The topic of asynchronous (async) communications is becoming increasingly popular in the realm of online businesses and memberships. James has long used async with his team and clients, and is quite fond of it.
James and Lloyd will discuss what async is and how it can be adopted in the work place.
They’ll talk about its benefits and drawbacks, and where an alternative mode of communication would be more effective.
And they’ll share best practices, touching on their own experiences using async.
Table of contents:
1. Synchronous versus asynchronous communication
2. The thinking for and against async
3. A solution to boring meetings?
4. The flexibility of being asynchronous
5. Getting off the email and onto messaging
6. Making sure you’re understood
7. Why async is good for sleep
8. Where sync has its place
Synchronous versus asynchronous communication
To understand async communication, says Lloyd, it’s best to understand what synchronous communication is.
Synchronous communication refers to interactions happening in real time, such as in-person meetings, live Zoom calls, or real-time chat in apps like Slack or Teams.
Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, involves communication that happens at different times. Examples include email, task management tools, and recording and sharing videos on platforms like Loom.
While both types of communication have their place in collaborative work, the primary difference lies in the expectation of when the communication will be received or responded to.
Asynchronous communication can greatly benefit work relationships across different time zones. Instead of scheduling meetings that might inconvenience either party, people can send each other videos, tasks, or emails, which can be picked up and responded to at a convenient time. This method not only carries all necessary information, but also eliminates the need for long emails or blocking out time in one’s schedule.
James notes that asynchronous communication has been around for a long time, albeit in slower forms like letters. However, with the advent of technology, both synchronous and asynchronous communications have become more efficient and diverse.
The thinking for and against async
Sync and async communication both have their merits and demerits, depending on specific use cases.
Async communication is particularly useful for global collaboration, as it doesn’t require everyone to align on working hours. For instance, someone in Australia needn’t insist that colleagues in New York or the Philippines adapt to the same times they work.
Preference for sync or async communication, however, can be greatly influenced by individual work habits, corporate cultures, and specific requirements of a job or task.
Leaders like Elon Musk, for example, insist on people being physically present in the office, stressing the power of real-time, in-person collaboration. Certainly this approach can foster camaraderie, prompt creativity, and facilitate quicker decision-making.
The preference between sync and async could also be industry-dependent, with some fields benefiting more from real-time interactions.
In many corporate settings, a lack of line-of-sight management and the shift towards a value-based work assessment rather than clocking hours can be daunting. Many traditional managers might find it challenging to switch from a command-and-control style to a more flexible work environment that values results over time spent.
Lloyd argues, though, that embracing asynchronous communication could boost productivity by preventing overcrowded schedules and allowing workers to accomplish their tasks in their own time.
A solution to boring meetings?
Could async communication be the answer to too many pointless meetings, James wonders?
James and Lloyd agree that while some meetings are needed, some methods of communication can eliminate those that are unnecessary. Bezos’s use of memos in the workplace is highlighted as one such method – it serves as an internal newsletter, outlining an agenda, and even providing pre-meeting work.
The memos method could potentially do away with less-than-crucial meetings. In workplaces James has experienced, memos were used to update the staff on various changes, which sometimes contained unfavorable news. These memos could take the form of strata meeting notes, outlining what’s happening, or what should be expected.
Bezos ensures his staff read memos before attending a meeting, a practice that James also adopts with his team.
Lloyd agrees with this method.
In Lloyd’s previous work in corporate, he says, he would only attend meetings with clear agendas, and would insist on knowing his specific role in them.
Lloyd suggests, if information to be tackled can be one-sided, a video message instead of a meeting might suffice. This approach helped him and his team avoid working beyond regular hours and ultimately replace unnecessary meetings.
Leadership support is key, says Lloyd, in adopting async. To embrace video messages in lieu of meetings, for instance, leaders need to demonstrate the effectiveness of the method and lead by example.
The flexibility of being asynchronous
Structuring work around asynchronous methods, says Lloyd, lets him manage his time better and gives him the freedom to carry out personal tasks throughout the day, like walking his dog.
Lloyd’s team also benefits from this arrangement, as it enables them to focus on productive work rather than being bogged down by meetings.
Beyond the flexibility in time management, asynchronous communication can cater to different types of personalities. Lloyd brings up that not everyone is comfortable with being on screen in live meetings.
James agrees. He himself prefers to make audio-only podcasts, but gave in to market demand for video content.
James goes further into the benefits of async communication, discussing his transition from one-on-one coaching to a mentorship program. This change allowed him to control the pace of communication, with tools like Loom allowing for more thoughtful responses rather than instant answers.
