Asynchronous or Synchronous? Why not both!?

Cal Tokorangi
Cal Tokorangi | September 02, 2021
Employee Experience
Asynchronous or Synchronous? Why not both!?

As people are moving to a hybrid of remote and in-office, we need a hybrid approach to communication that balances both synchronous and asynchronous methods. When we do this, we are able to make quick decisions when needed but we also give everyone the opportunity to contribute.

Synchronous communication, like a video call or face-to-face interaction, is real-time. It enables quick decision making and is particularly suitable when issues are time sensitive: jumping on a call can make it easy to get everyone on the same page quickly.

Asynchronous communication, like email, is useful when there’s no urgency or there’s a lot of information to digest, so everyone can do it at their own pace.

Platforms like Slack and Teams can be asynchronous but we often use them synchronously, expecting people to reply instantly. It’s a grey area, where these online chat channels can be used like email, or can be the text equivalent of video calls.

What we really need to engage everyone is a mix of communication styles.

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Communication challenges

Communication comes with contextual challenges that can mean messages aren’t delivered or understood the same way by everyone.

One potential cause of this is cultural communication differences. Some of us come from higher context cultures where messaging is implicit, relying heavily on shared context and other nuances like tone of voice, actions, etc. Others come from lower context cultures where messaging is explicit: where you literally say what you mean and don’t expect people to fill in the gaps. If you’re not sure which communication culture people align with, it can be easy to over- or under-communicate.

Another challenge is the way introverted and extroverted team members process information. Introverts take time to process what’s been said and may miss implicit context that’s delivered in the moment. Extroverts are wired to think on their feet, but in doing so may miss the opportunity for deeper analysis.

Hybrid communication in action

At Joyous we use a lot of asynchronous communication, but it doesn’t replace crucial in person interactions or video calls. We use both depending on the situation, which helps include everyone in the conversations we’re having. Here’s how you could make it work:

  • Put some structure around how you operate your chat channels (Slack or Teams etc). If you need a reply immediately, either ‘@’ people or create emergency channels that are treated synchronously. All other messaging can be considered less urgent and responded to asynchronously.
  • To make best use of video calls, send out an agenda prior. This allows those introverted folks to think ahead of time about what’s to be discussed, and to have their contribution prepared.
  • When issues arise, hop on a video call with everyone involved as soon as possible. Follow up meetings with a written summary so everyone has the information to hand.
  • When you’re sending out written communication on something important, include as much detail and context as possible. This leaves nothing open to interpretation, and the lack of non-verbal communication won’t disadvantage the people who usually rely on it for context.
  • Use a combination of text responses and face to face conversations when you’re collecting feedback. Consider your feedback tool as a way to start conversations that you can then move into the real world where appropriate: in one-on-ones for instance.

There are definitely people who prefer one communication style over another, but most of us see the value in both - depending on the situation. What’s important is that the tools and channels we use give everyone the opportunity to contribute and collaborate at work - wherever that work happens to be taking place.