What do you see when you look ahead to the future of work? I see one thing very clearly: Asynchronous Communication.
Gone will be the 9-5 and Monday through Friday schedules, requiring employees to be in the same physical location. That standard will be replaced by completing a clear deliverable by a clearly defined time.
Work will not require the same rigidity and scheduling. Where we work and how we communicate will become more and more asynchronous. With disparate teams, knowing how to improve communication at work will be essential.
What Does Asynchronous Communication mean?
Asynchronous communication means that the involved parties do not have to be engaged at the same time (such as an email, a text message, or asynchronous video). Instead, one party initiates the communication and the other(s) can engage where it fits into their schedule.
The Benefits of Async
Some of the great benefits of async are as follows:
- Asynchronous work boosts productivity. Fewer meetings, more time to work.
- Asynchronous work increases autonomy. Less micro-management, more freedom to think.
- Asynchronous work levels the time zone playing field. For global teams, there isn’t a favoritism to one time zone.
- Asynchronous work promotes intention. Any synchronous meetings are purposeful and to the point.
- Asynchronous work encourages a culture of sharing–whether that be knowledge, ideas or modes of learning.
Asynchronous communication, like everything remote, requires intentionality.
How to Decide Between Sync and Async
When creating an async message, you have to consider questions like:
- Am I using the best format (written, verbal, video…) for this message?
- Does the person receiving this message have all the context they need?
- Am I communicating clearly so that there will be no confusion?
- Am I considering the tone of my language and how this message will be received?
- Am I providing any needed resources or next steps, so that the conversation or project can move forward?
- Is this communication being documented in a way that it can be found later for future reference?
Asynchronous Communication: A History of Meetings
Historically there have been 3 types of meetings for businesses and teams. Informational sessions, decision-making sessions, and brainstorming sessions.
Here I break each down and discuss where and when a synchronous or asynchronous meeting is ideal.
Informational meetings are meetings where there is typically one or a few people speaking during the entire meeting. In most cases leaders or managers. What typically happens is the meeting organizer(s) prepare a document ahead of time. Whether a presentation, document, spreadsheet, etc. During the meeting, they simply read that prepared document.
In many cases…word…for…word… Participants typically feel the idea of ‘this meeting could have been an email, document, or CloudApp video.” These meetings tend to have minimal engagement and interaction. Participants are watching vs participating in these types of meetings.
Types of Informational Meetings
- All Hands meetings
- Team meetings
- 1:1 meetings
I believe this type of meeting can go asynchronous with a caveat. Here’s how I’ve restructured these types of meetings.
All Hands Meetings
A/B test these and get feedback from the team. I’ve helped teams use a few different formats.
The first is simply sharing the presentation with the team and setting up a synchronous meeting for the team that’s Q&A. Where employees can submit questions before the meeting (via Google form or similar) or during the meeting.
The next is using CloudApp to create a video where one or a few speakers go through their sections of the presentation. The speaker can provide additional context within the video. This video is shared via Slack. Questions/feedback can be shared either via the thread or a similar Q&A sync meeting can be set
A podcast where the CEO or host brings on various participants to chat in a more friendly vs. informational format. Information is all based on audio and not a presentation. The podcast recording and related presentation can then be shared via Slack or email.
Creating an actual company newspaper, where the same information is shared visually in a more engaging way. Like reading an old-school newspaper.
This time slot can also be replaced by company-wide events. Like a costume party, bringing your kids/loved ones onto the call, doing a virtual escape room/games where the entire company is broken down into random teams (an opportunity to connect with people you don’t regularly speak with).
Here’s what I’m doing at CloudApp:
Every other Monday I share a presentation and CloudApp video of me going through the presentation with some additional context. These items are shared within a single thread in the team Slack channel. I ask my team to share feedback and questions within the thread.
They have two days to do so. The Wednesday after I have a 30-minute synchronous meeting. We go over outstanding questions or feedback points not yet addressed. The rest of the time is for team building and relationships. We play games, like whiteboard Pictionary (I’m the king), trivia, etc. It could be a book club where for the next 2-3 meetings we all try to read a book on a specific topic. We then share what we’ve learned, liked, etc.
Other ideas include: A lunch n’ learn where one person gives a workshop or talk on something they’re passionate about. Or, a show and tell where people need to bring 3 photos of themselves. 1 as a child, 1 current, and 1 of their choice. Each person shares a story or some background on the picture.
