What is asynchronous communication?

Communication is key to any business, but how much of it do we do in real-time?

Asynchronous communication definition

Asynchronous communication is a term that originates in telecoms. It refers to transmitting data without synchronizing to a clock, meaning this information comes from intermittent sharing and not a steady stream.

In terms of business, asynchronous communication refers to any communication that isn’t made in real time. For example, you might email your colleague a question rather than just getting up and asking them. That means your original communication (the question) isn’t instantly answered, just as any communication around the office isn’t done in a constant stream of ask and answer. Instead, the question is answered after an interval, usually because co-workers are busy with another task at the time of your asking. Put simply, if you ask a question or send a message without expecting an instant reply, that is asynchronous communication. The opposite to this would be something like a Zoom call, where everything is in real time.

While you no doubt use asynchronous communication plenty in the office, it is a vital tool for freelancers and remote team communication.

What are some asynchronous communication examples?

Messenger apps, email, and online document sharing platforms are the most common asynchronous communication examples.

Email

No one expects an instant reply on an email, mostly because email is the digital evolution of snail mail. Yes, you receive the message faster, but there is still a very generous time frame for the response which may take just as long as sending a letter by traditional post.

Messenger apps

These include Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp, and Slack. Of course, a lot of these can be used in real time for instant messaging, and plenty of offices do employ them to help enhance company culture through casual chat. Still, it’s not guaranteed or completely expected that the response will be instant.

Task management tools

Platforms like Monday and Trello let you play digital catch-up with team members without all having to find time in your calendars. You can simply log on, see what’s been added or highlighted and get on with it. This may seem counter-productive. After all, shouldn’t you take up an issue immediately and directly with the person who can fix it? In reality, with everyone on your team juggling different tasks, directly demanding that something be done is not only a great way to kill motivation, it’s not going to magically free up the time needed to instantly to sort it. Better to make sure you have highlighted the issue, so when everyone is back on the task, they know just what to do. These tools ensure the excuse of “missed the memo” can never be used again, and ensures everyone knows what’s happening, with nothing being confined to a panicked phone call.

Document collaboration

Tools like Dropbox Paper mean you and your team can all work collaboratively without having to be in the same room or even the same time zone. You can make edits and leave comments, which update instantly for everyone who has access to the document, and others can do likewise. Gone are the days of sending one master copy back-and-forth, only for edits to be lost as it’s renamed “Version 2” or “Version 12." With Dropbox Paper, asynchronous communication is easy.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous communication

So, which is better? For some, there’s no beating the immediate response you can get on a video call or face-to-face. You might also feel that you just can’t get the real measure of a person without some sort of real-time communication. That said, when these calls end, you still end up passing emails back and forth to cement everything that was shared into a paper trail. It’s almost like the “official” communication only really starts once things fall into asynchronicity. There’s also the fact that when people are pressured to act immediately, you almost certainly won’t get their best work—everyone knows how it feels to be a deer in the headlights. Asynchronous communication gives you the chance to take in information, digest it, and form your best response, all without anyone standing over you.

Does asynchronous communication mean higher quality communication?

There are studies to suggest that remote working is better than in-office work, with teams feeling more motivated and productive. Cisco found this was helped by the fact that 83% of remote workers felt they could communicate equal or better when telecommuting thanks to asynchronous communication. Another study found that the interruptions caused by real time communication led to increased stress as teams felt the need to catch up on lost time, again suggesting that asynchronous communication removes pressure and improves individual work processes. Based on these findings, it would be easy to think asynchronous communication frees your team from strict expectation and stress.

While real-time messaging apps remain a great way of getting the team connected, there is very much the risk of it causing your team to be constantly connected, forcing it into synchronous communication. This can lead to a poor work/life balance and eventual burn out. By refusing to contribute to your team chat, you can also appear unsporting, though by contributing too often, you might look like someone who is, pardon the pun, slacking off.

The key takeaway here? Know the strengths of using asynchronous communication and don’t abuse it.

How Dropbox can help?

Dropbox is a vital tool for any office or remote team looking for effortless collaboration. Different time zones used to mean staying late to get that call in. With Dropbox, no one needs to spend hours waiting for the other coast to wake up.

Dropbox annotations let you share your thoughts and feedback safe in the knowledge that everyone will see it when they log on. That means you don’t even have to worry about an email getting lost in an inbox or one person breaking the chain of communication by not forwarding it. If someone opens your shared document to work, they will have all the updates and information they need right there. Dropbox will notify you when new annotations are added, so you don’t miss a thing.

Collaborating with Dropbox can help align everyone, no matter where they are working from. Meeting agendas, project outlines, even long videos can be shared effortlessly. Dropbox creates one central, convenient workspace that doesn’t have office hours and lets you approach tasks on your own terms. Everything you need will be waiting for you when you’re ready.

No syncing feeling

Asynchronous communication has been the norm in many offices for some time, but if you’ve missed the memo, get started today. Your teams, both near and far, will thank you for new and improved communication channels.

Dropbox and our integrations can help your team get aligned without sharing the same office or time zone, all you need to really sync on is making the most of Dropbox.

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