The world has never seen a big surge of people – students and workers alike – switch to remote work due to the worldwide crisis that we are still in. Our current situation popularized synchronous communication and asynchronous communication, with the latter as the highly engaged type of communication which is being embraced by remote workers. This is not to say that these types of communications emerged just last year, rather, it was the rise of the various platforms and communication tools that can aid in the working processes of different companies as the changing times call for it.
Synchronous vs Asynchronous Communication
Having been introduced to these basic types of communications, we need to make sure that we understand these new terminologies for us to find out what it is like to communicate with our company’s team members synchronously and asynchronously. Understanding synchronous and asynchronous communication will allow us to determine the most effective way to communicate with our fellow team members as suggested in the book of The Holloway Guide to Remote Work.
Definition of Synchronous Communication
Synchronous communication means that the messages can only be exchanged in real-time just like the normal days of having face-to-face meetings. It is a must that the transmitter and receiver are present at the same time and/or space. The keyword here is the real-time communication that happens between the sending and receiving parties where an immediate response is expected.
These are some of the examples of synchronous communication:
- Live meeting – This involves the gathering of every team member at the same location.
- Audio conferencing – This is a telephone call where several people join to participate simultaneously.
- Video conferencing – This is similar to an audio conference but there are live images of the people participating in the call.
- Phone calls – Just like the audio and video conferences, phone calls require real-time communication between the caller and the person receiving the call.
Definition of Asynchronous Communication
Asynchronous communication means that the information can be exchanged regardless of the time where the receiver’s immediate attention is not required. This allows the recipient to be able to go back and forth on a certain message received from its sender, paving way for them to respond at their own convenience.
Some examples of asynchronous communication are the need to send an email, online forums, and collaborative documents. There are also those under the asynchronous messaging platforms that allow users to communicate asynchronously in such a way that the sender does not need to wait for an immediate response from the receiver. Still, communication happens between the parties, it’s just that they can exchange information and participate in a conversation at a different time. Texting and instant messaging are examples of asynchronous messaging platforms.
How can remote team members communicate effectively: Real-time or Asynch?
As stated in The Holloway Guide to Remote Work, learning about the different types of communications and tools is not enough if we truly aim for the best practices to plan for effective remote working for team members. Choosing the most effective tool for this type of setup has many considerations. It also highly depends on the individual’s perception as regards the different ways of communication.
The media richness theory is one of the most prominent frameworks that teams use to determine how and when to best communicate in their respective work. This theory highlights the importance of the different types of media that can be used as categorized between lean media, which refers to media that use asynchronous communication since it has a slower interaction rate, and the rich media, which is used in synchronous conversations and meetings so that the message can be conveyed in a face-to-face manner and the response or feedback is immediate.
Looking at the 2019 review of Ishii, Lyons, and Carr on the media richness theory, and as stated in The Holloway Guide to Remote Work, the evolution of the communication channels led to inconsistencies in results as suggested in the early years of media richness theory. With this, their study led to the discussion that the best medium to be used by remote teams depends on the communication needs for a given situation. They highlighted that successful collaboration among teams and their members is significant in achieving their respective goals. In remote work, the important highlight is that these collaborations usually happen online, and it was found to be effective if teams get to use multiple, media-based communication channels. The study grouped together various communicative tools into file sharing, web conferencing, messaging, and phone. Google Docs and email fell under file sharing. Looking at the description of media richness theory, Google Docs and email will be placed under the lean media which entails lower interaction however, the study suggests that Google Docs and Facebook messaging are the most effective tools for different teams when working on a project. Accomplishing team projects online has been interactive using a tool such as Google Docs as it allows interactivity among the members despite its asynchronous setup.
Benefits of synchronous communication and its disadvantages
Synchronous communication has its fair share of benefits. Just like face-to-face meetings, this builds a sense of connection among the members of a company. The element of personal touch is evident in these benefits:
- Meetings and socializing events – There can still be proper meetings and avenues to socialize with everyone using video conferencing.
- Immediate feedback on sensitive issues – Synchronous communication helps reduce ambiguity especially if the company is dealing with sensitive project management issues and such.
- Brainstorming for complex discussions – Information can be best relayed real-time for complex work discussions in the company and this can be achieved via a synchronous meeting with everyone.
These are some of the disadvantages of employing synchronous communication during remote work:
- Different time zones – Time zone differences especially for international companies can lead to a disturbance in companies especially if the employees feel like their work-life balance is being forced to change.
- Less productivity – People can be immediately disturbed by the synchronous meetings they get every time which may have been used for deep work instead.
Benefits of asynchronous communication and its disadvantages
The same with synchronous communication, asynchronous communication also has its benefits especially to remote workers:
- Relieves the pressure of instant feedback – With asynchronous communication, people can have more time to think of well-thought responses.
- Fewer interruptions that enable workers to focus – With members having their own hold of their time, they can focus more on deep work. This is also similar to having control on what they do day and night since it leads to fewer distractions while they are in work mode.
- Collaboration with co-workers across time zones – Unlike synchronous communication, asynchronous communication leads to easier interactions among people across different time zones since there are no time restrictions on when one should deliver information or projects.
On the other hand, these are the disadvantages that asynchronous communication brings when doing remote work:
- Feelings of isolation – The lack of face-to-face or real-time meetings may even lead to some members feeling lonely during work hours as there is a lack of connection among members.
- Less spontaneous brainstorming – Since asynchronous communication does not require an instant response, employees tend to slack on their work and may cause their creative juices and instant thinking to be dull.
Indeed, the changing times call for changes in the setup of companies that cater to remote work for their employees. The established theories and the emerging contemporary communication channels should be taken into consideration by the companies. The effectiveness of which communication tools to use depends on the team and its members and the needs for a given situation. Project management tools can also be used to aid in effectively managing the projects. Carefully understanding the differences between synchronous setup and asynchronous communication is a must. But companies should not stop there. Careful weighing of the benefits and disadvantages of the two types of communication is also necessary to figure out how the teams can best effectively thrive in remote working.
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