Have you ever stayed late at work for a meeting in a different time zone, kept your Slack notifications on because your boss expects immediate responses, or, that dreaded cliche, attended a meeting that could have been an email? If these problems sound familiar, you’re experiencing the pitfalls of synchronous communication.
Synchronous communication is just a fancy way of saying real-time communication. Common examples of synchronous communication include face-to-face conversations, in-person meetings, and phone calls. In other words, any form of communication where you respond instantly.
While this type of communication certainly has its upsides, the alternative — asynchronous communication — can be equally beneficial. Yet, it is often overlooked in the workplace, even though a majority of employees (52%) prefer asynchronous communication, and 42% say asynchronous communication is the future of work.
With this in mind, we’ll explore the benefits of asynchronous communication for L&D. We’ll start by contrasting synchronous and asynchronous communication, before diving into the benefits of asynchronous communication, and finally outlining best practices to embrace asynchronous communication.
To understand the benefits of asynchronous communication for L&D, it’s vital to first understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Let’s compare the two communication styles.
Synchronous communication is simply a fancy way of describing real-time communication. Any time you are talking to someone and they reply instantly, that’s synchronous communication. Examples of synchronous communication include:
To expand on this, RingCentral defines synchronous communication as “that which takes place in real-time between two or more parties. Put simply; a synchronous communication exchange is an interactive, ‘live’ interchange between people.”
Accordingly, the key characteristic of synchronous communication is that it’s immediate. Synchronous communication happens in real-time as a ‘live’ exchange between two or more people. When you picture a conversion in your head, there’s a 99% chance you’re picturing synchronous communication.
In contrast, asynchronous communication features a lag between one person sending a message and another person responding. Where synchronous communication happens in real-time, asynchronous communication involves a delay.
For example, sending a message on Slack and waiting an hour for a reply is a form of asynchronous communication. Other examples of asynchronous communication include:
Basically, any form of communication where you don’t reply instantly is asynchronous.
As Owl Labs explains, “asynchronous communication is any type of communication where one person provides information, and then there is a time lag before the recipients take in the information and offer their responses.”
Likewise, Holloway adds that asynchronous communication “happens when information can be exchanged independent of time. It doesn’t require the recipient’s immediate attention, allowing them to respond to the message at their convenience.”
Thus, the key characteristic of asynchronous communication is that it is not immediate, affording greater flexibility and more time to digest information.
Essentially, if synchronous communication is live, then asynchronous communication happens on delay.
Now that we understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication, let's explore the benefits of asynchronous communication. Strap in, because there’s a lot to cover!
First things first, asynchronous communication is what employees want. The majority of employees (52%) prefer asynchronous communication to synchronous communication, with 42% saying asynchronous communication is the future of work. It’s never a bad time to give your employees what they want!
Employees prefer asynchronous communication because it offers far more flexibility and autonomy than synchronous communication, putting them in control of their communication.
Rather than feeling like they have to be ‘on call’ to respond to any request at a moment’s notice, asynchronous communication allows employees flexibility to work at their own pace, digest information, and give more considered and thoughtful responses.
Why is flexibility so vital? According to the HBR, 59% of people say that flexibility is more important than salary or other benefits. That’s right, most employees would prefer more flexibility to more money, making asynchronous communication an easy win.
This flexibility can be vital if your employees work across different continents and time zones. In these situations, getting everyone online simultaneously can be a massive logistical challenge, making asynchronous communication a lifesaver.
When flexibility increases, employees also feel they have a better work-life balance.
By encouraging asynchronous communication, employees have more control, autonomy, and ownership over how they communicate, rather than being beholden to rigid, synchronous communication.
For example, rather than attending a mandatory 7:30 meeting, with asynchronous communication, employees might drop their kids off at school, log on when they get home, and contribute their brilliant ideas in a dedicated Slack thread instead.
All of this leads to a significantly better work-life balance — and the stats back this up. 61% of employees say asynchronous communication results in a better work-life balance, while 35% say asynchronous work results in more purposeful and less distracting communication.
If you’re a results-focused manager, you might be thinking: ‘flexibility and work-life balance are great, but will asynchronous communication result in better output from my employees?’ The answer is a resounding yes.
