The New Tool of Hyper Agency Efficiency: Asynchronous Communication
Tyler Gillespie is a founder with 2X exits who loves building and scaling service businesses. Born and raised in Colorado, you can find Tyler traveling, with home bases in Colombia & Colorado. He loves Latin culture, Spanish, and salsa dancing. Currently, Tyler shares his thoughts here.
If there is one thing agency owners are tired of, it is this: meetings.
People go on and on about just how pointless meetings really are and how those endless Slack notifications aid in doing nothing other than raising stress levels. Meetings have even been called “productivity killers.”
Management consultant Peter Drucker goes so far as to say, “Meetings are a symptom of bad organization. The fewer meetings, the better.”
There’s no other way of putting it: most meetings suck productive time.
Don’t believe me? Just take a look at some of the data.
“The State of Meetings Report 2019” by Doodle, an online time management tool, examined data from 19 million meetings and commissioned interviews (with over 6,500 professionals) from across the US, UK, Germany, and Switzerland. The report discovered that professionals spend over two hours (per week!) in pointless meetings.
The same report also found that over one-third of professionals believe unnecessary meetings to be the biggest cost to their organization.
The report also reveals that unproductive business meetings cost companies a whopping $541 billion USD in lost productivity and employee time.
And let’s not forget about the WFH movement, accelerated courtesy of the pandemic. While changing circumstances should have been reason enough for companies to analyze trends and find new ways of working, they just translated the same processes (and problems) to the digital space.
According to a working paper by HBS and NYU’s Stern School of Business, that looked at metadata from three million users from across North America, Europe, and the Middle East, the average length of meetings has dropped by 20 percent due to the pandemic. The number of meetings, however, has increased by 13 percent. Throw into the mix “Zoom fatigue” and boy, is your mental health in for a ride.
Isn’t it, for the lack of a better word, strange, that the pesky office charade of meetings has stuck around even in the year 2021? People have been obsessed with boosting productivity for years now; Millennials seem to harbor a much greater disdain for pretension than Gen X did. Work is increasingly becoming more remote and YET…meetings continue to prevail, remaining an “integral” part of work.
So why are meetings so unproductive when it comes to growing your agency and managing a remote team? While this question might demand a longer answer, to put it in a nutshell, we can blame the following factors:
- Lack of a clear agenda before the meeting begins
- Lack of preparation by leaders and employees before the meeting
- Having too many people in meetings (I mean do we really need Rachel from HR in every meeting?)
- Going off-topic
- Latecomers who often break the flow of the ongoing meeting while also scrambling around being clueless for a part of the time they do attend the meeting
- Digital distractions
Does it not make you wonder if there is a better, more productive, less stressful way to conduct business and manage workflows? A way wherein everybody makes the most out of their workday? A way in which remote workers who live in different time zones can come together to efficiently collaborate and achieve goals while not needing to burn the midnight oil?
A way where we can kiss Zoom fatigue bye-bye for good?
Enter Asynchronous Communication. 👋
I switched to working asynchronously a few years ago. Take the example of my mentorship program. I co-invest, buy, and consult service businesses in my Productized Mentor Program that is a 1:1 monthly program run completely asynchronously. I’ve been able to help interesting businesses from across the world scale to six figures a month thanks to working asynchronously.
What I’ve come to realize is this: the async way works great for most agencies and company structures; it boosts productivity and gives people time to work in their own time. As well, think, prepare and create more in-depth responses for X issues, etc.
So What Is Asynchronous Communication?
It is nothing technical. If anything, asynchronous communication is a godsend for agencies that work with remote workers across the world.
According to a blog post by HR platform Remote, that helps recruit talent from across the globe, “Asynchronous work is a simple concept: do as much as you can with what you have, document everything, transfer ownership of the project to the next person, then start working on something else.”
To put it simply, asynchronous communication is communication in which there is no time requirement for transmission. Each individual in the team communicates in their own time. People communicate in a manner that does not require the other person to be present.
If I receive a message from a colleague, I don’t need to respond to it immediately. Neither do I need to tell my teammate to get on a call with me (i.e. both, or all parties involved, do not need to be present).
