Asynchronous Communication, The Answer To Remote Working

As more people work from home, async communication is what will keep us sane and productive. Here's what you need to do, the tools and strategies

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication is communication minus the stress, wasted time and repeated front and back. Bold words, I know but it's true. With the world of work changing forever it will be vital for businesses to adopt async communication to compete, keep staff and prosper. So what are the strategies to create a work that siezes asynchronous work and why is it better.

Our current communication stack

Zoom calls for immediate conversations that become longwinded meetings

Slack chats that pretty much never stop, with the incessant ta-ting sound ruining any chance of having any concentration

Lastly we've got emails, long threads that have way too much unstructured information, lost attachments and a lot of "per my last email" references

The problems

Zoom calls and meetings in general are very interruptive, blocking out chunks of our day to sit through conversations which according to an HBR study, 71% of aren't needed.

In 2020 the average humans concentration span in 12 seconds, about 2 more than a gold fish, mix in some slack ping notifications and you're looking at 1-2 seconds. See if you mute the notifications, the essence of slack is "immediate chat response" so you're constantly under stress to respond to the other person quickly

Emails, well emails are the reason Zoom and Slack exist. Emails are great for some forms of communication but too many - we end up losing vital conversations and end up repeating ourselves far too many times aka "as per my last email"

We're trying to work at home like we're in the office

There in lies the problem. You're taking an environment optimised for relaxation, family and down time and using it as an office, which was optimised for concentration and work efficiency.

Don't force, it thats where failure begins. You end up with bandaid solutions around virtual offices, and all-time-on screens, that to me feel super intrusive. Imagine having a camera on you at all times.

This leads to exhaustion, extended work hours, the "always switched on" feeling, and team burnout.

Now you might say, "oh spontaneous collaboration is what leads to success and probably some of the best ideas for a business" - you're not wrong, no one's refuting collaboration in real time is how teams and people will succeed. But that doesn't mean EVERYTHING needs to be real time.

Why in the name of capitalism does everyone need to attend a stand up at the same time? Why can't I record my standup when I wake up and then my team mate record it whenever they're available, it doesn't need to be at the same time, as long as everyone's uploaded their piece by the deadline.

Sychronous communication is needed, and it will always have a place through Zoom, Slack, BlueJeans, Google hangouts and Skype. Even when people are working in hybrid models, office and home - people collaborate in real time.

One can say eliminating real-time collaboration or live video calls is not good for team morale. To which I say, keep real time communication for bonding, actual bonding - 95% of meetings are not life-threatening, ofcourse if a website is down, different story.

How our team delivered million dollar projects completely remote and asynchronous

Moving to an asynchronous work flow needs tightened processes to make sure everyone in inline. Gitlab have a great book on remote work where they speak about the mindset around delivering the message in situations where no one is awake.


In addtion there are several great tools you can use to transform your business during COVID and working remote

Slack/MS Teams decorum

Use slack wisely and build a decorum around how you communicate. Whenever you're away or grabbing a coffee, make sure you update your status so your team mates are aware that you're not around.

In addition, make full use of Slack's threads abilities to respond to topics, this way you're not spamming the main channel and discussions are indexed per topic

Lastly create high-intent channels, don't discuss marketing in the #casual channel and vice-versa

Communication guidelines

I was speaking to Sahil Lavingya on twitter about Gumtree manage their remote communications and he outlined it here where he speaks about building creating hubs

Build knowledge hubs and sources of truths

This is very important to make sure documentation is done right, and people are not repeating their words again and again. Our team uses Trello as our source of truth. So if there's ever a discussion around a problem, the conversation happens in the comments section of the trello ticket. This opens up transparency for other people and removes that element of FOMO people might have from missing out on key points in discussions.

Allow for meeting exits

Elon Musk famously walks out of meetings when he's not needed. You don't need to be as flashy as him, but you can encourage a system within your team where once someone has finished their part in a meeting and aren't needed anymore, they can simply excuse themselves. Use meeting transcript software or meeting agendas to make sure no one misses out on the meeting summary.

Also set up meeting agendas before jumping on Zoom calls so there's direction in your conversation

Silo different information to different channels

If you've got multiple channels of project management, don't cross pollinate. Keep the marketing boards different from the development. Discuss code in bitbucket or gitlab and marketing on hubspot. And if you want to keep track of all the conversations regarding a topic happening across multiple channels, RemoteWorkly gives people a birds eyes view of what everyone is doing.

Over communicate

Unlike in person conversation, you need to remember the other person won't have the voice to ask you back questions in case you're not clear. Learn to be very clear in your communication, this is an incredible practice for you as it helps you deeply analyse if you truly understand the problem you're trying to solve or the point you're putting across. Whenever you share information share it with the assumed FAQ baked in

Set up chat hours

When your teams do end up meeting, make it fun and casual. No work talk, this way the "blocking" time you do have for meetings and conversations are fun and not for work, but instead for team bonding

6 advantages of asynchronous communication

No more FOMO

Your team and you won't feel pressured into attending meetings and skipping work because they might miss out of important topics. The essence of asynchronous communication using async video messaging or creating threads is people can review meeting notes whenever they want and catch up since they've got the transcript as well as the videos to watch.

Improved productivity

The lack of notifications, interruptive meetings as well as "tap on the shoulder" catch ups lets people dive into deep work zones that leads to greater work quality, improved satisfaction and work completion. This is a massive win to teams and employees

Automatic Wiki and Asset generation

Asynchronous communication doubles in documentation creation. When team members create threads or documentations to share a meeting or standup, the generated transcription and the video basically becomes an internal wiki for that topic. This makes it extremely easy for new employees or other team members to simply dig through the auto transcription of threads

Flexibility

You no longer need to wake up at ridiculous hours, or jump in and out of meetings without getting an single hour of work done. With asynchronous communication you can respond back when it's comfortable for you, allowing you to focus on finishing your work and responding to your team mates with a calm mind

Fewer meetings

62% of all employees say they spend too much time in meetings, with HBR finding 71% of managers think meetings are unproductive. By decoupling meetings and time, people can optimise meeting discussions to their own pace

Better team bonding

When teams do meet and have a chat, they can use it for bonding and building a relationship that might be missing because they're remote. By moving all the "Work chat" async, any live conversations can be for building team morale and culture

We're entering a new world and being able to create a team that works asynchronously will be just as big a competitive advantage as having extra capital. There's some incredible guides out there for remote work, here's a few from very successful companies like Zapier, Gitlab and Trello

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