64% of people believe asynchronous communication maximises their productivity, as they don’t have to wait for others to complete tasks. Moreover, 69% say it gives them time to perfect ideas and responses before communicating.
Further, research by Slack finds that asynchronous communication saves three hours per week on average by replacing in-person meetings and inefficient communication styles. As a result, employees can reclaim wasted time and be far more efficient.
While flexibility, productivity, and efficiency all fall under the modern L&D remit, asynchronous communication also benefits L&D teams in a direct, tangible way.
36% of remote workers say they would prefer to give up email than Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other asynchronous collaboration tools. Given the ubiquity of email, this statistic underscores how valuable asynchronous communication tools are.
Yet, 70% of L&D teams say their eLearning platform isn’t integrated with their preferred communication platform — a huge missed opportunity for L&D teams looking to get an edge on their competitors!
Despite these incredible benefits, many businesses are shooting themselves in the foot by not offering asynchronous communication. 58% of people say their company doesn’t have the tools to support asynchronous work, while just 38% work for a company with asynchronous work policies.
Additionally, in a recent survey, workers said that 40% of meetings could be replaced by asynchronous communication tools like Slack. We know that ‘meeting that could have been an email’ is a common cliche, but that’s a staggering amount.
If you’re among the 58% of teams who currently don’t have the tools to support asynchronous work, we’re here to help. Below, we’ll dig into best practices for how businesses can embrace asynchronous communication.
At this point, it’s clear that the benefits of asynchronous communication are too good to ignore. So, what should your team do to embrace the async way of life? While there is no one-size-fits-all guide to asynchronous communication, here are a few best practices.
Many people default to synchronous communication because it’s all they’ve ever known. In-person meetings and face-to-face conversations have long been the norm, and it’s hard to break these ingrained habits and unlearn our unconscious biases.
However, by opening a dialogue (you could start by sharing this article or exploring Go1’s vast training catalogue) and explaining the benefits of asynchronous communication, your teammates will quickly get on board.
From there, it’s a case of fine-tuning your approach to asynchronous communication and understanding what works for your team and what doesn’t.
As mentioned, up to 40% of meetings could be replaced by asynchronous communication tools like Slack, according to a recent study.
It’s an old cliche, but next time you’re scheduling a meeting, ask yourself: could this be an email or a Slack thread instead? By making this simple change, you’ll be well on your way to embracing asynchronous communication and reaping the rewards.
Having the right tools goes a long way to enabling seamless asynchronous communication. Whether you use Slack, Microsoft Teams, or another popular asynchronous messaging service, ensure everyone has the appropriate access, training, and knowledge to use this software to communicate effectively.
Before implementing an asynchronous communication strategy, ask yourself: what do we hope to achieve by doing this? It is essential to set clear, actionable goals from the outset, against which you can measure the success of your initiative. This way, everyone is on the same page, and you’re not implementing asynchronous communication merely for the sake of it.
Setting goals is especially vital when teething problems arise during the switch from synchronous to asynchronous communication. If things get tough, everyone can remain motivated by the goals you are working towards!
While this might sound counter-intuitive, one of the main barriers to implementing asynchronous communication is that managers worry they won’t get a timely reply when something is urgent.
If you’re having a PR crisis or trying to land a new client by COB, asynchronous communication with long delays may not be appropriate. That’s the time to jump on a Zoom call or race to the boardroom and work things out pronto.
By understanding when not to use asynchronous communication, you can foster a sense of trust that employees won’t abuse this privilege. As such, you can rest easy and enjoy the manifold benefits of asynchronous communication when it is appropriate.
Again, asynchronous communication is fantastic, but you still need to rely on your teammates to respond in a semi-timely manner. While there is no hard and fast rule for exactly how long this should be — every team will be different — it is a good idea to set clear ground rules, deadlines, and ways of working that guide everyone about how to respond in an asynchronous workspace.
As is often the case when implementing a new workplace initiative, it’s not about being perfect immediately. It’s okay to undergo a period of trial and error and experience teething problems. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging asynchronous communication, setting a few ground rules, and gathering feedback after a month.
Ask your team what’s working, what’s not, and what changes they’d recommend to streamline the process. From there, it’s a case of constantly refining your approach to asynchronous communication, until you find what works for your team’s unique needs.