The key here is to let the team lead on what types of events they’re interested in.
These async updates & sync meetings happen the off-Monday/Wednesday. I’m testing a tool called Friday that I hope to fully implement within my team and the larger company beyond that. The Thursday before it sends an async message to the team asking them the routine work 1:1 questions.
I’m also able to use Friday to incorporate OKRs and personal goals and to track progression on a weekly basis. These check-ins can/should be customized per team to add additional relevant questions. The responses are then incorporated into a master 1:1 Google Doc I have with each of my direct reports.
The 1:1 document will also include stats, feedback, important news, and takeaways/action items.
I’ll include a CloudApp video in this case talking through the document and addressing the feedback they shared in the async check-in.
Again, these are shared on Monday with two days for review/feedback/conversation. On Wednesday there’s a synchronous time slot set bi-weekly. The focus is to address any open items, to give my team the microphone to share their thoughts and to just catch up about life. Relationship building.
- My team has 2 days to go through the asynchronous meeting. They have time to digest the information shared and have the time to prepare thoughtful questions and feedback. I ask that they simply add a check emoji on the thread once they’ve gone through it.
- It hasn’t cost the team and company 2 hours (4 participants x 30 minutes) per meeting.
- The existing meeting time slot remains on the calendar but is focused on team and relationship building. One of the biggest challenges companies have faced, especially during the pandemic, is replacing the opportunity for the team to have some fun and connect with their colleagues.
Decision Making Meetings
In these types of meetings, there’s a clear agenda and a clear goal. Go with this Marketing agency; hire this person; approve development time for some project, etc. One or more people articulate a point and an action that needs to be taken. Another person or people agree to take responsibility for said action.
A CloudApp or well-written document/Slack message that clearly defines what needs to be done and by whom can achieve the goals set instead of getting multiple people onto a call to achieve this is option #1.
In some cases, some participants needed for a decision aren’t engaged or respond as needed. This is a case where a synchronous meeting is called for. Get the person or persons onto a call to force an answer or decision.
That said, I can tell you across my career when having to coordinate these meetings I’ve avoided more than 60% of these meetings by using the following format.
- 2-3 days prior to the meeting I send a calendar invite with a detailed agenda of what will be discussed, the expected outcomes, and the responsibilities of each participant invited.
- I’ll specifically @ mention someone to call attention to them. What has happened is our CEO sees an invite for a 30-60 meeting to discuss implementing a new Support tool.
- I @ mention our CEO, noting his responsibility and expected participation is to provide approval of the budget for the new tool.
- Our CEO sees the detailed agenda and objectives and measures the value of a 30-60 minute meeting he would need to sit in vs. simply replying back to the calendar invite with approval of the budget.
- He responds back with written approval.
- Meeting avoided.
This is the best candidate for a synchronous meeting. It’s a case where there’s an issue where the root cause is unclear and steps to remediate are unknown. So it’s a meeting of the minds. For example, a company suddenly experiences a high turnover of employees or sees an increase in churn.
Unless the company made a significant HR type change, it’s unlikely the team will understand why a number of employees left suddenly within a short period of time. To try and stem this issue, a group of up to 5 or 6 members (CEO, Head of HR, Head of the team most affected, etc) comes together to share ideas on what may have caused the spike in exits. They then brainstorm ideas they can implement to improve culture, work-life balance, prevent burnout, etc. A similar scenario for the customer churn.
Even these types of meetings can potentially start off as an asynchronous thread in Slack or multiple CloudApp videos.
Finally, make sure you request feedback from the team and respond to it. For example, Cody, our VP of Sales and Customer Success, and I were chatting last week where he noted that the Sales folks really enjoy the sync meetings. It’s a chance to celebrate wins and get fired up. So it may be valuable to do a weekly or bi-weekly sync with Sales for this purpose.
During these meetings some information that may be relevant to Product team, or similar may be shared. What would happen in the past are these teams or team leaders would then be added to the regular invites, where there’s minimal value of impact for these additional people.
A better approach would be to implement a tool where calls are recorded. The organizer timestamps and chapters the call as it moves from topic to topic. Most importantly, specific people that couldn’t or didn’t need to attend can be @ mentioned for something specifically relevant to them.
Async video or any technology is only as powerful as the person using it. I encourage you to leverage CloudApp to empower your team and create a better work environment.