When working as a member of a remote or hybrid team, strong communication is the key to success. This isn’t a new revelation, but a reminder that if you and your team have been running into speedbumps lately, your mode of communication just might be the reason why. 

These roadblocks could have arisen for a number of reasons. Maybe your team is used to the familiarity of meeting in-person and is struggling to adapt to their new video conferencing platform for safely-distanced meetings. Or maybe your tried and true asynchronous communication platform that worked great when you were commuting to the office is unable to adequately support the communication needs of your fully remote team.

The most successful remote organizations recommend that the majority of employee communication is done asynchronously. They have found that 70% asynchronous, 25% synchronous, and 5% in-person is the ideal communication formula for high-functioning remote teams. 

To get the most out of your remote communication, it may be time for you to reinvent, or at the very least redefine, your team’s synchronous and asynchronous communication strategies.

What is Synchronous Communication?

Synchronous communication is any communication that happens in real-time between two or more people, with the expectation of receiving an immediate response. 

In a typical onsite office setting, the majority of communication that happens is synchronous and often happens without a second thought. However, when you are a member of a remote or hybrid team, synchronous communication requires an added layer of scheduling and planning. 

Some examples of synchronous communication are:

  • Face-to-face conversations
  • Phone calls
  • Video conferencing
  • Live instant messaging

Benefits of Synchronous Communication

For remote teams, especially those that rarely meet in-person, synchronous communication helps to build trust and camaraderie. Having the option to conduct business or casually catch up in real time can go a long way towards helping remote employees feel connected to the rest of their organization. Therefore, synchronous communication should be reserved for situations that benefit from either a humanizing factor or necessitate immediate responses.

Some of the primary uses of synchronous communication for remote teams are:

  • For new remote teams and departments, virtual happy hours and celebrations are a great use of synchronous video conferencing technology to foster strong professional relationships between distanced coworkers. 
  • One-on-one meetings when critical feedback or sensitive issues may be discussed, synchronous communication offers the opportunity for immediate follow up questions and takes away the possibility for ambiguity.
  • Brainstorming sessions for new projects, synchronous communication enhances creativity by creating a space for coworkers to bounce ideas off of one another in real time.
  • Complex project planning, synchronous communications enable all team members to contribute without having to wait for responses.
  • For urgent matters or company emergencies, synchronous communication is the ideal means of delivering critical information.

What is Asynchronous Communication?

Asynchronous communication is any communication where there is a time lag between when one person delivers information and the other person receives the information. In other terms, asynchronous communication is any communication that does not happen in real-time.

For most remote and hybrid teams, asynchronous communication is the ideal mode of transferring information. Asynchronous communication allows all parties to take the time they need to process and respond to information, on a timeline that best fits their schedule. It is an essential tool for remote teams, but has gained prominence in office settings as well due to the vast array of modern asynchronous communication tools. 

Some examples of asynchronous communication are:

  • Email
  • Slack or other chat communication platforms
  • Collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams
  • A shared Google Doc
  • Video messaging through tools such as Marco Polo or Loom

Benefits of Asynchronous Communication

Whether you are a fully remote employee or work primarily in an office, there are many benefits to utilizing asynchronous communication tools throughout your workday. When you turn to asynchronous methods of communication over synchronous methods, you are choosing to relieve the pressure of immediately responding and instead can have the time to generate a response that is more than an automatic reaction. Communicating on your own schedule leads to higher-quality communication, a benefit to any organization remote or on-site.

Other benefits of using asynchronous communication in the workplace are:

  • By responding to communication on your own time, there will be fewer interruptions throughout your work day enabling you to focus on your work without distractions
  • When you utilize asynchronous communication tools you can designate time during your day to respond to messages, creating a better scheduled workday than if communication was constant
  • Because in most cases asynchronous communication is written, when you utilize asynchronous communication tools you are creating a living document that you can reference at any time
  • For really spread out remote teams, asynchronous communication makes it that much simpler to collaborate across time zones
  • Because asynchronous communication doesn’t necessitate instant input, you can take the time you need to plan ahead for projects, leading to a more proactive mindset
  • Asynchronous teams are able to get work done when they feel most productive, or “flexible work hours” rather than a traditional 9 to 5 mindset

Synchronous Communication Strategies

There are certain situations where synchronous communication is the more logical and more useful form of communication. However, for remote and hybrid teams, synchronous communication requires an added degree of advanced planning to ensure everyone involved can fit the conference call or remote meeting into their schedule. 

