Synchronous vs Asynchronous Communication

It all depends on when you need an answer: now or later

Being in sync was the trend some time ago.

But it’s not the case anymore.

Just like the boy band, the times when ‘n sync hit the tops is long gone.

Of course this doesn’t mean there are no more people who still belong to the fanbase. This is because, just as tendencies change and what’s fashionable today might not even be remembered tomorrow, it’s equally true that tastes differ. What you like might not be the most popular option, but that doesn’t make it less appropriate or less close to your liking. To each, his own.

Are we still talking about music? No, we’re not. It’s just as true in any area of your life.

We’re talking about the freedom of always having the choice to go for whatever works for you. 

Freedom of choice is maybe the ninth wonder of the free, internet-based modern world.

Even when it comes to communication, there are a lot of options to choose between. Verbally and nonverbally, one to one or mediated, IRL or from a distance, by fax, e-mail, telegram, letters sealed with a kiss, carrier pigeons. Just have your pick.

That’s great news as communication will always be the core of all healthy and successful relationships, personal and professional as well. It’s wonderful to know there are tools out there dedicated to make your work easier and back up your choices.

To make it all easier, let’s just group all options by reference to your goals.

Just ask yourself this: when do you expect an answer?

If the response is now, then you’re in a synchronous communication context.

All the while, a delayed, yet still useful reply, means an asynchronous approach.

So now -> sync, delayed -> async. Yes, I made a tiny flowchart. But it’s really easy if you put it this way.

So let’s further discuss both, for an in-depth understanding.

Synchronous communication: what it is and how it works

Synchronous communication implies real-time communication between two or more people. It could be a physical interaction as well as a computer-facilitated discussion. All of the below fall into this category:

☕ a face-to-face meeting with a colleague,

🌾 a long-distance talk with your grandma from the countryside,

📞 a telephone call to your siblings when they’re in the next room (it’s OK, don’t blush, I do it as well),

🎧 a Zoom meeting using speakers and microphones only,

👔 a Google Meet with the webcam active. Top half formal, bottom half, PJs attire.

You get my point. Synchronous communication is how we naturally communicate.

But how we naturally do things has proven to be not the best way around. When we look at how our lives look today, much of what we see is the result of innovation and optimizations. Driving electrical cars instead of horse carriages, ordering in on Uber Eats instead of cooking ourselves, there’s not much our current lifestyles have in common with what seemed natural for our parents or in our childhoods.

So there’s definitely a big question mark above whether natural is desirable.

For synchronous communication as well.

What I can say for sure is, there’s benefits. You connect on a profound level with your discussion partner. You get emotional feedback as well, not just information.

But there are also downsides. Synchronous communication is time consuming and not always the most respectful use of other people’s time, since you demand their instant attention.

Let’s also explore the alternative.

Asynchronous communication: a more modern type of interaction

Asynchronous communication is when people communicate without the requirement that they are in the same place and at the same time. It works well in personal situations and even better in professional contexts. Here are some clarifying examples:

❤️ a good morning text to your special someone,

✉️ a follow-up email for a work project,

🗨️ a Twitter post sharing your thoughts on today’s most important topics,

📱 a Whatsapp reminder to your friends to let them know you’re there,

📄 an Archbee document with essential information about your company, for an onboarding process.

In all these situations, communication doesn't happen instantly. You send a message and whoever is on the receiving end responds when they get to it. Or in some cases, no feedback is required at all.

Think of the examples. Quite familiar, aren’t they? That’s because we use async communication daily, and we’ve used it for quite some time now. Basically, the idea is to let people communicate and respond back at their own convenient time. 

When it comes to the work environment, that’s refreshing. Using this model of communication, a person does not have to respond immediately. They can go about whatever they’re doing until they finish the task and then deal with new assignments.

Benefits of asynchronous communication at work

Long story short, your coworker can consume your note unrushed, on their own schedule. 

The nuanced implications of this are great and can massively improve people’s attitude towards their jobs.

1) Flexibility. Responding whenever you want comes with a sense of control and freedom at the same time. Without a doubt, flexible schedules are one of the most important perks employees want from their jobs.

2) Depth. Not having to hurry to give an answer provides the mental space to really let information sit. Immediate responses will always be more superficial than those well thought over. You can’t deliver quality and do your job properly if you’re always switching between meetings. If you ever felt that kind of fatigue, it’s not your fault. The whole approach to efficiency was wrong. 

3) Reliability. There’s a Latin saying: Verba volant, scripta manent.

There’s more to it than just a fancy look & feel. What it means is, spoken words fly away, written words remain. Which by all means is true. There’s nothing more comforting than having a database to back up all your discussions and decisions.

4) Planning. When you can’t make things up as you go, since asynchronous communication leaves little time for improvisation, you have to think ahead. A little strategy never hurt nobody, did it?

5) Wisdom. You get to breathe in and out before giving your input. Comes in handy in difficult situations, like having different opinions. Trust me, as an introvert and non conflictual person, I know. Plus, this way you get to actually feel the feelings you’re feeling, far from intrusive eyes.

Asynchronous communication will not solve all your problems. Its biggest disadvantage is that async messages can be easily misunderstood as they lack the richness of real-time interaction. Also, it can take longer to resolve issues, if the amount of time spent on a task is not well managed.

But of course there’s no single solution to all challenges.

We’d love your take on this. How to balance both forms of communication? What works best for you? How do you prefer to be approached and why?

Reach out to us on our office mail address, support@archbee.io, with your personal experience, and any questions or comments. We’ll be more than happy to read your thoughts and respond and even happier for both of us to digest the information at our own pace.

Ana
Ana
Storyteller. I balance information with feeling

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