There’s a distinct advantage, says James, in being able to pause, reflect, and consolidate thoughts, leading to more solid, meaningful replies, which in turn lead to better progress in coaching.
Lloyd mentions a Harvard Business Review study showing increased productivity from reducing meetings and transitioning to an asynchronous environment – quite a good argument for the method. He would advise, however, against abrupt changes, suggesting a more strategic, gradual implementation of async to prevent overwhelming employees.
Getting off the email and onto messaging
Lloyd proposes that tools like Slack can be a great starting point for moving away from email towards more convenient async communication and improving efficiency. By dividing the team into channels, they can streamline interactions, and save time by eliminating lengthy email threads.
Furthermore, Slack offers features like voice notes which, combined with their transcription service, offer both convenience and accessibility in communication.
James shares his experience of implementing Slack in his team, pointing out that the younger generation is more text-driven and often doesn’t rely on email. He highlights how in his company, private messaging is a prevalent form of communication, leading to more relevant conversations.
James also says they only include necessary individuals in each Slack channel, reducing noise and distraction.
In an async environment, too, says Lloyd, it’s important to differentiate between urgent and non-urgent communications. Having a dedicated channel for immediate notifications, or agreeing on a specific protocol for emergencies, such as sending a text message, can be effective.
The text message protocol is something James and his team implement for emergencies during vacation leaves, thus allowing team members to fully disconnect when otherwise not needed.
Making sure you’re understood
Lloyd’s final tip for those considering communication platforms like Loom or Slack is to be clear. Being too vague when assigning tasks or delivering messages can result in unnecessary meetings for clarification.
Lloyd shares a personal experience where a lack of clarity in his instructions led to misunderstanding and, eventually, a live video meeting to clear up the confusion.
James suggests using screenshare or attaching screenshots to messages to provide context and clarity. He And Lloyd both agree that the responsibility for clear communication lies with the individual providing the instructions or messages.
Lloyd introduces the idea of “acceptance criteria”, a list of conditions that need to be fulfilled for a task to be considered complete. This clear, checklist-style approach ensures that everyone involved in a task understands what the successful completion of the task looks like.
And what does success in asynchronous communication looks like? Lloyd suggests a smoothly running business and well-rested employees are good indicators. The ideal setup allows for overlap in working hours among team members in different time zones, but also promotes a healthy balance between synchronous and asynchronous work, eliminating the need for extended working hours.
Why async is good for sleep
An interesting benefit of async, says James, is better sleep. The Oura ring he wears, a sleep tracking device, reports that his sleep scores are quite high.
The sleep score, James explains, takes into account the duration, consistency, quality of sleep, heart variance, and resting heart rate. He credits his stellar scores to effective asynchronous communication and well-structured operations in his business.
Lloyd says that sleep isn’t off-topic, but rather integral to productivity. He cites a NASA expert who found that a 10% increase in sleep could boost productivity by more than 10%, because a well-rested individual can process information faster and make decisions more efficiently. Therefore, having a sleep-friendly work routine enhances overall output.
James used to schedule client calls that coincided with his early mornings, which disrupted his natural sleep cycle. The problem was worse when he spent two months in the Philippines, with the timezone difference getting him up as early as four in the morning.
The experience led James to fully embrace async, letting him deliver high-level services without compromising on sleep or routine.
James suggests businesses that can’t run efficiently with much asynchronous communication are probably “too highly strung.” He believes async com reduces stress and burnout among team members, preventing a chaotic work environment.
Where sync has its place
Now while asynchronous communication is beneficial, says Lloyd, it’s important to maintain a balance with synchronous interactions. He believes running a business entirely on async isn’t feasible.
Lloyd suggests that having a few key rhythms that are synchronous, such as one-on-one meetings with team members, is crucial for maintaining relationships and understanding their goals.
James concurs with Lloyd, sharing his practice of meeting his team in person at least three times a year.
Lloyd also recommends having unstructured meetings occasionally, where you can have open conversations with team members. Both he and James have found these kinds of meetings to yield valuable outputs.
Tough conversations, Lloyd says, such as performance feedback, should be done in person. And in emergencies or when there’s a significant blocker, it’s necessary to have a live meeting until the issue is resolved.
Also, regular business rhythms such as weekly team meetings and monthly town halls need synchronous communication to ensure everyone is aligned and understands what’s happening in the business.
James appreciates this perspective on asynchronous and synchronous communication, recognizing the value in a balance of both.
If you need help optimizing your operations and achieving your business visions, you’ll find Lloyd at VirtualDOO.com. His services include a thorough audit to assess the state of a business’s people and systems.
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