To ensure that you are using synchronous communication only when it is necessary and to prioritize employee productivity, use these strategies when scheduling your next synchronous communication session:

  • Plan ahead to give all team members to fit the meeting into their schedule and do a tech test run of any software needed to attend the remote synchronous communication meeting
  • Use this checklist to make sure your meeting is necessary before you schedule it, synchronous communication is best used sparingly and you don’t want to flood your employees schedules with unnecessary video calls
  • Team meetings, project meetings, and one-on-one meetings are best held once a week and remote meetings can all be held on the same day to preserve time on other days for deep, focused work to be done
  • Casual remote synchronous employee socializing should happen on a regular basis, as desired by all parties involved
  • Keep an eye on the timezones of your remote employees to ensure the synchronous communication is happening at a time that is reasonable for everyone
  • Take full advantage of all your synchronous communication software has to offer by utilizing both audio and visual tools
  • Record meetings so they can be used as a resource in the future or to share the information discussed with remote team members who were unable to attend
  • Use “Meeting Free Days” to enable staff to have a day secured each week or more than once a week when they can be heads down and not interrupt their flow of work

Asynchronous Communication Strategies

When utilized correctly, asynchronous communication allows for more productive conversations among hybrid or fully remote teams. Additionally, asynchronous communication allows for a record of conversations and a more collaborative environment for long-term projects without interrupting the natural workflow of any team members.

For fully remote workers, asynchronous communication is a critical tool that's purpose cannot be overstated. To instill asynchronous communication best practices in your remote teams, use these asynchronous communication strategies:

  • Don’t shy away from over-communication. Because the recipient can address their asynchronous communication on their own schedule, feel free to provide as much information as necessary when delivering asynchronous messages so the recipient has no need to follow up for clarification
  • Have reasonable response time expectations. The more distanced your remote employees are, the more you should adjust your expectations when it comes to response time for asynchronous communication. 
  • Provide resources when you can. Take advantage of all the benefits asynchronous communication has to offer and include web links, documents, or any other applicable resources whenever you can.
  • Resist the urge to turn asynchronous communication into synchronous. When you do so, you run the risk of diluting expectations surrounding asynchronous communication. For example, if some days you and a coworker are emailing back and forth in near-immediate succession you have turned it into a synchronous communication tool and adjusted your expectations for future emailing.
  • Outline clear expectations for each new asynchronous communication tool your organization utilizes to avoid any confusion moving forward.
  • Leave your team ample time to adjust and get comfortable with new technology so they don’t feel like they are struggling to learn while actively using new software.

Tools to Support Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication

The tools you choose to support both synchronous and asynchronous communication at your organization is just as important as the decision of which mode of communication to utilize. It will be up to you to find the software and apps that work best at keeping your remote and hybrid teams connected as they work from anywhere, here are the basic communication necessities to get you started.

The top tools you need to support remote teams through synchronous communication are:

  • A computer or laptop
  • A monitor/display
  • Your favorite video conferencing platform, such as  Zoom or Google Hangouts
  • A smart video camera to increase the visual quality of your remote meetings, like the Meeting Owl
  • A microphone for high-quality audio during meetings and conference calls

The top tools you need to support remote teams through asynchronous communication are:

  • A document sharing and collaboration platform, such as Google Drive
  • A messaging app like Slack
  • A video messaging and screen recording app like Loom
  • A project management system like Asana
  • A virtual collaboration tool like Canva

Are you an educator new to the world of remote teaching? Here is everything you need to know about synchronous and asynchronous learning, and how to use each learning method.

owl labs state of remote work covid edition 2020