What is Asynchronous Communication?
Asynchronous communication is where you send a message to someone without any expectation of an immediate reply. When you talk to someone on the phone, that's synchronous. They have to be there and present at the other end of the line for it to work. When you send someone an email, that's asynchronous. The recipient will receive it and respond when it is convenient to them.
Why Does Asynchronous Communication Matter?
There are several reasons why communication should be asynchronous. First, with a remote team not everybody is working at the same time. You cannot communicate synchronously with somebody who is asleep or away from their desk.
Second, synchronous communication is distracting. Sometimes something is urgent and it requires interrupting someone else's workflow, but that should very much be the exception rather than the rule. If it isn't urgent, it should be asynchronous. Context-switching is difficult. If you are in the middle of developing a new feature, or writing a new blog post, or tracking down a payment issue, having to stop and switch to something else means having to find your way back to where you were mentally before you were interrupted.
Third, synchronous communication encourages presenteeism. Being at work just for the sake of appearing to be at work is soul-destroying.
Finally, asynchronous communication allows more time for more considered responses, rather than off-the-cuff replies that are hard to change later. If a question is worth asking, it is probably worth waiting for a great answer.
How Do We Know Which is Appropriate?
As a general rule, default to asynchronous communication. It's easy to switch from asynchronous to synchronous, and hard to go the other way.
Communicate synchronously when:
- The communication is important and urgent enough to interrupt the person you need to talk to. (Example: website is down, POTUS has tweeted about us.)
- The communication is proving tricky to resolve asynchronously. (Example: where there have been several emails back and forth and an issue remains unresolved.)
- It's about human interaction before work stuff. (Example: a catchup with a colleague, team meetings.)
Try to document the work-related part of synchronous communications where possible. So if you catch up with a colleague and venture into work talk, make some notes about that part of the conversation and share them.
Private vs Public Communication
Email is private communication, where only the sender and recipient can read what is said. Try to make sure you only use private communication when necessary. Default to public mechanisms where you can - use public Slack channels over private, use Crisp over email and so on.
- It is easier to keep your communication asynchronous when you plan well ahead. If you're dependant on someone else to get something done, don't wait until the last minute to get them involved.
- Use Crisp tasks when requesting something from someone. It might be tempting to ask a quick favour in Slack or by email, but you never know what the day holds for the other person, and using a task manager means they don't need to remember or manage work in multiple places.
- Crisp is where most work-related chat happens. Questions should be added to the relevant task.
- @ people in Crisp when you want to let them know their contribution is needed. Even better, add a sub-task.
- If you're assigned something in Crisp, please manage the expectations of the person who sent the item. Even if it's just to say "not going to get to this before Christmas", it lets the other person know it's in your capable hands.
- Use Crisp Conversations to make notes which should be searchable later (decisions or discussions about products, for example).
- Collaborating in Google Docs is encouraged. Use the comments and suggestions features where possible to communicate about specific issues.
- It is perfectly OK to work through an issue via a shared Google doc.
- Docs should live in the shared Added Bytes drive.
We don't use Slack for decision making, it's for asynchronous updates and notices, and friendly social interactions. We encourage employees to use the Slack status system to let colleagues know what they're up to and when they're not around.
- #remote to talk about working remotely! Share photos of your workspace. Or your lunch! Talk up your location. Let everyone know when you're capitalising on the opportunities that remote and flexible working bring.
- #reading to share what you are reading or have finished reading (online or offline).
- #handbook to talk about anything in this handbook or suggest changes and additions.
- Email is naturally a private form of communication. Try not to use it except for things that need to remain private.
- Good examples of email use - to let someone know a feature they've been waiting for is rolled out, to give employee feedback.