Add this to the long list of things about working that will puzzle your grandkids.
“Tell us about fax machines again, grandpa.”
“And what about synchronous communication?”
Well just have a seat, sonny. Let me tell you a story.
Synchronous communication meant when I exchanged information at the office, you had to send and receive the information at the same time. So I would call someone on the phone, wait for them to pick up, say some information while at the exact same moment they received that information. It happened all the time. Even way back in 2015 when we had all sorts of tools to stop it, it happened all the time.
Back to present day. At I Done This, we firmly believe that asynchronous communication is the future of work, and synchronous communication will become more and more reserved. Asynchronous communication is nothing new — it’s been around for centuries — we were just less equipped to use it in workplaces in the 1900s. Things are rapidly changing.
Just so we’re clear, let’s lay out some examples.
Synchronous communication: I walk to your desk and tell you something, you consume the information at the same time I’m sending it.
Asynchronous communication: I write you an email. I send you the email. You read it. You have consumed the information after I sent it — seemingly on your own time. This frees both parties from the need to be “synced up.”
Or here’s an even simpler explanation:
Synchronous: Respond immediately.
Asynchronous: Respond later.
Here’s a great description penned by Zach Holman of GitHub:
“Asynchronous communication means I can take a step out for lunch and catch up on transcripts when I get back. Asynchronous communication means I can ask my coworker a question in-chat and not worry about bothering her since she’ll get back to me when she’s available. Asynchronous communication means I can go to rural Minnesota and feel like I’m working from the office like normal.”
Here’s a brief list of the benefits of asynchronous communication:
- The ability to build large stretches of uninterrupted focus time.
- The ability to communicate with a remote team, with members in multiple time zones.
- Having a record of the communication shared that can be referred to later on. Whereas synchronous communication often requires taking notes (creating) while hearing the message (consuming).
- The chance to digest and think about a response before responding. (Immediate responses are often not your best.)
- The freedom to not having to be always “at your desk” in case someone wants to talk to you.
Asynchronous communication: The world’s biggest medium sized problem
Here’s the problem with asynchronous communication. We as a culture have mastered it for groups that are very small (writing your friend a letter, sending three people an email) or very large (making a blockbuster movie, writing a bestselling book). It’s that 25-500 range that we’re still working on.
It’s institutions in that size range were synchronous communication does the most damage. Most workplaces still have too much synchronous communication (a meeting is the ultimate synchronous communication, schools are terribly synchronous places).
A big problem has been the tools available. You don’t want to write a book for 50 people. Or imagine 100 people in an email thread — what a nightmare. Social networks are great for connecting the whole world, but not exactly designed for your company’s sales division.
Get ready for things to change. Because a lot of companies are building products designed specifically for asynchronous communication — including us here at I Done This. We’ve seen first-hand how companies can grow revenue and performance by getting asynchronous. It’s perfect for those conversations when everyone needs the ability to digest information and chime in, but not everyone has to. Yes, everyone’s still ‘on the same page.’ But think of it as being on the same page on your own terms. We’ve seen it work.
You’re all emailing wrong
Here’s the problem: We’ve had many asynchronous tools at our fingertips, but we’ve been using them like synchronous tools. We’ve been rapid-responding to email like we’re picking up the phone and saying hello. This is not in the spirit of asynchronous communication. (It’s also not what email was designed for).
Want to learn the art of asynchronous communication before it’s mandatory (one day it likely will be), start by tackling your email approach. Batch your email time into one or two sessions per day. If you’re worried about upsetting your contacts, set up an autoresponder. Here’s a template recommended by Tim Ferriss in “The 4-Hour Workweek.”
Greetings, Friends [or Esteemed Colleagues],
Due to high workload, I am currently checking and responding to e-mail twice daily at 12: 00 P.M. ET [or your time zone] and 4: 00 P.M. ET.
If you require urgent assistance (please ensure it is urgent) that cannot wait until either 12: 00 P.M. or 4: 00 P.M., please contact me via phone at 555-555-5555.
Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. It helps me accomplish more to serve you better.
Start here. Do something small like managing your email time. Soon you’ll be on the path to asynchronous communication bliss.
And you can get back to the important stuff.
P.S. If you liked this blog post, you’ll love our ebook called What You Don’t Know About Management.