Async communication is what *really* unlocks productivity

Why asynchronous work is more productive

Reason 1: Effective communication

Communication becomes more thoughtful when asynchronous because written communication is generally considered more carefully. Live synchronous communication often results in lower quality discussions where individuals have not really prepared or thought about what they want to say. This is especially true if team members are stuck in all-day back to back meetings — they simply never have time to prepare or think through topics. It’s also very true when team members need to accommodate global timezones and are feeding back on a topic at 6am or 11pm.

Reason 2: Accessible communication

Key discussions and important information is always written down with asynchronous communication. I strongly encourage using tools like Google Docs or Notion (we use both of these) instead of email, and making the default sharing visibility “All in organisation”. This automatically generates company-wide documentation which becomes very helpful for:

  1. Onboarding new team members into a project: All important information is easily accessible to read.
  2. Team knowledge sharing: Any team is able to find work by other teams - aquick search query will return past thinking by the whole organisation.
  3. Referencing back to what was decided: I find it amazing how often the same question/problem can come up when things are not documented. I have found that when answers/discussions are documented — many repeated questions can be solved with a simple link to the documentation.

Reason 3: Reduce interruptions — allow for focus

A full schedule of meetings means your day is constantly interrupted. From my personal experience (and researchers have found the same) frequent context switching makes it difficult to think clearly and deeply. This is especially true for creative, demanding tasks like writing, software development and design. Whole books, like Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, have been written on this topic.

Reason 4: Better personal lives

Teams who adopt more asynchronous work experience less fatigue from non-stop calls and a higher sense of accomplishment resulting from creative outputs.

Example timezones for our team (via tool WorldTimeBuddy)

Tips to make asynchronous communication work well

Assume good intent

“Body language may account for between 60 to 65% of all communication” according to Psychiatry. A smile while delivering bad news goes a long way. With asynchronous communication you can’t hear the tone of voice, let alone read facial expressions. It’s easy for things to get lost in communication with asynchronous communication — which is why assuming good intent is so important. Assume the person writing the messaging didn’t intend to be rude and offend you, even if that’s your initial reaction. Take time to clarify.

One of our four team values at Whisk

Use video and audio

I’ve found that recording videos and sending them via Slack can be very helpful. I regularly record 5 minute videos using Loom’s free Chrome extension, or longer videos using Zoom meetings. I do what has become known in our team as “lonely zoom calls’’ — a zoom call on my own where I press the record button and then send the recording to my team. I’ve also started sending video recordings to some of my friends on Whatsapp and Telegram — and it works surprisingly well there too (I think).

Hire proactive people

Asynchronous work requires each individual to pro-actively stay in touch with their organisation. It’s definitely not for everyone — which is why hiring for independent and proactive people is so important in distributed environments.

Experiment with communication tools

Different teams find different tools work for them — it depends on not just the type of work but also the team personalities. Almost all teams find collaborative documents like Google Docs (my favourite) or Notion important. Digital whiteboard tools like Miro are great for synchronous collaborative meetings, but some teams at Whisk use them for asynchronous work as well. Some teams also find it effective to send voice messages via walkie-talkie apps like Voxer.

We still need synchronous communication!

There are many situations where synchronous communication is best. Synchronous communication often works better to build rapport, discuss sensitive topics or grapple with topics where there are many unknowns or variables, and where the creativity from bouncing ideas around in a meeting can really help. Obviously time sensitive topics require synchronous communication.

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