How Asynchronous Communication Relieves Teams and Increases Efficiency

After the pandemic, companies around the world have accepted that remote working is an inevitable part of the modern working world. Distributed teams, hybrid concepts, and remote collaboration with digital collaboration and communication systems are methods that are inextricably linked to knowledge work now and in the future.

But much of it is still relatively new, and the muscle of asynchronous communication, in particular, is not yet particularly well-practiced in many teams. The challenge of distributed teams is not the physical distance but the existing tools and processes, which are often more geared towards traditional working methods and face-to-face collaboration.

Communication Consumes Almost Half of the Working Day

When should teams communicate asynchronously, and when is face-to-face communication the better choice? How can you ensure that teams get the most out of asynchronous communication? To answer these questions, it should be clear what the difference is exactly. Asynchronous communication is any communication that takes place with a time delay, i.e. not in real time. This includes emails, discussions on wiki pages, comments in tickets - and even votes in group chats are technically asynchronous. In contrast, synchronous communication takes place live, i.e. in meetings, video calls and phone calls.

The significance of the rise of asynchronous communication and collaboration becomes clear when we look at how much time we spend communicating. A study by Loom found that knowledge workers spend an average of three hours and 43 minutes communicating - including emails, chats, video conferences, meetings and phone calls. In reality, we spend almost half the day doing nothing but coordinating with other people.

Now communication is not a bad thing; on the contrary, agility is all about communication. However, when do we actually complete our productive tasks if half of the working day is already reserved for other things?

Synchronous Communication has Become Even More Excessive During the Pandemic

The pandemic has forced many teams into remote setups overnight, - but what has happened in terms of communication? Instead of fundamentally changing processes and methods, most teams have simply transferred their familiar and habitualized concepts digitally. Face-to-face meetings in a shared room have simply been replaced by video calls. And since a video call is much easier to organize than a physical meeting, the number of face-to-face meetings has actually increased! Communication has therefore not become leaner, but has actually increased.

This development therefore actually runs counter to the interests of the teams. To put it in figures: 76 percent of employees feel more distracted and disturbed by video meetings than by face-to-face meetings. Since remote is here to stay, teams should seriously consider how often they communicate synchronously and how they can make their communication not only effective but efficient.

It all starts with the question: does this task really require synchronous coordination - or are there better ways to communicate asynchronously?

How Asynchronous Communication Can Replace Synchronous Coordination - Three Examples

The following three examples show that things that are often dealt with in face-to-face meetings can be coordinated and organized just as well and better asynchronously.

Finding Ideas and Brainstorming

In a typical scenario, a group gathers in a room to collect as many ideas as possible on a topic or task in a concentrated effort. Unfortunately, many of these sessions fall short of expectations. Brainstorming sessions always come with the implicit demand: ‘Have an idea!’ However, as we all know, ideas cannot be forced. It’s not uncommon for participants to leave the meeting thinking they have wasted their time.

Asynchronous brainstorming can be much more effective and target-oriented. The advantage of this communication approach is that individuals can work at their own pace, allowing time for thoughtful reflection. Moreover, more introverted team members are given an equal opportunity to participate and express themselves productively, which is often not the case in synchronous meetings.

Asynchronous work promotes creativity, minimizes interruptions, and reduces pressure. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of generating genuine ideas rather than generic content or even outright rejections.

Planning Work

After brainstorming, it’s critical to bring the ideas and suggestions to life by breaking them down into concrete to-dos and prepared for further processing. This planning does not necessarily have to take place together in a (physical or virtual) room in front of a board, as there are perfect tools for this.

Modern project and work management solutions help teams to work together on these plans. A system such as Jira helps the team to break down their ideas into actionable individual tasks in a centralized digital location and to fully operationalize, assign, and prioritize them, map their dependencies, and share them transparently, with the status visible at all times. Where are meetings and calls needed?

Status Meetings

Why should something that has already been written down and documented be read out again during a meeting? And what about the stakeholders who are unable to attend the meeting? Status meetings are relics of the pre-digital age. The purpose of such a meeting is to establish alignment and compare information. However, this does not require a face-to-face meeting with half a dozen people in which the team can ruminate on existing information.

A tool like Atlas makes a team's goals and the status of their achievement transparent at all times. Stakeholders can identify the teams' priority projects at a glance and see how well the goals are being achieved. Jira and Confluence also help to create the greatest possible transparency and keep everyone involved fully informed without having to schedule meetings. Synchronous meetings are a highly inefficient way of obtaining status information.

How Asynchronous Communication Relieves Teams and Increases Efficiency - empty meeting rooms (1)

Meeting rooms: it's good if they remain unused more often!

Overcoming Habitualized Methods

This does not mean that synchronous communication has fundamentally outlived its usefulness. As I said at the beginning, direct communication is an inseparable part of the agile way of working. Nobody wants to deny the scrum team its stand-ups and retrospectives, nor team events or team-building measures. But synchronous communication should take place in the right context with the right goals - and not because it has always been done that way.

The following tips can help to establish asynchronous communication more firmly in the team without compromising meaningful real-time coordination:

  • Small changes in communicative behavior sometimes have a big impact. If team members take a look at their calendars and think about whether one of the meetings they have next week could be replaced by asynchronous communication, there are bound to be one or two dates that could be considered. Voilà: All participants are saved 30 to 60 (probably unproductive) minutes!
  • Experiments make sense! Every team and every company is different, and what works in one context may not be effective in the next. What works really well? What doesn't work so well - and for what reasons? The team should think carefully about this.
  • What asynchronous best practices have emerged in the team? Do team members have ideas on how communication can become even more efficient? The team should document and share these ideas in a central location.
  • There must be a consensus in the team about the best form of collaboration, otherwise there is a risk that the initiative will largely fizzle out. Measures such as working agreements can help to achieve such alignment.
  • Preparatory work is important. If asynchronous communication is to become the standard, the team must habitualize digital documentation in systems such as Jira and Confluence. Fully operationalized tickets and transparently available information are important prerequisites.
  • The use of asynchronous communication tools should be intentional. They should help the team, but not determine the team's work. For example, it can help to reserve fixed blocks of time for processing chat messages, Jira comments and Confluence mentions.

Would you like to know more about how Atlassian's tools support asynchronous communication? Then get in touch with us! Our specialist team will be happy to talk to you about your use cases and requirements and show you what Jira, Confluence and co. can do to relieve your teams and make coordination more effective.

Further Reading

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