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May 24, 2024

Why remote companies need asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication is essential for remote teams. Give your team the lifestyle & flexibility benefits of remote work.

Why remote companies need asynchronous communication

Akhil Reddy
May 3, 2021

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Good communication at work is like cooking. Everyone should be at least passable at it, but very few people actually are. When you get it right, everyone’s happy. 

But most communication turns out like the casserole that your aunt brought to the potluck: Messy and complicated and, importantly, not good.

But there’s one easy forcing function for good communication that most companies miss, and it’s one word: Asynchronous. 

What it means: Asynchronous communication is the (very) long term we use for cultures where employees aren’t expected to respond to messages immediately. There’s no “let’s hop on a call right now”, people don’t spend their days with one eye glued to Slack channels, and it’s OK if you wait 12 hours to get back to somebody on an email.

It’s great and it’ll usually make your team more efficient. Here’s why asynchronous communication makes for better work––and why remote companies need it.

It’s (almost) a magic pill for better communication 

In a traditional office model––or a poorly-run remote model––communication happens at a rapid, one-to-one pace. You ask something to your copywriter, they reply right away. 

But the traditional style of communication doesn’t work well for remote teams. Asking your employees to be on edge all day, constantly checking Slack and email, is a surefire way to kill their productivity. Plus, it eliminates your chances to hire someone in a new time zone.

In an asynchronous system, you set expectations like:

  • How quickly people are expected to reply to messages (for example, within 24 hours).
  • Which types of messages are more urgent than others.
  • When, if ever, people should be online to answer quickly.

If this still sounds awkward, take a minute to think about how much of the work you do truly needs to happen at the same time. For most teams, this answer is less than 1 hour per day––if at all. Breaking down this barrier is huge for remote success.

Once you’ve got asynchronous practices in place, it’s also time to reframe expectations about output and input. In a traditional office model, people are expected to be working for a set number of hours per day: 9 to 5, for example.

But with remote work, it’s smarter to focus on output. Set reasonable expectations about what needs to be delivered and when, and let your employees figure out their schedule. One of the major benefits of remote work is more flexibility and a better work-life balance: Telling everyone to be on their computers for 9 hours straight kills this benefit.

There’s a laundry list of benefits to asynchronous work

One of the greatest benefits of remote work is that it lets you cut out the busy work and distractions that come with office work. Chief among those distractions are overlong conversations, unclear communication, and unnecessary meetings. Asynchronous gets rid of those.

Here’s how:

  • You have to think more carefully about what you write. If you know you can’t have a long conversation or a call right away, you’ll have to put more thought into the message you do send.
  • You’ll have less meetings. Communicating asynchronously means you’ll have more “does this really need a meeting?” realizations. This means less meetings, and that’s good.
  • You can hire people in any time zone. With an asynchronous communication policy, it doesn’t matter nearly as much if your new hire is 6 or 8 or 12 hours ahead. This means you can access the global talent pool. 

In short: Asynchronous communication is essential for most remote teams. If you want your team to have the lifestyle and flexibility benefits that come with remote, you shouldn’t expect them to be checking messages all day. 

And when you allow your employees to answer when they can, you’ll let them focus on more deep work––and their responses will be better thought-out.

There’s more to the story

We understand that fully remote isn’t going to work for every single team. And neither is hybrid. Each comes with a different set of challenges, but this playbook is about the remote portion of work: If you’re hybrid, we’re speaking to the work you do at home. If you want to learn more about the specifics of hybrid work itself, read Almanac’s guide.

We took large parts of this blog post from our playbook on remote work. It’s v1.0 of our handbook on what great remote teams––and the future of work––looks like. In it, you’ll learn about what remote teams are doing wrong (and right) and what successful remote companies are doing. 

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Elizabeth Wellington

Liz writes about business, creativity and making meaningful work. Say hello on Twitter or through her website.

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