In a world dictated by calendars and schedules, people are conditioned to operate in synchronicity-a manner in which two or more parties exert effort to be in the same place (either physically or virtually) at the same time. Asynchronous communication is the art of communicating and moving projects forward without the need for additional stakeholders to be available at the same time your communique is sent.
In a remote setting mastering asynchronous workflows is vital to avoiding dysfunction and enjoying outsized efficiencies. Increasingly, operating asynchronously is necessary even in colocated companies, especially when multiple time zones are involved.
Mastering the art of communicating asynchronously has a prerequisite: documentation. At its core, asynchronous communication is documentation. It's delivering a message in a way that doesn't require the recipient(s) to be available - or even awake - at the same time.
If your organization has no standardized method of documentation, establish that first. Otherwise, team members will be left to determine their own methods for communicating asynchronously, creating a cacophony of textual noise which is poorly organized.
Creating good habits
Asynchronous communication means receiving information when we can handle it-usually not "live." This is important, since most people need head space to focus on what they do.
The first step in creating an atmosphere where colleagues are comfortable working asynchronously is to avoid the mentality that meetings are necessary. By making meetings optional, recording and documenting everything, diligently following agendas, and leveraging the right tools, remote companies are less reliant on being online at the same time.
This mentality must be actively reinforced. For example, in team social calls where dozens of people join a video chat to bond as a team, an agenda allows those who cannot make it to add shout-outs or discussion points that others can verbalize. This is an intentional approach to not only working asynchronously, but also socializing asynchronously.
Minimize interruption by setting up a "preference list" for how to contact your remote team. Asynchronous also refers to the fact that you're not expected to immediately respond if, for example, a colleague or even your boss emails you on the weekend. Just reply on Monday. Likewise, if something is urgent, team members can ping someone on chat whenever-that's how team members can filter through information to know whether something is urgent.
Have as few mandated meetings as possible. The notion of "optional meetings" is absurd to those who only think in terms of synchronous communication- you're either at a meeting to contribute, or you aren't. The beauty of asynchronous is that team members can contribute to meetings that occur while they sleep.
Meetings are more easily made optional when each one has an agenda and a Google Doc attached to each invite. This allows people to contribute questions/ input asynchronously in advance, and catch up on documented outcomes at a later time.
The person who called the meeting is responsible for contextualizing the out- comes. By placing this burden on the meeting organizer, it acts as a filter for whether a meeting is truly necessary. That's a big responsibility, which keeps the quantity of meetings in check.
Plugging the knowledge leak
Asynchronous companies should implement a low-context culture so that communication is precise and direct. Team members forecast what questions may be asked and add in as much context as possible in its delivery. By assuming that the recipient is asleep, or perhaps doesn't even work at the company yet, this added context removes ambiguity and decreases the likelihood of misinterpretation.
This may feel inefficient, as communiques may take longer to compose. However, the long-term benefits are remarkable. At GitLab, we have years of documented decisions loaded with context. This enables new hires to sift through archives to understand what went into a decision.
As companies scale, people will come and go. By utilizing asynchronous communication, an organization is able to retain knowledge throughout these natural cycles.
Asynchronous companies should implement a low-context culture so that communication is precise and direct.
In colocated environments, informal communication is naturally occuring. When individuals are physically located in the same space, there are ample opportunities to chit chat and carry on conversations outside of formal business settings. Making social connections with coworkers is important to build trust within your organization. One must be intentional about designing informal communication when it cannot happen more organically in an office.
Informal communication is important, as it enables friendships to form at work related to matters other than work. Those who feel they have genuine friends at work are more likely to enjoy their job, perform at a high level, feel invested in the company, and serve others within the organization. For remote companies, leaders shouldn't expect informal communication to happen naturally. There are no hallways for team members to cross paths in, no carpools to the office, etc.
In a remote environment, informal communication should be formally addressed. Leaders should organize informal communication, and to whatever degree possible, design an atmosphere where team members
all over the globe feel comfortable reaching out to anyone to converse about topics unrelated to work.