I can just reply to the message in my own time. This is not to say asynchronous communication doesn’t involve timelines and or deadlines that come under the purview of project management. It just means that each person in the team is aware of the deadlines at hand and honors them. In the process, teams across the world have noticed that productivity levels are boosted as the time spent in pointless meetings drops drastically.
Synchronous communication, on the other hand, is communication in which both (or all) parties must be present at the same time. Your regular office meetings, Zoom meetings, or even your colleagues expecting you to get back to them immediately on Slack, are examples of synchronous communication.
This can sum up the experience most people will have with typical organizations:
Some of the tools you currently use are examples of tools that can be used to communicate asynchronously, such as email, WhatsApp (I love voice notes!), Loom, Jumpshare, and even Zoom (the auto-record feature). Synchronous communication, on the other hand, would mean attending face-to-face meetings (!!), virtual meetings, Slack responses, or simple phone calls.
Async communication offers various benefits when compared with synchronous communication, from being more productive to respecting your teammates’ time.
5 Ways to Reframe the Conversation
1. Asynchronous communication means increased flexibility in your work hours
When you communicate asynchronously, you communicate in your own time. This means that if you’re busy (or just having a bad day), you don’t need to respond immediately.
Communicating asynchronously means respecting the “human factor” of work. Human beings aren’t machines. We have good days and bad days, we have productive days and less productive days. Asynchronous communication means understanding this and giving humans on teams a bit of wiggle room.
For example, I’m a night owl and produce my best work between 1 AM and 5 AM. Thanks to asynchronous communication, I can rise and shine at noon and still get my work done perhaps better in quality than had I been forced to attend that 9 AM.
2. Asynchronous communication leads to more undisturbed work hours and increased productivity
Imagine this: you’re in a state of flow. The sun is shining, you’re getting your work done, and your mind is clear and focused. Then boom. You get a call. You need to take it. Worse, you hear the dreaded sound of a Skype call incoming. “Are you kidding me?” you think to yourself right before you plaster on a smile, fix your glasses, and greet your client or a teammate. Another one of those “hey, just hopping on a call to check in!” meetings. Small talk follows, a bit of work talk, and then ten minutes later you’re back to being in your heavenly state of flow.
Oh, how we wish that’s how it worked!
According to research conducted by Gloria Mark of UC Irvine, most interrupted work resumes, on average, in 23 minutes and 15 seconds. That’s the time cost of task switching. Not just this, though. You don’t simply go back to exactly what you were doing; you have to rearrange and reorganize thoughts in your mind and perhaps complete a task or two before you can be in the same state you were in pre-interruption.
Asynchronous communication gets rid of this possibility and allows you to choose your own time to work. Further, you can disconnect from the world if you so choose (switching off your phone, maybe?) while working and focus entirely on the task at hand.
3. It’s in asynchronous communication’s nature to leave behind a paper trail i.e. there is better organization of data and facts
Synchronous communication usually means that some of what has been discussed in meetings might be lost unless somebody is explicitly taking notes of the conversation. Of course, you always have tools such as Zoom video recording.
However, that means going through the entire meeting to find what you’re looking for. And if you’re anything like me and watch videos at 2X the speed or skip massive chunks, you might miss something important. Even if you don’t, you know the task of going through the entire video is tedious and unenjoyable with a lot of time being wasted.
On the other hand, asynchronous communication leaves behind a paper trail, after all, that is just how it works! Having a paper trail is especially helpful in the case of complex projects.
There are various merits to keeping a record of your communication with your teammates. It reduces the chances of any confusion or miscommunication. Anytime you are confused, you can always go back and look at the conversation. In case you believe something wasn’t made clear or requires more clarity, you know exactly what to ask your teammates or your client.
4. Asynchronous communication is perfect for collaborating with talent from across the world
If you run an agency or work at one, you probably communicate and work a lot with people from across the world. If this is the case, async communication is your savior! Asynchronous communication means easier collaboration for remote teams since the time zone is not a constraint anymore. Further, with async communication being one of your secret weapons, you’d be more open to working with talent from across the globe. This means better problem-solving thanks to a multicultural perspective (integral for many companies in today’s hyper globalized age) along with becoming an attractive employer for talent that prefers working remotely – from avid travelers to new mums.
