With everyone working from home during the pandemic, there has been an uptick in virtual meetings. From Zoom to Slack, notifications are constantly requiring attention.
But as this study about remote workers shows, 42% of remote workers feel that they are more productive when they’re able to work for long uninterrupted periods. It’s safe to say that the more unnecessary meetings you’re forced into, the less productive you become.
According to Zoom, there are over 300 million virtual meeting participants on the platform every day. This can be linked to most people still working as though they are in the office. In place of walking over to someone’s desk to ask a question, they schedule a meeting, or managers check in by asking to hop on a quick call.
So is there an alternative to real-time communication for remote teams? Absolutely.
Asynchronous communication offers a better way for remote teams to collaborate and focus on what is truly important — getting work done.
In this article, you’ll find out what an asynchronous meeting is, how it can benefit your remote team, and the tools you need to get started.
What is Asynchronous Communication?
In simple terms, asynchronous communication (async for short) is a communication system that doesn’t require two or more people to be present at the same time to transmit information or data.
By contrast, synchronous communication takes place in real time and requires an immediate response. For example, in the office, a tap on your colleague’s shoulder got you the answers you needed right away. While this was perfect for the traditional 9-5 workday, it is not very practical for remote teams.
On the other hand, communicating asynchronously does not happen in real time, thereby making it perfect for remote teams separated by time zones and different work schedules.
Synchronous vs Asynchronous Meetings: Finding the Balance
Let’s consider a scenario that normally requires setting up a Zoom meeting, like discussing KPIs with your team.
The typical way to do this would be to send out invites to a Zoom meeting and discuss everyone’s metrics at the same time. This is an example of synchronous meeting.
An asynchronous meeting would look much different.
You’d make a video or record yourself speaking as you walk each team member through their performance. Then send it out to them to watch. You’d do this without expecting them to send in responses immediately.
Although these two types of meetings are different, they both have their place in the virtual workplace.
A remote team can communicate in real-time when:
- Responding to emergencies
- Socializing and catching up
- Kicking off a new project
- Managing team conflict
Also, a team can switch to asynchronous communication when:
- Giving feedback on a project
- Explaining new tools
- Swapping ideas
Remote teams need to find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Blending the two modes of communication will help make virtual collaboration seamless and your team more productive.
The Benefits of Asynchronous Meetings
Eliminates the need for timezones or schedules to sync
Unsynchronized work is an effective way to work around the constraints of different time zones and schedules. Members of distributed teams will no longer have to find time overlaps or tweak schedules to match in order to collaborate.
Provides work-life balance
Research shows that remote workers struggle to unplug after work hours. With less unnecessary meetings and inquiries, you are less likely to struggle with distinguishing between work and non-work hours.
Minimizes interruption and enables you to focus
Working asynchronously enables you to pay full attention to the task at hand without disturbance. Not only does this increase your productivity, but it also helps you do exceptional work.
Contributions and decisions are well thought out and informed
Self-paced work lets you gather and consider information, weigh it, and then arrive at a well thought out decision.
Lets everyone voice opinions and share ideas
Extroverts are more likely to speak up during meetings, leaving the introverts in the background with their opinions unspoken. During async meetings, everyone can voice their opinions and contribute their ideas without someone dominating the meeting or talking it over.
Meetings are documented
Asynchronous communication is recorded, making it easy to access and refer to conversation and decisions when you need to.
How to Run Asynchronous Meetings
Diving headfirst into async meetings isn’t a good idea. Your team first has to learn how to transition from meeting in real time.
Hiba Amin, Marketing Manager at SoapBox, an app that helps managers have better 1-on-1 meetings, shares what has worked for her team.
“If teams want to run async meetings successfully, everyone needs to be on board. Some things you can do to gather buy-in and create a process that works for the entire team are:
Explain What Async Meetings Are and Why You Want to Have Them
Explain the benefits such as fewer meetings, solving issues faster throughout the week vs. waiting until the next time you meet.
Establish What’s Going to be Communicated and Where
For example, async project updates should live in your project management tool, like Hive, but other things that you would ultimately cover in something like a sprint planning meeting should live in your collaborative meeting tool.
You’ll need to set expectations, i.e. when updates are due (for example, every morning for daily scrums). It’s also important to review your process frequently.
Ask the Team if Things are Working and What You Can Improve
Effective communication is so important for any high-performing team, so make sure that you’re always iterating and improving how you communicate (especially in a remote environment where you can’t just speak over across a desk!).”
Set An Agenda
Based on the agenda, everyone can send in questions or add comments about issues to be addressed. During the meeting, an agenda gives structure to the discussion making it less likely to go off rails. And after the meeting, agendas can be a quick reference to know what went on.
Here’s a tip that will help you when setting agendas from Jim Daly, founder of Superpath “show up to meetings with an agenda and talking points. Write down action items and do them. If an email will suffice, cancel the meeting and save everyone’s time.”
Choose a Medium of Communication
Communication during async meetings can be text, audio, or video based. For text based meetings, focus on clarity and include context so that discussions are easy to follow. Including images is a great way to help others understand you. Using audio messages during meetings is a quicker way of transmitting information since we talk faster than we type.
Speed is not the only benefit of communicating verbally. As this Wall Street Journal article on audio apps explains “Audio platforms …let users drop in and out of a conversation informally, or keep a chat running in the background instead of dropping everything for a scheduled call. Some services let users hang out in conversations programmed to start at a regular time, or exchange voice messages.”
Recording video messages combines the benefits of audio and text giving, you both clarity and speed. Help Scout has been successful in using video updates for their all-hands meetings. Every Monday, their team receives updates on company news, feature releases, and even birthdays allowing employees to view it at their own time.
Keep a Record
Establish a standard process of documentation for all forms of asynchronous communication before starting. In an article on their site, Gitlab paints a clear picture of what happens when there’s no centralized documentation: “…team members will be left to determine their methods for communicating asynchronously, creating a cacophony of textual noise which is poorly organized and difficult to query against.”
You need to choose a tool that lets you store, and access the information easily when you need it. Doing this will also break down information silos.
Stay in Charge of the Meetings
Conversations tend to go off the rails when no one is in charge. To keep topics in focus, place someone in control of the discussion. Usually this is the person who convened the meeting but for projects that have different phases, the conversation can be led by anyone on the team.
Learn How to Over-Communicate Upfront With Context
Hailey Griffis of Buffer advises you to “Go ahead and give all of the information at once, defaulting to the idea that your teammate might be replying to you at a different time.”
Make sure your sentences are clear and easy to understand. Provide information that is necessary for the project at hand even before a request is made for it. This way inquiries are reduced to a bare minimum.
Now, let’s move on to equipping you with the tools you need.
The Best Tools for Asynchronous Meetings
You do your best work when you have the right tools. Here are the best tools to run seamless async meetings:
Hive: Best For Collaboration and Communication
Sharing regular updates and information on Hive lets everyone track and monitor collaborative work as it progresses. Hive Chat also lets you discuss topics with your team, get feedback, and highlight decisions when reached. Use Hive Notes to take meeting notes in your async meetings, and assign follow up items to teammates.
Yac: Best For Video/Audio Recording
Instead of a long email, record an audio message explaining what you’ve got to say. You can also search audio transcripts for the information you need on Yac.
Google Drive: Best For Documentation and File Sharing
Upload async audio and video meetings for easy access. You can also store and share files needed for ongoing projects.
Although it might not be perfect at first, working asynchronously is an opportunity to build a more productive and happier team. With each step, learn to fail forward and adjust the processes to suit your team until you find the balance that’s just right.