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How to Make Asynchronous Communication Work for Your Team

Andy Cook | January 8, 2020
fish swimming with document

Messaging apps are supposed to streamline your day, but, at any second, the red dot of distraction can still lure you away from your work.

In October 2019, Slack discovered that their paid customers spend more than nine hours connected to the app and 90 minutes actively messaging their colleagues each work day. That’s a lot of opportunity for distraction.

Even worse, most workers turn into a typical five-year-old kid when they communicate with you through messaging apps — they ask way too many questions. Even when you do take the time to answer all your teammates’ questions, messaging apps don’t make those answers easy to find later on.

So, in this age of constant knock brush sounds and fruitless Control+F searches, how can you actually stay focused during the work day and access any crucial information you need on the spot?

Asynchronous communication and their corresponding tools are the answer.

Let’s learn how to use them to your advantage.

What Is Asynchronous Communication?

Asynchronous communication is any type of communication that doesn’t happen in real time and allows the recipient or recipients of information to respond on their own time. Email, video recording tools like Soapbox and Loom, and internal wikis are all forms of asynchronous communication.

Synchronous communication, on the other hand, is any type of communication that expects an instantaneous or near-real-time response, such as in-person conversation, phone calls, video calls, and messaging apps, like Slack.

Why Asynchronous Communication Is Better for Business

The average person needs 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption, costing up to six hours of productivity each day. A teammate pinging you on chat or tapping you on the shoulder might only feel like a 2-minute investment, but in reality the time it takes to ramp back up into a focused state is a lot more than that.

productivity chart after interruption

Because it creates few distractions, asynchronous communication allows your employees to focus deeply, consistently, and without interruption, which can skyrocket your company’s overall productivity.

Asynchronous communication also naturally documents all the information your team needs for future reference, which could easily get lost through synchronous communication.

When you hold asynchronous meetings or communicate mostly through documentation or text, your team’s entire conversation history is documented.

As a result, they can take as much time as needed to fully understand the information discussed, reference it in the future, and avoid spending extra time writing up notes about what was covered during the meeting.

Additionally, asynchronous communication allows you to communicate with your colleagues across the globe without having to set up extremely early or late meetings to account for another colleague’s time zone.

When a team at Buffer, a social media management software that has over 80 employees spread across 11 different time zones, started holding asynchronous meetings only, they used a communication tool called Threads that enabled each team member to write down their thoughts and ideas about a topic every Thursday.

The product then spread to the rest of the company because asynchronous communication worked so well for their distributed company. As Joel Gascoigne, Buffer’s founder and CEO puts it:

joel gascoigne headshot

“Threads solved a pain point we felt where we found ourselves trying to use Slack for longer form discussion, and it was a mess. Threads is better for discussing and reaching decisions asynchronously, whereas we use Slack for more synchronous, quick conversations during the day.”

– Joel Gascoigne, CEO of Buffer

It was essentially a discussion forum that they could contribute to on their own time. And they haven’t looked back on their use of asynchronous communication since.

To recap, asynchronous communication provides many benefits over its real-time counterpart:

Benefits of Asynchronous Communication
Allows your team to focus on deep work for long stretches of time
Gives people time to digest information before replying
Creates documentation as an artifact of communication which can be reused later on
Cheaper than a meeting because reading is faster than listening
Allows introverts to contribute more easily to discussions
Gives your team the freedom to not always be online

Making Asynchronous Communication Work in a Synchronous Work Culture

Even though we have access to a stockpile of asynchronous tools today, we still tend to use them synchronously, especially email. Too often, seeing an alert signaling a new message can trigger our instinctual desire to immediately reply. But not all hope is lost. Communicating asynchronously starts by using your tools in new ways and integrating them with other tools when possible.

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Email

In the Wall Street Journal business best seller, Deep Work, Cal Newport, a best-selling author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, explores how blocking off time each day to do shallow work, such as reading and responding to email, is crucial for sharpening your focus.

Your brain reaches peak productivity during the late morning and dips midday, so dedicating the very beginning or end of your day to responding to emails lets you commit your brain’s best hours to your most important work. Answering emails on the spot throughout the day breaks this focus and, in turn, hampers productivity.

To make email even less of a distraction at work, consider using Tettra’s Zapier integration to create workflows that automatically create Tettra pages when you receive a specific email. For example, your weekly product usage reporting email could trigger the creation of a Tettra page that could document that data.

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Messaging Apps

Chat app messages are usually more urgent than emails, but just like your email, you’ll focus better at work if you block off chunks of your day to read and respond to them.

The best parts of the day to block off for your chat app are when you’re taking a break from deep work. Your body operates on 120-minute intervals called ultradian rhythms, where you can work for 90 minutes until exhaustion and then rest for 30 minutes to rejuvenate yourself. So, during your work day, consider taking 30-minute breaks from deep work every 90 minutes. And while you take your break, respond to your chat app messages.

Another way you can save time on your chat app is by making sure that you give your colleagues all the information they need when you message them. If you don’t provide enough context, you’ll siphon their attention because they won’t understand what you need from them. As a result, you’ll have to message back and forth about the matter, which wastes your time, breaks your focus, and hamstrings your productivity.

Additionally, save even more time on messaging apps by using Tettra’s integration with Slack. You can find, create, and request knowledge from Tettra by using simple slash commands. For instance, to quickly find a link to a Tettra page about your company’s vacation policy, you can simply use the slash command “/tettra find vacation policy” in Slack, and then a link to the page will pop up. You can also use the integration to notify your team when someone creates new knowledge in Tettra.

