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Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: Mastering Communication in the Remote Workplace

CultureGlobal Growth Platform
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The rules to managing global teams have radically shifted in today’s remote-first world. Many organizations have recently adapted to remote-first settings and have faced myriad challenges, including managing a team located across the world, adapting their teams and tech stacks to new communication tools to maintain productivity, and effectively communicating with their teams across time zones.

Today, understanding synchronous vs. asynchronous communication is key to unlocking productivity, and attracting and retaining talent. And, more than ever, effective communications in the work environment are crucial to keep organizations on top of their game, whether they’re managing a remote, in-person, or hybrid workforce.

What is synchronous and asynchronous communication?

Synchronous communication

Synchronous communication is the traditional method of communication “which takes place in real-time between two or more parties” and is most commonly used in physical office-based, screen-mediated jobs.

Even with the transition to remote work, synchronous communication has remained a relevant method of communication for many companies. It continues to take center stage in one-on-one meetings, live calls, and periodic meetings most teams worldwide conduct regularly.

Synchronous communication helps managers align their teams, know their teammates on a personal leave, and develop emotional connections beyond the screen.

Asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication is as old as language itself — starting as rock carvings, or “petroglyphs,” and eventually taking on a more modern format as telegrams, and now emails today. This communication method gained traction and value in the business world at the start of the remote work era.

According to the BBC, asynchronous communication refers to “exchanges that don’t happen in real-time, but rather on your own time.” It is a beneficial communication style for distributed teams across time zones, especially those that focus on output rather than live interactions.

For organizations looking to grow, it is essential to consider asynchronous communication to hire, manage, and retain remote talent anywhere in the world and to remain competitive and productive.

What are the benefits of synchronous communication?

  • In-depth conversation: Sometimes messaging apps, such as Slack or Teams, and email aren’t enough to communicate the nuances and details of a particular project. Being present allows individuals to speak freely and in an unstructured manner, leading to insightful conversations and productivity boosts.
  • Nonverbal communication: The idea that 90 percent of communication is nonverbal is a myth. However, having the opportunity to receive real-time feedback is precious. A smile or a gesture communicates much more than one would think.
  • Quick problem-solving: Jumping on a quick call and dealing with an urgent problem is much easier synchronously. However, managers must keep in mind that this should be a last resort, and planning should be at the core of any organizational structure.

What are the benefits of asynchronous communication?

  • A culture based on trust: Promoting psychological safety is crucial in fully distributed teams. Asynchronous communication becomes a powerful ally when sharing information across latitudes and cultures. It allows team members more autonomy over their day-to-day activities, fostering trust among employees and their managers.
  • Output-based work: The massive resignation trend shows that workers have realized during the pandemic that there is more to life than work. Having to suddenly be a full-time parent, cook, meet deadlines, and attend several meetings per day was not sustainable (not to mention this occurred amid a psychologically challenging period). Asynchronous communications are vital to unlocking enhanced productivity of output-based work because they enable individuals to avoid immediacy in exchange for results. In the end, what matters is that employees do what they need to do on time, not that they are constantly on call for meetings or replying to emails right away.
  • Attracting and retaining global talent: Asynchronous communications via the internet have facilitated collaboration across time zones, and high performers are eager to look for flexible remote work options, regardless of location. Unsurprisingly, the search term “remote jobs” dramatically spiked on Google in the last five years. Companies that hire globally are better able to dominate markets beyond their local headquarters. However, without asynchronous communication, attracting and retaining this remote international talent is difficult (no one wants to be expected to answer emails the minute they’re received or attend meetings all day, every day).

Finding the balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication

As managers adjust to remote-first work, synchronous communication often becomes a roadblock to productivity. Not being able to walk across the room and discuss a particular project with teammates has made leading teams even more challenging. It becomes tempting to have several daily meetings to make sure everyone is moving in the right direction. However, this often turns out to be counterproductive, interrupting deep work sessions, and leading managers and teams to burn out, become overworked, and experience Zoom fatigue.

With this paradigm shift, teams also had to face the difficult challenge of adapting to a virtual work culture driven by deliverables and a sudden increase in autonomy and independence. Learning to balance synchronous and asynchronous communication is crucial for teams to remain competitive and healthy during this shift.

A few things managers can do to balance both types of communications include:

  • Be intentional and mindful when communicating: In screen-based workplaces, communication with intention and purpose is essential. Before calling for a meeting, managers should make sure a meeting is necessary — chances are, the information can be communicated via an email or through a prerecorded video that everyone can see whenever they have time. Managers must be mindful that people are not just working remotely — they are also navigating a stressful time. Allowing teams to work a flexible schedule promotes a healthy work-life balance and productivity. On the other hand, having a quick synchronous call to resolve any major roadblocks might be beneficial.
  • Build a synchronous and asynchronous culture: Oftentimes, remote-first companies believe that real-time communication is what shapes the organization’s culture. This assumption, however, is far from true. Company leaders can empower their teams by ensuring an even balance between real-time and asynchronous activities, creating a candid and healthy work culture. Leaders can open a communication channel for people to share their favorite tunes, the best pictures of their pets, or even go a step further and create a “Donut” channel for people from different departments to meet each other. Engaging with individuals in a fully distributed team is about being intentional, and pushing for real-time meetings without specific goals or agendas might lead to less satisfied employees, or even burnout.
  • Let go of control and trust your team: One trending topic in today’s remote work era is the reluctance to implement flexible, asynchronous work. It is understandable that the transition from in-person team management in an office to managing everything from a screen is rather intimidating. However, managers are no longer leading a workforce where close monitoring of activities is a possibility. In remote-first environments, prioritizing transparency and trust is more effective for attracting and retaining productive talent.
  • Beware of creating an “always-on culture”: Leaders of fully remote teams must remain aware of their employees’ working hours, as well as their own, to avoid burnout. Encouraging more flexible, asynchronous communication makes it easier for employees to turn off at the end of the day. For example, even though it may be a five-minute task that team members can tackle at any time, if they feel they must take action immediately, sacrifices like skipping a daily yoga routine or friendly gathering after-hours to meet deadlines can become a habit — one that might eventually negatively impact their mental health. In fact, according to a study conducted by Indeed, more than half of the responding employees were feeling burnt out since the start of the pandemic, and more than two-thirds claimed burnout had gotten worse since then.

How can a global employment platform help companies improve communication with their remote teams?

When teams communicate well and learn to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life, it means their company is on the right path to success. A global employment platform can contribute to an impactful workplace experience by knocking down the barriers to global growth and communication, allowing companies to hire international team members seamlessly.

Team leaders no longer have to deal with the complexities of global growth planning and communications — they can now dedicate more time and energy to ensuring a healthy working environment where synchronous and asynchronous communications are balanced, functional, and promote productivity.

Globalization Partners provides remote work technology that makes onboarding and communicating with international team members even more straightforward. Our software simplifies and automates vital HR, finance, and legal tasks like locally compliant contract generation and expense management in minutes.

Say goodbye to worrying about how to hire and manage team members across the world compliantly. Let Globalization Partners help you navigate a remote-first world.

Learn more about how Globalization Partners can help you hire globally.

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