Think about all the good things about remote work — flexibility, opportunities, less commute, more family time…
Now think about the problems it can cause — zoom fatigue, stress, the always-on culture…
What if you had a magic wand that would let you keep all the good stuff without all the chaff.
That wand is asynchronous communication. It’s the reason why some remote teams thrive while others grapple with anxiety and exhaustion.
What is Asynchronous Communication?
Asynchronous communication is when you communicate without expecting a real-time response. The parties involved in such communication don’t have to be available at the same time.
Note that it’s not the channel that defines whether the communication is synchronous but the participants’ intentions. For example, a seemingly real-time channel such as Slack can still be used for asynchronous communication if you’re not expecting a response in real-time.
Most of the stress associated with remote work stems from the expectation to be “available.” These tips will help you encourage asynchronous communication in your organization and target the root causes of stress at work.
1. Create a Knowledge Base
Create a centralized repository of important documents for your team. You don’t need to start with an expensive tool; even Google Drive can be valuable. When people have ready access to information relevant to their job, it reduces back and forth communication.
Ensure that the documents have the right permission settings so that your team doesn’t have to request access from the admin every time.
Never a pleasant sight.
Creating a knowledge base isn’t a one-time project but a mindset. With practice, consolidating and sharing information can become second nature to your team, laying the foundation for seamless asynchronous communication.
2. Adopt a Transparent Workflow
Teams that have clear visibility of existing priorities don’t require frequent status update meetings to course correct. There are various collaboration tools such as Trello, Jira, Asana, Monday, and Taskworld that support visual workflows.
One of the most commonly used workflows is kanban. In addition to providing visibility, kanban also helps minimize work in progress and optimize your processes.
A customized kanban workflow in Trello
In most popular collaboration tools, you can add comments to specific tasks. This streamlines discussions and helps your team find the desired information. For example, if I have to look for the latest updates on a blog article, I can simply read the comments on that card/task instead of asking the person working on it.
3. Define “Done”
Suppose your team is working on a new homepage for your website. You’ve got all the tools in place — an accessible knowledge base and a visual collaboration platform. Finally, you set a due date by when the task should be done.
But what does “done” imply here. Does it mean that the design and content should be ready? Or does it mean that the page should be live, up, and running?
This is a common challenge among teams new to asynchronous collaboration. When your entire team is aligned on the definition of done, it will save you many last-minute calls and intense meetings. Ensure that you have a consistent definition of “done” for all your tasks in a workflow.
4. Normalize Declining Meetings
Many newly remote teams try to overcompensate for the physical distance by scheduling meetings, leading to zoom fatigue.
In parallel to creating structures for asynchronous communication, foster a culture where declining meetings isn’t considered taboo. This would transition the team’s mindset to prioritize resolving matters asynchronously and reserving meetings for focused and strategic discussions. There are some easy hacks to facilitate it:
- Marking attendance as optional if the attendance of any employee is desired but not mandatory
- Recording meetings so that those who couldn’t attend can still access the insights
As a golden rule, each meeting should have a focused agenda, and all attendees should be able to add value to it.
5. Schedule Deep Work on Calendar
How do you define a productive day at work? For most people, it’s when we experience a few hours of uninterrupted focus to make progress on an important task. But we rarely schedule that time in our workday.
Most of us also use only two statuses on real-time messaging channels – in a meeting or available. The green dot becomes an invitation to be interrupted. Similarly, whitespace in the Google calendar becomes an open slot for meetings.
Block time on your calendar to focus on the tasks for the day. This would help everyone in the team become more considerate of each other’s schedules.
Schedule deep work time on the calendar to minimize interruptions.
6. Create an Escalation Process
Despite our best efforts, we can’t avoid emergencies. A visible sign of efficient asynchronous communication is a clear escalation path for urgent issues. It has three aspects:
- Definite what’s urgent – Each person has their own opinion on what’s urgent. As a team, it’s important to align expectations and list specific situations that require escalation, such as broken links on the website, bugs, unresolved tickets, etc.
- Specify escalation workflow – When asynchronous communication is the norm, having a clear escalation workflow will ensure that your team deals with emergencies on priority. This can range from something as simple as using mentions for pop-up notifications in specific channels to using a dedicated tool for emergency communication.
- Minimize repeat incidents – Frequent escalations indicate the need for structural improvements. If everything’s urgent, then nothing’s urgent. It’s always helpful to revisit escalations to ensure that similar situations can be dealt with asynchronously.
7. Practice Writing
In a two-way conversation, it’s much easier to answer questions and ensure the message is conveyed as intended. However, in asynchronous communication, we need to provide more than just context upfront. We not only have to ensure that our words convey the entire message but that they are perceived in the right spirit. This requires strong writing skills.
It’s better to overcommunicate than assume that the receiver would be able to piece the message together. We might sometimes get tempted to resort to a 10 min call, as that seemingly requires less effort. But we often ignore that frequent context switching can add up and affect productivity.
Practicing writing also includes understanding when to use @mentions in specific channels or when to send an email instead of a slack message. There are no rigid answers to these questions as they depend on your organization’s culture and asynchronous workflow.
8. Create Feedback Loops
Lastly, it’s always helpful to remember that asynchronous communication shouldn’t come at the cost of being unapproachable. That’s why it’s essential to continuously maintain feedback loops within the team to ensure your workflow suits everyone’s needs.
Each person has a different appetite for interpersonal interaction. Only by giving each other feedback can we create the right cadence for meetings that suits everyone. So whether you are suffering from zoom fatigue or feeling isolated, the way forward is the same — share it with your team.
The remote work revolution might have propelled asynchronous communication into the limelight, but the ability to communicate without real-time availability is equally critical for on-site teams. Meetings and disruptions have become so deeply entrenched in our workdays that we consider them inseparable aspects of corporate life. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Asynchronous communication might take time to master, but it’s a time-tested way to make work more meaningful and less stressful.