Asynchronous Communication: Definition and Examples
Asynchronous communication is certainly a current buzzword, and you probably hear about asynchronous communication all the time, but what is it and how can it help your team?
Asynchronous communication is communication in which all participants aren't expected to be attentive as the communication process unfolds. This is opposed to synchronous communication, where there is generally an expectation that all participants are attentive as the communication is happening.
As the definition implies, despite it often being presented in connection with technology asynchronous communication does not require computers or software. The first form of asynchronous communication was probably someone asking someone else to relay a message for them.
Examples of Synchronous Communication
It can be helpful to first look at what forms of communication are considered synchronous.
- Face-to-face meetings and conversations: It's generally considered rude to carry on multiple in-person conversations at once, and humans aren't able to effectively listen to multiple conversations at once. These can be more formal, like a scheduled meeting in a conference room, or more informal, like a chat with a peer who just tapped you on the shoulder.
- Phone calls: Phone calls are synchronous. Each person listens in real time and takes turns communicating.
- Video Calls: Video calls with tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams are certainly synchronous. Just like phone calls they have real-time back-and-forth communication.
- Webinars and Live Streams: While typically only one presenter is speaking, everyone is expected to be attentive to receive the information they're sharing.
- Instant Messaging and Chat: Most instant messaging and chat tools can operate both synchronously and asynchronously, but most communication occurs synchronously, and it's often the case that these tools provide presence information to give cues about availability for discussion.
Examples of Asynchronous CommunicationNow that we know what isn't asynchronous, let's look at what is. Here are a few examples of synchronous communication:
- Written Messages: More traditionally, asynchronous communication occurred with written messages like letters and notes. The receiver was not required to be present or attentive for the sender to compose the message, and the receiver could reply to the message on their own schedule.
- Books: Whether physically printed or digital, books are a very common form of asynchronous communication. The author writes the information that they would like to share and then it is available to any readers that wish to read it whenever they want.
- Email: Emailing is asynchronous. Emails are composed at the convenience of the sender, and then the receiver can read and reply at their convenience.
- Digital documents: Digital documents, like web pages, PDFs, and Word or Excel documents, are asynchronous. The creator of the documents authors and shares them, and then the consumer can view them at any time in the future. Paired with search, consumers can discover digital documents as needed.
- Forums and Discussion Boards: Online forums and discussion boards allow users to post questions or comments and receive replies from other users at a later time.
Benefits of Asynchronous CommunicationAsynchronous communication can be very advantageous for teams, making them more open and inclusive while also helping team members stay more focused:
- Flexibility: One of the primary advantages of asynchronous communication is its flexibility. Participants can engage in conversations without having to align their schedules, making it suitable for individuals in different time zones or with conflicting commitments.
- Thoughtful Responses: Asynchronous communication allows people to take their time before responding. This enables more thoughtful and well-considered replies, particularly for complex or sensitive matters.
- Documentation and Reference: Messages and communications in an asynchronous format are often documented, providing a record of discussions that can be referred back to later. This documentation can be valuable for future reference or clarification.
- Reduced Interruptions: Unlike synchronous communication, which can be disruptive to productivity, asynchronous methods enable individuals to manage their time better by responding to messages during designated periods.
- Inclusivity: Asynchronous communication ensures that everyone can contribute and participate, regardless of their geographical location. Even in an office, it's inclusive to people who aren't at work at a given time due to other responsibilities, both personal or job-related.
Challenges of Asynchronous CommunicationWhile asynchronous communication offers numerous advantages, it also comes with some challenges, including:
- Delayed Responses: The lack of real time interaction can lead to delays in receiving responses, which might hinder urgent decision-making.
- Misinterpretation of Tone: Without the cues of tone and body language, written messages can sometimes be misinterpreted, leading to potential misunderstandings.
- Less Spontaneous Collaboration: Asynchronous communication may not be suitable for brainstorming sessions or situations that require immediate input and feedback.
Balancing Asynchronous and Synchronous Communication
Finding the right balance between asynchronous and synchronous communication is crucial for maintaining efficient and effective communication within a team or community. While asynchronous methods work well for certain situations, synchronous communication is still valuable for quick decision-making, brainstorming, and building stronger personal connections.