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Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: Which one is better?4 min read

July 11, 2019 3 min read

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Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: Which one is better?4 min read

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Synchronous communication

Synchronous communication means that two or more people exchange information in real-time. In most workplaces communication happens that way and people expect real-time responses. The problem with this approach is that it is , in fact, not very effective.

It sounds counterintuitive. After all, what better way is there to stay on top of your game than addressing issues immediately. However, one survey has shown that over 71% of employees report frequent interruptions when working, which affects their productivity.

Just think about it for a second: you’re working on an important project with a tight deadline when a colleague walks into your office. He wants to see you to discuss the details of an upcoming event. You stop your work and waste 45 minutes talking about a project that is not immediately due.

Asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication refers to the exchange of data between two or more parties without the requirement for all the recipients to respond immediately.

For example, your colleague can leave you a message in a topic feed on status.net and not worry about disturbing you. You will read the information when ready, consume it, take your time to decide on it, and answer when you’re available. This approach frees both parties from the need to be synchronized.

Asynchronous communication examples

Asynchronous communication is when two (or more) people can communicate without the requirement that they be “present” at the same exact moment in time.

Benefits of asynchronous communication

  • You can focus on your work without being constantly interrupted.
  • It provides a chance to think twice—most people don’t make the best decisions when they are pressured to answer on the spot.
  • You can decide when to check your messages and when to respond to them.
  • You have a record of communication that you can refer to when you need to. Synchronous communication, on the other hand, often requires taking notes while the other party delivers the message. It can be incredibly easy to misplace the notes or not have access to them when you need them the most, such as during an important business meeting or presentation.
  • It allows you to communicate effectively with remote teams that are spread across different time zones.
  • Asynchronous communication makes it possible for people to respond and act on their own terms.
  • It allows for everyone to be proactive instead of reactive.
  • Asynchronous communication means that employees no longer need break focus to answer unimportant or tedious requests. It relieves the pressure of reacting immediately for non-urgent items, removes distractions and allows for better focus and less stress.

The 4 components of a great asynchronous message

Like sending great emails or writing effective processes, asynchronous messages are something you have to learn to do over time.

Here are the components:

  1. Enough information to cover all follow-up questions. Don’t let yourself be the victim of an open loop; over-communicate if necessary.
  2. A deadline. When do you need a response by? How urgent is it? Which task is being blocked right now?
  3. Links, images, and as much supporting material as possible. We keep all of our permanent task-related material inside Trello cards, so whenever we talk about tasks we link to the Trello card which should contain all relevant stuff.
  4. A concrete need. What do you want to get out of the communication? Approval on a task? An asset of some kind? Be extremely clear.

How to balance synchronous and asynchronous communication? 

Asynchronous communication is not going to solve all your workplace communication woes. Like most areas of life, finding a balance is key.

For example, there are times when you might be communicating over Slack with a coworker and you feel like you’re not making any progress. They may have misunderstood what you were trying to say, which may cause conflict.

In these scenarios, we recommend jumping on a video or phone call. A major advantage to synchronous communication is that real-time nature gives you more data points to observe and process in the moment. For example, it’s tough to understand body language over an email or Slack, while it’s easier to tell in-person.

Synchronous communication is also helpful when you need to collaborate quickly (like brainstorming sessions). There are certainly times when a group of people being present unlocks better insights.

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