If you ask us, remote work and asynchronous communication is a virtuous loop.
5. Asynchronous communication means better, more considered, and honest feedback
Async communication makes for better feedback and more honest communication. Here is why:
- Helps avoid knee-jerk responses-Asynchronous communication gives people the chance to think, reflect, and then respond. This means better and more considered feedback.
- Encourages honesty-Asynchronous communication gives people who might perhaps not be gaga over the idea of speaking up in meetings (we’re talking to you, introverts) the ability to speak their minds. If meetings make you feel like you’re being put on the spot, then asynchronous communication is for you
- Online disinhibition effect-The online disinhibition effect is the lack of restraint one feels as a result of communication online as opposed to communicating in person
When you combine all three factors, you have yourself a recipe for better, honest, and considered feedback.
How To Communicate Asynchronously
Some of the activities that are better performed with the aid of asynchronous communication include:
- Weekly announcements
- Weekly team kickoffs
- Introducing new team members
- Editing documents
- Preparing for meetings
- Capacity planning
- Monthly financial accruals
- Daily Standups
So how have other companies that use asynchronous communication as the primary form of communication, successfully managed to leverage the power of async? Here are some tools that might help.
Tools We Recommend to Help Your Teammates Communicate Asynchronously
Multiple tools exist today that can help your team collaborate and communicate asynchronously. With that being said, the remote work revolution has led to many tools cropping up in the market. This makes the async communication tools industry highly competitive, with every new tool being the next “revolutionary” optimization tool. So we figured we’ll help you out by offering some tools that have worked for us.
Oh, the trusty tool that shall continue to prevail in all-things-work. Here is why emails are often considered to be a necessary part of async communication.
- They’re often thought out. No impulsive reactions when it comes to sending emails.
- They’re extremely easy to use and everybody already knows how to send and receive emails.
- Emails tend to be very to the point.
- They can be used to easily share images and documents.
It should be kept in mind that emails are often used by teams that rely on synchronous communication. So what should you keep in mind when using emails for asynchronous communication for your teams? Set some ground rules like:
- Don’t expect immediate responses
- Keep emails as long or short as it needs to be. (preferably short)
- Add context or any relevant details the receiver should need to know (i.e. make it comprehensive and/or self-explanatory)
- Let the sender know how much time you might take to get back to their reply. Setting clear expectations when communicating asynchronously is vital – not only concerning emails but also in any form of async communication
Messaging Tools 📲
Slack has been getting a bad rep because it often creates the stress of constantly having to engage. However, it doesn’t need to be that way. Many teams across the world that communicate asynchronously believe Slack to be indispensable to their team communication. Slack leaves behind a paper trail, can be easily scaled and offers a lot of integration possibilities. It does, however, work best when used in real-time (when everyone in the respective team is online together), can get cluttered, and the notifications can be disturbing. There are a few things you can do to optimize Slack for async communication such as turning off the notifications and creating a Slack etiquette guide for your team.
Twist is another popular tool used by remote teams today. Twist was created with the aim of streamlining conversations and organizing them so that nothing important gets lost while also making sure team members don’t feel overwhelmed by an exploding (and/or jumbled) inbox. It also consists of features that seem to have been created keeping in mind async communication. For example, there is no indicator to show whether somebody is online or offline. You can also choose who you want to notify. Further, it makes it very easy to bring on board and collaborate with agencies and contractors.
Video Communication 👨💻
Loom is another powerful tool we strongly recommend for remote teams. Loom helps you create short videos (either of yourself or your screen or both), upload them on the cloud, and then share the URL with your teammates. Your teammates can take a look at the video whenever they get the time. This is an example of leveraging the power of video when communicating asynchronously. Interestingly enough, the team behind Loom is remote and uses Loom to conduct asynchronous meetings themselves.
The major difference between Zoom and Loom is that while companies use Zoom to conduct synchronous meetings (a mere substitute for in-person meetings), Loom is used to conduct meetings asynchronously. Zoom can be used for async as well. However, that is not what it is primarily known for.