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Internal Wikis

By documenting important and common knowledge in internal wikis, you can quickly direct your colleagues to important information, processes, and educational resources without having to spend a lot of time explaining the same things over and over again. You can truly communicate crucial information in a one-to-many way that all your colleagues can easily reference later on.

Another benefit of building a culture of documentation is that it teaches your colleagues to refer to the wiki when they need answers to their questions — not you or anybody else on your team. This will slash the amount of interruptions in your office and keep everyone focused.

In the 2018 Definitive Guide to America’s Broken Processes, 49% of knowledge workers said they have trouble locating documents at work. Making it easy to find information asynchronously saves the time of your most valuable resource: your people. Not only that, it frees up your knowledge experts to do the job you hired them to do instead of answering repetitive questions from colleagues.

To start building a culture of documentation, consider documenting the following information in your internal wiki:

  • Your company’s mission, vision, values, and history
  • Your most commonly used processes
  • Topics and processes only a few people know
  • All the tools and software employees need to access
  • Any information that regularly needs to be accessed, such as your wifi password
  • Any education that employees can benefit from

Additionally, if you can ingrain a culture of documentation in your company, you’ll not only boost your productivity, but you’ll also be able to drive more innovation within your company.

For example, in 2004, Jeff Bezos famously banned his leadership team from presenting their ideas with PowerPoint in favor of writing six-page memos that forced them to think more critically and creatively. Since then, Amazon has launched Amazon Prime, Amazon Web Services, Fulfillment by Amazon, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Music, Amazon Kindle, Amazon Video, Amazon Fire, Amazon Echo, and many other innovative products. Amazon’s market cap has increased accordingly, going from $150B in June 2014 to over $850B today.

To establish a prosperous culture of documentation, make sure every meeting you hold has a written agenda, take notes so you can tag other people who might have missed the meeting, and document all your action items and decisions.

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Video Tools

Asynchronous video tools like WistiaVimeo, and Loom allow you to record videos that you can email to your colleagues or post to your internal wiki. They’re great for conveying a metric ton of information to your colleagues about certain topics, such as a monthly update on your team’s performance or a strategy change. It’s also might be faster for you to create a quick video than write a long piece of text, which your colleagues might be less likely to finish.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, asynchronous communication is often much cheaper than having a meeting in person.The national average salary for a software engineer in 2019 was nearly six-figures at $98,427 per year.
Source: ZipRecruiter: Software Engineer Salary 2019

That salary figure doesn’t even include payroll taxes and other benefits you’re paying full-time employees. Calculating based on all-in costs, pulling six engineers into an hour long meeting costs $403. Not having that meeting at all by recording a quick video, posting it on your internal wiki, and asking everyone to watch it when they have some free time saves a lot of money.

Even if you’re having a synchronous meeting, you should at least record it for posterity and so people on your team can watch it asynchronously. There’s a good chance some people may need to miss the meeting for another meeting, be out sick, or just plain old forget what was said. Being able to watch the recording after it happens is useful for people who missed it or need to reference something that was said.

Recording meetings with tools like Zoom is easy now and just takes the click of a button. You can then easily link to Zoom recording in your meeting write up on your internal wiki.

If you want to embed other videos hosted on all your tools into your internal wiki, consider using Tettra’s integrations with WistiaVimeo, or Loom.

Here are some other  of instances when communicating with asynchronous video makes more sense for your team:

  • Monthly meetings
  • Company all hands
  • Weekly status updates
  • Daily standups
  • Postmortems
  • Decision making meetings
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Software Development Platforms

If you’re working on a big project, consider collaborating and communicating with your software development team on Github. You can delegate tasks and chat about any ideas or issues, as well as host, collaborate on, and do code reviews all in one place.

With Tettra’s integration with GitHub, you can easily create pages dedicated to each of your software development issues by picking which GitHub repositories you want your Tettra account to connect to, searching for and referencing GitHub issues from those Tettra pages, and checking to see if your issues are open or closed. There’s no need to switch back and forth from your internal wiki and GitHub to create these pages. And less toggling between tools means less context-switching and more time to get things done.

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Content Collaboration Platforms

Documenting knowledge in Google Drive is a common first step for small teams. But as they grow to 10-15 people, we’ve found that keeping track and finding knowledge in content collaboration platforms produces the following challenges:

  • Google Drive and Google Docs search don’t work well.
  • There’s no category structure when you view a Google Doc.
  • Creating a category structure in Google Drive is a pain. Plus, it’s decoupled from Google Docs, Sheets, Presentations, etc.
  • All Google Docs are private by default, creating bottlenecks when people forget to share them.

To solve these problems, we built an integration with Google Drive. It allows you to set permissions, search for and reference Google Docs directly from a Tettra page, and embed a Google Doc into a Tettra page so you can collaborate on and edit it.

For example, if you want to reference a Google Doc in a Tettra page, you can simply type “#” and the title of your document and a list of options will populate. Then once you pick the document you want to reference, viewers of the Tettra page can click on the link and they’ll get directed to the actual document.

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Project Management Platforms

Similar to GitHub, project management platforms like Asana and Monday.com allow you to create projects, set deadlines, assign tasks, chat, and monitor progress. Consider using project management platforms to manage big projects that require multiple team members, such as onboarding a new customer, a product launch, or a new marketing campaign.

However, remember that the main purpose of a project management platform is to keep track of your projects’ progress, so don’t expect immediate responses or activity from your colleagues. For your own productivity’s sake, try to update your projects or respond to messages during breaks from deep work.

Asynchronous Communication: The Path Toward Higher Productivity

In a world where notifications supply us with the dopamine hits we constantly crave, we must resist them in the office. The path toward higher productivity is through better focus. Not how many Slack messages we reply to and send.