The term “asynchronous communication” sounds like something magic. I remember googling it long before the pandemic and there were few articles available online. It seems to be a special term that is well-known to a selected group of people. Others don’t know how to make it work. I myself often get questions about this mysterious term. The funniest thing is that async communication has been with us forever. We used to write letters or leave voice messages for others in the past, right? The only thing that’s changed now is the technology. There’s so much availability of various software that we can get lost easily. Instead of using all the tools and apps properly, many people get stuck in chaos with no light in the tunnel. Well, it doesn’t have to be this way. Based on many years of experience, I’ve prepared a list that will help build solid foundations of async collaboration.
Small steps will lead to massive change
I’m sure you receive many messages via Slack, MS Teams, e-mail or even… WhatsApp. Ask yourself one basic question: Do they all make sense? Should you even receive them? If not (which I believe will be the case) then you’re simply allowing others to capture your attention with nonsense. We can’t possibly let ourselves get stuck in an ocean of messages. That’s why we should refer to the golden principle of remote-first teams which is called “over-communication”. This doesn’t mean communicating a lot but with the right context and super clearly. Let’s limit the number of messages that are being sent out to an absolute minimum but with the maximum meaning.
It’s all about quality over quantity.
You may now assume that it’s going to be very difficult to start. No worries – it’s easier than you think. First of all, speak about it with your team as I’m sure that everyone will happily support you! The first step is all about establishing asynchronous communication rules that will make your working experience much better than it is:
- Determine by when a response is normally expected (it can be the same business day or 24 hours – it’s all up to you).
- Make acknowledgement mandatory (it can be a simple “thumbs up” emoji so that the sender knows you got it!).
- Establish tagging rules for important messages (if you @ someone, they’ll know you’re asking them about something important).
- Try be as precise as possible (add links to supporting information and projects so that no additional info is needed).
Drive change by speaking up
There’s so many tips about remote and hybrid working available these days. Many of them inspire us and we would be ready to implement them right away… But we just don’t. We read about something and then we falsely think that it’s not us to introduce any changes. Well – THAT IS WRONG! I often work with distributed teams that are on their way to mastering async collaboration. I always keep stressing the same thing: If you dislike a certain practice then speak up! If you have a better idea then share it! If you know how to be more efficient, tell others how to improve! It’s really that simple. It’s always interesting for me to start asking people about their suggestions to improve team collaboration. There are so many valuable ideas but the manager doesn’t even have a clue. To change this I recommend conducing a simple “start, stop, continue” workshop. Let’s brainstorm about things that work well and challenge those that don’t. Designing asynchronous communication foundations should be a joint effort!
A very important thing is to create an environment that challenges ongoing practices and it aims to become better every day. I’m mentioning this as I’ve observed something very concerning within some fresh, hybrid teams. It’s an attitude which says “This is good enough. It’s always served it’s purpose”. Some teams claim that they “CAN’T” do something as it’s “IMPOSSIBLE”. They never question anything and just follow communication rules that someone designed a long time ago. For example – important e-mails get lost in people’s mailboxes which is very frustrating and everyone keeps complaining about it. However, nobody has taken the time to introduce flagging or prioritising them thanks to folders.
Over-documenting is essential for async collaboration
Over-documenting doesn’t mean that we need to create unnecessary paperwork! It’s all about making work transparent and information easy to find. If you need to explain things for a very long time and you have nothing to refer to – it probably means that you’re not documenting work properly. I always ask teams to imagine a hypothetical situation: You’re away for some time and your team members need to take over some tasks. Will they know where to find everything? Or will they have to call you? If they do, will you be able to explain everything in a transparent manner, referring to the right source? In case the response is no… then you should definitely improve.
If you’re collaborating with someone, can you limit your communication to the most important aspects? Or do you spend hours during Zoom calls? If it’s the latter, then it’s time to create a logical flow of information within your team. Making asynchronous communication work is relatively easy… but you need to invest time in a proper knowledge-base (such as for example Confluence, Notion or the new Microsoft Loop) and a relevant project management tool (the availability is huge – from Monday, Jira, Trello, through Asana, Hive, Basecamp to ClickUp and… many more!).
I know it’s easier to say that some things don’t work and we’re too busy to fix them. However, that’s just an excuse. Everyone has a lot of work to do. If we invest time to become more efficient in the future, we’ll win back time and help our entire team focus on quality work.