What is Async Communication?

Asynchronous communication, or async for short, is when you ask for something without expecting an immediate answer in return.

Async is indeed the opposite of synchronous communication, which is how most of us communicate by default.

Examples of async communication:

  • Email
  • Forums
  • Video recordings
  • Messages posted on most project management tools

Examples of sync communication:

  • Phone calls
  • Zoom calls
  • In-person meetings
  • Workshops and brainstorming sessions

Why should I use async?

Async can boost your team's productivity, and it's crucial when working remotely, juggling multiple timezones.

Async accomplishes mainly three things:

It improves the quality of everyone's contributions

In meetings, everyone has to provide an immediate answer to questions. Often, we need to look at data, perform some calculations, or go through personal notes to produce a helpful response.

It reduces time costs for the company.

Instead of having multiple people sit through a discussion that's not relevant for them or to which they can't contribute, we can determine the level of participation required for members.

So, if the content of the meeting is just "good to know" for Mark, he probably shouldn't be at that meeting and can just read the report on the outcome later on. Mark would be making better use of his and his company's time by not being at the meeting.

It boosts productivity

Our communication tools evolved from an interruption-drive culture that was the norm in pre-remote times.

Anyone could drop by your desk and say hi, killing your flow.

“An interruption, even if short, delays the total time required to complete a task by a significant fraction.” — Deep Work, by Cal Newport

High-impact work requires long stretches of focused time. It's what Cal Newport calls Deep Work. It's just how our mind works. Once interrupted, we need to get back in the groove of things which takes time.

When you get have a long enough stretch of time to focus on a tasks, you increase your chances of getting into flow state.

Flow not only helps you produce higher quality work, but it's also a much more rewarding way of doing things.

Should we not run meetings then?

Rather than not running meetings at all, try to avoid running poorly-planned meetings as the default means of exchanging information with your team.

Meetings with no agenda run longer than they should, robbing everyone of time that could be spent producing high-impact work.

Should this meeting be an email?

It's important to identify the expected outcome and then decide the best communication method to get there.

  • If it's an in-person meeting, see if it could have been a Zoom call.
  • If it's a Zoom call, perhaps it could have been an email
  • If it's an email, maybe it could have been a text message
  • If it could have been a text message, perhaps it wasn't all that important, to begin with.*

(I've paraphrased these bullets from Naval Ravikant's podcast. I don't know who's the original author — if you do, leave a comment, and I'll update the article)

What meetings can be replaced with async?

Almost every meeting whose sole purpose is to provide information unidirectionally is an excellent candidate to be replaced by async.

Here are some examples:

  • Project status meetings can be replaced by shared project management tools like Asana, Trello, Notion, Jira, and almost any Kanban-style tool.
  • Team announcements can be a video recording or a blog post.
  • Instructions and tutorials Like "where do we keep these files" or "do we have a template for that" or "how to install ABC software on your new machine."

When should we do meetings?

I'd recommend meetings in some situations. For example:

  1. When the topic to discuss requires consensus
  2. 1-on-1s. Whether formal or informal
  3. To address time-sensitive matters. e.g., bugs in production or customer issues.

Where can I learn more about async?

I strongly recommend Gitlab's blog to learn more about fostering a culture where async is the default.

I also tend to use a lot this blog post for reference. It was written by Doist, the company behind my favorite to-do list app, Todoist.

Do you have other tips around async? Do you disagree with anything from the above? Let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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