Embracing Asynchronous Communication

This article was first published on DZone in 2018.

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

Let me start by making it clear that I not only love having in-real-time conversations with my teammates whenever I can, either online or in person — I also strongly believe that frequently sharing "in-real-time moments" with our teammates is, beyond duper pleasurable, business crucial, since having this type of conversation is an unparalleled way of establishing bonds between the parts, as well as the most effective way to go through certain discussions — which, of course, ends up adding to the entire team spirit and, consequently, reflects on deliveries etc.

However, communication in real time is not the best approach for every situation and oftentimes teams could replace it by asynchronous communication in favour of both productivity and the individuals' well-being . Thanks to the plethora of communication tools available today, many of us could be taking more advantage of asynchronous communication — which is, or at least I will argue so across this post, the way to go in many scenarios.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication is a method of segmental communication in which the parties involved can interact with each other at different times. Usually, each part communicates at the time most appropriate for them. For example, when you want to send an email (an asynchronous tool), you don’t need to wait until the receiver is online because to trigger the email. Instead, you can send the email at any time, i.e. asynchronously. And the same will happen on the other side: the receiver will answer when better fits them. The process builds up like so.

Synchronous is, oftentimes, inconvenient

Synchronous communication, either online or in person, is the model which requires that the parties involved communicate at the same time, synced. Although synchronicity has certain advantages, as mentioned before, it often tends to be inconvenient, logistically harder, overly time consuming, and not optimal when it comes to developing complex ideas and getting to rock-solid conclusions.

Synchronous communication is inconvenient because when you ask someone to stop what they are doing to discuss something with them, often you will be breaking their flow — and flow is, unquestionably, one of the most critical essentials of the process of creating/making/delivering.

Synchronous communication is logistically harder. People must “sync” — and frequently adjust — their individual agendas in order to be online or present at the same time, and only then they will be able to talk. It’s certainly a burden for modern distributed teams, but it’s often inconvenient as well for people who work in the same time zone, and even for people who work in the same physical location, especially if the discussion involves multiple people.

Synchronous communication is overly time consuming. Many topics require time for research, reflection, and experimentation, and when we’re communicating synchronously we tend to extend a discussion to go through such things on the fly, as instantaneous decision-making is expected. Also, when a certain discussion involves multiple people, having all of them discussing together at the same time makes things move slower, at times very confusingly.

Lastly, synchronous communication is not optimal when it comes to developing complex ideas and getting to rock-solid conclusions because, as I’ve just mentioned, we all need to take the time to research, reflect, and experiment, and when we try to do those things on the fly, we often end up doing them poorly, without thoughtful ponderation, due to the obvious time restrictions. (By the way, forget about Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink theory).

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Asynchronous Communication Is King!

With asynchronous communication, we don’t need to interrupt people and break their flow state, there is no logistic onus, we don’t waste time, and we have more time to better work on ideas and to get to better conclusions, improving our decision-making process.

Plus, as a bonus, asynchronous communication naturally present us with a reliable record of communication (trains of thought, change requests, decisions, datetime of events, etc.) that can be referred to whenever needed — and we all know how important proper logging and documentation are.

Not to say, of course, that asynchronous communication doesn’t bring its own challenges to the table. For example, people need to learn how to avoid noises, how to be concise, and how to use the proper channels when communicating asynchronously. And, again, not to say, either, that synchronous communication isn’t better in certain situations, especially when it comes to establish or build up bonds between the parts. Nevertheless, for most situations, asynchronous communication is king.