face-to-face communication, employees often feel disconnected from their co-workers and the company itself. It feels obvious to suggest that it becomes important for remote workplaces to include social aspects to their culture.

In our internal community, we include icebreaker topics where all employees are encouraged to participate in and foster a sense of community.

Some examples of these topics include:

  • Would you recommend a great tv show you just watched?
  • What improved your quality of life and you wish you did it sooner?
  • What movie would you recommend?
  • What movie did you walk out of?

These are all topics that have generated a lot of discussion among colleagues. Some even have thousands of replies.

Getting a sense of who your co-workers are and if you share interests with them is a key to creating a bonding experience. This kind of trust building activity is crucial to creating a safe, healthy, friendly workplace. Being 100% in-person is not required to build trust, but, as in everything, there needs to be a balance.  To complement our async nature as a company, we also believe in the importance of having real time face to face communication with co-workers, and have a policy of having once a week meetings which allows employees in similar departments and regions to come together and talk about what they are up to.

Not being able to unplug

When your home is your workplace, it becomes important to delineate when your workday ends. One major way to do this is to create rituals around ending work and turning off communication so that the anxiety of always needing to be connected or available can recede.

When your organization adopts an asynchronous tool for communication, you don’t have to be connected 24/7. Turning off notifications and taking a walk, doing mindful meditation, or engaging in any kind of physical activity like yoga can help create a line that reinforces that your workday is actually over.

Our culture is very people-centred and we believe in work life balance and the wellbeing of the human beings that make up our organization. As a result, we have built in processes with asynchronous Discourse tools at the center that allow workers from all over the world to work together in their own time, be productive and feel like they are part of a community that supports them.

This is the Way

We obviously believe in the benefits of asynchronous communications as it encourages everyone to participate and contribute their ideas.  So, how do you participate when part of a team? Are you secretly a social loafer? Let us know how the events in the world have or maybe haven’t, changed the way you work and which asynchronous communication tools you prefer to use when working.