Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: The Essentials

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: The Essentials

As organizations engage more remote team members, many companies are navigating how best to communicate with their workers. With remote, distributed teams, the “office” can now span multiple time zones and include a workforce with varying availability.

A distributed team can make it challenging to find a meeting time that works for everyone. However, meetings aren’t always required and with team members across the globe, you’ll have extended operating hours and better daily coverage for your business.

For effective collaboration, leaders of remote teams should weigh communication options, including when to use asynchronous versus synchronous communication. This article includes an overview of each, as well as examples and best practices to help you figure out which might work best for your team in different scenarios.

Table of contents:

Difference between asynchronous vs. synchronous communication

The key difference between these two communication styles is that asynchronous communication happens over a period of time—rather than immediately—while synchronous communication takes place in real time.

Depending on the scenario, in some cases asynchronous communication is the most effective, while in others synchronous communication is preferred. Below, learn about what each communication method means in more detail, along with asynchronous and synchronous communication examples.

Related: 14 Ways to Improve Remote and In-Person Team Communication

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication takes place between two or more people without requiring them to be present at the same time, and without needing an immediate reply.

On a remote team, this communication method makes it easier for team members to collaborate across time zones, while reducing time spent in meetings.

For example, a U.S.-based worker might send an email or message at the end of their work day to a team member in Europe, and understand that they will likely receive a response the next day.  

Common examples of asynchronous communication methods

Many options are available for teammates to communicate asynchronously.

Some asynchronous communication examples include:

  • Emails
  • Direct messages
  • Shared document comments
  • Project management tool updates

Pros and cons of asynchronous communication

Like any form of communication, asynchronous communication has its fair share of benefits and drawbacks.

Pros of asynchronous communication include:

  • Simplified communication across time zones
  • Time to absorb information and respond thoughtfully
  • Reduced distractions and meetings, helping team members focus
  • Written documentation highlighting project and status updates

Cons of asynchronous communication:

  • Lack of real-time responses
  • Fewer opportunities for relationship and team building
  • Absence of tone and body language cues
  • Confusion when written communication is unclear
  • Not ideal for brainstorming and strategizing

What is synchronous communication?

Synchronous communication takes place between two or more team members in real time. This form of communication includes live collaboration, is often scheduled, and requires an immediate response.

While asynchronous communication works well in many workplace scenarios—especially on remote teams—synchronous communication is still needed for important strategy and brainstorming discussions, or to resolve a matter that is taking longer than expected to discuss asynchronously.

Common examples of synchronous communications methods

Synchronous communication can take place either in-person or virtually.

Some asynchronous communication examples include:

  • Scheduled in-person meetings
  • Asking a teammate a question at their desk
  • Phone calls
  • Live video meetings

Pros and cons of synchronous communication

Like asynchronous communication, synchronous communication also has some key benefits and drawbacks.

Pros:

  • Real-time communication and feedback
  • Opportunities to quickly answer questions and provide clarity
  • Relationship building with team members
  • Collaborative brainstorming and strategizing

Cons:

  • Time zone differences create scheduling challenges
  • Time spent in meetings decreases time-on-task
  • Stress from meeting fatigue
  • Distractions from multitasking during meetings

5 asynchronous communication best practices for remote teams

On a remote, distributed team, asynchronous communication methods like email and collaborative project management tools make it easy to connect despite time and availability differences.

Here are a few tips to help your team make the most of asynchronous communication.

  1. Evaluate how you spend your time
  2. Set clear deadlines
  3. Clearly convey your needs
  4. Respond with detailed information
  5. Know when to schedule a meeting

1. Evaluate how you spend your time

We’ve all been there: the hour-long meeting that runs longer than its scheduled time. Or, a meeting that covers points that could have quickly been resolved over email.

In the era of remote work, meeting overload is a challenge for many teams. Research from Microsoft found that workers across the globe have seen a 252% increase in meetings since the beginning of the pandemic, leaving less time to focus on work tasks.

For a more efficient work day, take inventory of how your team members spend their time. For example, how many of your meetings could be replaced by email or updates in a project management tool? Asynchronous communication is an effective way to disseminate information and request feedback without requiring team members to be in a meeting at a specific time.

2. Set clear deadlines

For asynchronous communication to work, setting clear deadlines on all platforms is important. Let team members know when you’d like to hear from them and share target completion dates for projects.

If you send an email to a team member who might not log in to work until after you’re done for the day, include a deadline for your response.

Many project management tools, which are task oriented, offer deadline management features to keep all team members on track—no matter when they’re working. This is particularly helpful for projects that include multiple steps.

By setting a deadline for each step in the process, you can stay on track with the project completion date. This will help team members manage their time by providing visibility into when their piece of the project needs to be completed.

3. Clearly convey your needs

A key to successful asynchronous communication is writing clear, concise messages on all platforms that your team uses. If your thoughts are ambiguous, it will confuse your team members and result in unnecessary back-and-forth responses.