ZipMessage is another video-sharing tool that works wonders for remote teams. Created keeping async communication at the center, ZipMessage consists of features that make remote collaboration a breeze. Some of these features include link sharing of the videos, back-and-forth messages all on one page, reusable message templates, and integration with Slack.
Voice Notes 🗣
Not a fan of phone calls but still want to have your thoughts flow freely while communicating? Short on time and can’t craft the perfect email? Want to do something that is lower commitment and requires less time than making a video? Voice notes to the rescue. Tools such as WhatsApp and Yac allow remote teams to send voice notes that your team members can respond to at any time. What’s great about Yac is that it takes the popular concept of voice notes and makes it business-friendly. Yac lets you record your screen, integrates with Slack, and each voice note comes with transcription in case you’d like to read it.
Project Management Tools 💻 ✅
When you’re managing a team that communicates primarily asynchronously, great project management becomes integral to the success of the project. Making sure remote teams works in an efficient (and timely) manner in order to achieve their project goals requires an equally great project management tool. Enter ClickUp. 👋 🎉
ClickUp takes all the important information and puts it all in one place. You can assign tasks to team members, collaborate with members, and manage entire projects on ClickUp. It comes with the ability to create to-do lists, manage your team’s schedule, and streamline workflows.
Documentation and Document Sharing 📂
Look no further than the trusty Google Drive when it comes to creating and sharing documents. The great thing about Google products (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc.) is that they seamlessly integrate with most other SaaS used by remote companies. They’re also created to keep collaboration at the center. One might go so far as to say that they’re indispensable when it comes to working in remote teams and communicating asynchronously.
Things To Be Careful of When Communicating Asynchronously
We have so far learned about the overwhelming advantages of asynchronous communication. Leveraging asynchronous communication, we now know, means a more productive, and perhaps even happier team. Asynchronous communication comes to the rescue where synchronous communication fails.
With that said, as is the case with pretty much everything, it is imperative we also learn about the drawbacks of asynchronous communication. While there isn’t a whole lot, it is important to be mindful of the ones that do exist.
1. Asynchronous communication might not be the best form of communication when the goal is relationship-building
Human beings are social animals. We like to feel connected. In the world of business, especially, creating and nurturing relationships is crucial. Asynchronous communication is so obsessed with being productive and keeping everything streamlined that we might fail to connect with each other at a human level. The pandemic, especially, has taught us just how important human connection is.
2. Asynchronous communication is not great for urgent or immediate tasks
When you need something done immediately, your best hope might indeed be to “hop on a quick call.” This is why many project managers, even when they’re fans of async communication, recommend figuring out which tasks can be performed asynchronously and which ones might be better suited to synchronous communication. It might also be helpful to create a list of reasons when it would be better to communicate synchronously. Then again, this might not work if a team is made up majorly of contract workers.
3. It might also draw out a conversation
Sometimes, again, it might be in everybody’s best interest to pick up the phone and get on a call. Or else to do a Zoom call, share the screen, and explain the task. Async communication doesn’t allow for this possibility.
Everything boils down to good communication. If something is unnecessarily getting drawn out, a team member’s best bet might be to drop a message and request a quick meeting. We also recommend making the agenda of the meeting crystal clear and stating it beforehand. After all, the whole point of async communication is to respect others’ time and ensure that productivity levels remain high.
You’re all set now!
Asynchronous communication is a testament to the fact that employees and team members are adults who do not need to constantly be monitored or managed. They can be expected to do their work in their own time and do it well. After all, people across the globe today are proactively on a quest to become more mindful and productive workers. This, along with the fact that remote work is on the rise (a trend that isn’t going to be stopping anytime soon), means that async is the communication form of the future.
If you’d like to learn more about how to leverage the power of async communication, along with other actionable ways of scaling up your service business, I suggest you check out this playbook on 12 very actionable strategies I wrote (after intensive research, if I may add) a few months ago. It’s free and will prove to be very valuable for your business.
So…what are you waiting for? Leverage it, save time, and dive into the beautiful clear waters of productive work. 🙌