The Workplace is Changing. Here’s What to Expect
February 18 2021 • 5 min read
It’s mid-morning on a Wednesday. You get CC’d on an email from the office’s HR manager, but you have a question that you don’t want to share with the group. So, you shoot her a message over Slack. She responds immediately and you go back and forth for a few minutes, before she stops responding. An hour later, you’re in a breakout session over Zoom while in a group text thread with several colleagues. Late afternoon, you finally get your final Slack response from the HR manager. But by now, the original email thread includes 15 unopened responses in your inbox.
Sound familiar? If you have “Excellent written and verbal communication skills” listed on your resume, 2020 likely put you to the test. And, for many, this is the new normal of remote work.
It’s so typical that it comes with the moniker “asynchronous communication.” And it can be one of your remote team’s greatest assets.
According to Buffer, at its most basic level, asynchronous communication refers to the fact that work doesn’t happen at the same time (or the same rate) for everyone. Or, even more simply, asynchronous communication is sending a message without expecting an immediate response.
Outside the physical bounds of an office and the 9-5 pm workday’s temporal bounds, differences in workflow feel even more pronounced.
As remote workers worldwide balance different work schedules, communication styles, and sometimes even time zones, reinforcing good communication habits is the top way to adapt to a continually changing work environment.
The Complicated Reality of Communication
First, it’s essential to understand that “communication” is a complex concept. Sure, it means the transmission of information and ideas. But it’s also how we convey feelings through voice, tone, and body language. And these elements of communication are often absent in the remote workplace, where the majority of our communications are written.
For example, consider the enormous difference between these two sentences: “Hey, can we chat when you’re free?” vs. “We need to talk.”
Both have the same connotation: the speaker wants to discuss something with you. But the first sentence feels benign while the second triggers heart-stopping anxiety in the vast majority of people. But what if your colleague pops ahead into your office, playfully points a finger at you, and says, “We need to talk” while smiling? Suddenly, the same arrangement of words seems intriguing rather than intimidating. Why?
According to Psychology Today, 55% of communication is body language, 38% is tone of voice, and only 7% is the actual words spoken. Without the context of face-to-face interactions, there’s more room for miscommunication and misunderstanding.
Understanding Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication
During in-person communication, like meetings, communication happens instantaneously. For example, your colleague speaks, everyone in the room processes the information, and somebody responds. This is synchronous communication, and it can occur over digital channels as well. Think of real-time messaging modalities like Slack, Google Hangouts, and even text messaging.
In the pre-pandemic workplace, synchronous communication ruled supreme, with correspondence taking up a shocking amount of time. Even email, which could feasibly be an asynchronous form of messaging, has become increasingly synchronous. One 2015 study by Yahoo Labs discovered that the most common email response time was just two minutes.
According to a recent article by Doist, “researchers found it was not uncommon for workers to spend a full 80% of their workdays communicating with colleagues in the form of email (on which workers’ spend an average of six hours a day); meetings (which fill up 15 percent of a company’s time, on average); and more recently instant messaging apps (the average Slack user sends an average of 200 messages a day, though 1,000-message power users are ‘not the exception’).”
The result? Workers try to complete tasks between meetings while keeping one distracted eye on email and other messaging apps.
The perks of asynchronous communication
It's been proved time and again that remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts. And asynchronous communication could be a significant contributor to this increased productivity.
Asynchronous communication gives workers more control over their workday, prioritizes quality communication over constant contact, and reduces the stress of being “always-on” before, during, and after office hours.
Adapting to Change in the Workplace
Asynchronous communication can improve employee engagement, support teamwork, and fortify confident decision-making, even in the most trying times. So, what are the best practices that can help you and your teams adapt to asynchronous communication in a virtual environment? Threads CEO Rousseau Kazi has some basic guidelines to bolster teams struggling to connect in a meaningful way.
Streamline communication processes
Between email, texting, messaging apps, and social media, there are endless ways to communicate in the digital world. But not all of those channels support healthy communication in the workplace. In fact, when it comes to large teams and geographically-diverse teams, less is more.
The first step in strengthening team communication: establish clear channels and processes so that everybody is on the same page. For larger teams or teams with a wider geographical distribution, this could mean drafting a formal policy. For smaller teams, it could be a quick conversation about best practices and proper channels.
Whatever the case may be, it’s crucial to create clear processes with clear intentions to reduce the chances of miscommunications that put additional stress on remote teams.
Establish what’s urgent vs. what’s important
We’re living in an always-on era. But perceiving non-urgent communications as urgent can hinder rather than help productivity. As Rousseau observes, “Most things aren’t urgent, but making them seem so will add a higher tax of anxiety that people who were originally colocated probably didn’t feel before.”
The solution? More thoughtful communication. Before crafting your message, ask yourself the following:
- Is your communication time-sensitive?
- Does it have to do with workplace or employee safety?
- Is it regarding some catastrophic event or an attempt to head off a catastrophic event?
If you answered no to the above, your message might be important, but it’s likely not urgent. Allowing your teams or colleagues the time and space to process and respond to your message asynchronously will be hugely beneficial for non-urgent messages.
Hone your writing skills
If you’ve ever left an hour-long meeting thinking, “What a waste of time. That could have been an email,” then you already understand the importance of a well-crafted message.
Rousseau outlines the benefits: “Taking the time to write your thoughts will refine them as they get jotted down, provide more context to others, and catch people up to speed quicker—avoiding the need for a bunch of independent 1:1 meetings.”
Written communication is the crux of most asynchronous communication. But, for team members who struggle with articulating their thoughts in words, other options are available.
Here at Makosi, we’ve been assembling and deploying virtual teams since the beginning. And during that time, we’ve learned the importance of flexibility in communication.
Whether we’re connecting with our teams in real-time or through asynchronous communication, we always strive to be clear and compassionate in our messaging.
Now, as the rest of the world adapts to a changing workplace, we’re here to promote asynchronous communication as the key to improved productivity and better team relationships.
Want to see our virtual teams in action? We can get them onboarded in just 48 hours. Get started now.