Any time you write an email or message, think about the follow up questions team members might have and try to address them before they’re asked. Before you hit send, read through your email or message to determine whether it conveys all the points you’d like to get across. Also consider using bullet points or sections to make your asynchronous communication easier to digest.

Related: How to Collaborate Effectively with Remote Teams in 2022

4. Respond with detailed information

When your remote team members send questions via email or ask for project updates, take the time and care to craft a detailed response. Those extra few minutes to respond in depth can save you time down the road.

Sending off a quick response might seem like you’re getting the job done, but a fast reply might leave out important information. By not including everything your team members need to know, you’re setting off a chain of emails or messages back and forth, which can hold up projects.

5. Know when to schedule a meeting

Asynchronous communication isn’t necessarily ideal for every scenario. While emails and comments in shared documents are convenient and productive, they don’t always replace real-time meetings.

When you have a quick question, want to send over a document a team member requested, or want to make sure an update is available in writing, sending an email or other form of asynchronous communication works well.

However, when you want to brainstorm with your teammates, discuss a project launch, or resolve an issue that’s getting complicated over email, scheduling a live meeting might be a better option.  

5 synchronous communication best practices for remote teams

To work together efficiently, your team should understand how best to use synchronous communication methods, when needed. Here are a few tips to keep in mind—and encourage across your team—to help make synchronous communication as impactful as possible.

  1. Limit the number of meeting attendees
  2. Record the call or meeting
  3. Stick to an agenda
  4. Familiarize yourself with the features
  5. Send follow up communication

1. Limit the number of attendees

Having a meaningful conversation with too many people—whether by video, phone, or in person—can be difficult. The discussion often gets confusing and can lose focus.

When your team has issues or topics to discuss live, rather than asynchronously, be mindful of who is invited to the meeting and each individual’s role. For example, you might have a meeting organizer or leader, note taker, decision maker, and a few general participants to brainstorm and contribute ideas.

If you can’t think of a specific role or responsibility in the meeting for a team member, you should probably leave them off the invite list—or at least mark their attendance as optional. By inviting fewer people to attend a call or meeting, you’ll cut down on confusion and improve focus. Team members who don’t need to be in attendance will also appreciate the time they gain back to spend on projects and other priorities.

2. Record the call or meeting

Many video conferencing tools and phone apps include options to record meetings. You can decide when to start and end the recording, and whether to save the recording in cloud storage or on a specific device. You should let attendees know the meeting will be recorded before you begin.

This comes in handy if you want to clarify something discussed after the meeting, and it also reduces the need for extensive note taking. Plus, the recording is available to those unable to attend.

3. Stick to an agenda

Before any virtual or in-person meeting, create an agenda to help run a more productive meeting.

Seek input from team members when setting the agenda to help everyone get the most out of your time together. Also include a list of questions to answer and goals to accomplish before the end of the meeting.

Some video conferencing apps include features to upload and share the agenda with attendees. When everyone has the agenda at their fingertips, meetings are more efficient.

4. Familiarize yourself with the features

Technology is constantly evolving and several video conferencing and collaboration tools are available on the market. But having a working knowledge of all their features can be tricky, especially if you frequently switch from one tool to another.

Key features can include:

  • Audio and video permissions
  • Screen sharing
  • Polling
  • Chat

Before your team starts using a video conferencing or collaboration tool, encourage team members to get familiar with its features. This will minimize the need to troubleshoot and figure out technology while a meeting is underway, helping you facilitate a more streamlined meeting.

Related: 15+ Video Conferencing Etiquette Tips for 2022

5. Send follow-up communication

After each virtual meeting or phone conversation, send follow-up communication to all involved. This can be an email, an alert to a specific group in a messaging tool, or an update in a project management tool, among other options.

Follow up communication doesn’t need to be too long. Simply thank everyone for attending, and review the most important takeaways from your meeting—so both those who attended and those who couldn’t make it can see the latest updates.

Follow up communication is an easy way to recap what you’ve discussed, and establishes space for further questions and ongoing discussion about the meeting topic.

Next steps

Remote work has seen widespread adoption in recent years and is here to stay—nearly half of businesses plan to maintain some form of remote work in the next five years. With remote, distributed teams, striking the right balance between asynchronous and synchronous communication is key to long-term business success.

In addition to supporting remote work options for full-time workers, organizations are also increasingly embracing independent talent: 78% have used remote independent professionals in the past year, while 47% plan to use more in the next two years.

Most independent professionals are already well-versed in remote communication methods from running their own businesses, which can help them get up to speed quickly and effectively communicate across your team.

As you build your remote team, Upwork is here to help you find the talented independent professionals you need to succeed. Through Upwork, tap into a global talent pool with specialized skills to help grow your business and build your brand, while reducing operational costs. Get started today.

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Author Spotlight

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: The Essentials
Beth Kempton
Content Writer

Beth Kempton is a B2B writer with a passion for storytelling and more than a decade of content marketing experience. She specializes in writing engaging long-form content, including blog posts, thought leadership pieces, SEO articles, case studies, ebooks and guides, for HR technology and B2B SaaS companies. In her free time, you can find Beth reading or running.

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