Study after study have shown that remote work is the future of work. It just so happens to come down to the concept of asynchronous communication.
With the rise of telecommuting, small business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs have a whole lot to gain by working remotely, especially when building a business.
Think about it: you avoid rush hour traffic, distractions at the office, and even gain a better sense of control throughout your workday. At the end of the day, you have more time to dedicate to family, friends, and hobbies—something that is easy to neglect when you have less time on your hands.
All of these reasons help increase employee productivity, work-life harmony, and overall job satisfaction.
So what is asynchronous communication anyway, and how does it boost remote work productivity?
This article will detail what asynchronous communication is, how it drives remote work productivity (compared to its synchronous counterpart), and actionable steps you can take today to build a more asynchronous workplace for your business.
Simply put, asynchronous communication occurs when you send a message to a client or colleague without expecting an immediate response. It’s when information and data exchange independent of time and place. This exchange of information doesn’t require immediate attention, conversations, or feedback loops.
Synchronous communication, on the other hand, is the most commonly used form of communication in the working world. In a remote setting, this could mean someone on your team messaging you via Slack and expecting a reply in a matter of minutes—if not seconds. This type of communication expects an immediate, real-time response.
Before you dive right into adopting asynchronous communication, it’s important to understand the good and the bad of each communication method.
Bouncing between your inbox, pointless meetings, and Slack notifications are markers of busyness, not productivity. The nature of synchronous communication makes all of these notifications urgent. So in reality, it’s much harder for you to reach the flow of “deep work”.
[add table graphic comparing “Examples of shallow work vs. Deep work”]
Coined by Cal Newport, author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, Newport defines deep work as:
“Professional activity performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.”
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with synchronous communication, but the expectation of immediate response can deeply impact the flow of “deep work”, which means a decrease in productivity.
Synchronous communication can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. Think about it: as a remote worker, if you are always having to check in to make sure you don’t miss anything, how much deep focus do you really have?
Instead of being able to focus on work, you’re left scrambling to answer messages promptly (no matter what time of day it is).
This also creates another issue: when you use asynchronous communication style, you’re typically always in a reactive state. You don’t have time to think through problems and articulate responses well.
You may be scrambling to get an answer out so that you don’t look like you’ve missed the message or took too long to reply. But what if you have an urgent message or a time-sensitive deadline that does require immediate attention? Sooner or later, staying in a reactive state every workday will only lead to burnout. Instead, take a proactive approach by creating and/or controlling the situation with async communication.
With asynchronous communication, remote workers are far more productive and focused. It’s even easier for maintaining it in the long run. Rather than continually checking and answering messages, you can zone out in long stretches of concentrated work, also known as “flow”.
Achieving flow dramatically boosts productivity. This means a team (even if it’s only you!) with fewer distractions, higher mental capacity, and as a result, more quality work with minimal errors.
Synchronous communication severely eats away at this productivity, especially if there’s a constant pull to answer messages during your team’s work hours.
Shifting from sync to async isn’t going to happen overnight. It takes a profound shift in tools, processes, habits, and culture.
Not sure where to begin? Here are some concrete steps you can take:
Include as much information as possible when sending any type of message. Visualize things with screenshots or screencasts. Be clear about what you need from the other person and what the deadline is. A few extra minutes adding details and editing for clarity on the front-end can save days of back-and-forths in an async environment.
Share all relevant information and discuss key issues before the meeting so that everyone can come with a full understanding of the topic at hand.
Start, or continue, a thread or document so that people who weren’t there can find the information at a later time. By documenting the key details, you’re allowing anyone who wasn’t available to “attend” asynchronously. It’s especially effective if you work with a global team with varying time zones.
You already know the benefits of time-blocking. But did you know that making it habitual is a great first step to asynchronous communication? Be sure to turn off notifications (or take a pause) so that others know that you won’t be responding right away. From there, set aside specific time blocks during the day for checking and responding to emails and messages.
Asynchronous communication isn’t the current norm, but it is the future of productive, remote work. By prioritizing async communication for your freelance venture, you’re enabling you (and your future team) the ability to expand and scale globally and at a much faster pace. Just like it’s important to build the right toolkit for your business (starting with accounting and invoicing), we could say the same about adopting async communication. Try it today!
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