About Asynchronous Communication

Article reposted from HERE Asynchronous Communication: The Real Reason Remote Workers Are More Productive. Async isn’t just for remote teams.

Study after study after study into remote work has made one thing clear: Remote workers are more productive than their office-bound counterparts.

What’s not entirely clear is why.

Yes, people gain back time (and sanity) by avoiding rush hour commutes. They avoid the distractions of the office. They regain a sense of control over their workdays. They have more time to dedicate to family, friends, and hobbies.

But apart from the commute, all of those benefits aren’t necessarily the result of location independence, but rather the byproduct of asynchronous communication — giving employees control over when they communicate with their teammates.

While I think remote work is the future, I believe that asynchronous communication is an even more important factor in team productivity, whether your team is remote or not.

Many company leaders are asking themselves if they should embrace remote work. Very few are asking themselves if they should embrace a more asynchronous workstyle. While I think remote work is the future, I believe that asynchronous communication (or async, for short) is an even more important factor in team productivity, whether your team is remote or not. Not only does async produce the best work results, but it also lets people do more meaningful work and live freer, more fulfilled lives.

Drawing on the experience of my own remote and largely async company, Doist, this article will explain what asynchronous communication is, how it drives team productivity, and the concrete steps you can take to start building a more asynchronous workplace.

What is asynchronous communication?

Simply put, asynchronous communication is when you send a message without expecting an immediate response. For example, you send an email. I open and respond to the email several hours later.

In contrast, synchronous communication is when you send a message and the recipient processes the information and responds immediately. In-person communication, like meetings, are examples of purely synchronous communication. You say something, I receive the information as you say it, and respond to the information right away.

But digital forms of communication, like real-time chat messaging, can be synchronous too. You send a message, I get a notification and open up Slack to read the message and respond to what you said in near real-time. Even email is treated largely as a synchronous form of communication. A 2015 study conducted by Yahoo Labs found that the most common email response time was just 2 minutes.

Before we dig into the benefits of a more async approach to teamwork, let’s take a look at why we should question our current, largely synchronous ways of working and communicating.

The problems with real-time-all-the-time communication

If employees are consistently more productive when working away from the office, there’s something broken about the modern workplace.

According to the Harvard Business Review article “Collaborative Overload”, the time employees spend on collaboration has increased by 50% over the past two decades. Researchers found it was not uncommon for workers to spend a full 80% of their workdays communicating with colleagues in the form of email (on which workers’ spend an average of six hours a day); meetings (which fill up 15 percent of a company’s time, on average); and more recently instant messaging apps (the average Slack user sends an average of 200 messages a day, though 1,000-message power users are “not the exception”).

As one office worker told New York Magazine, “I used to wake up and turn off the alarm and check Tinder. Now I wake up and check Slack.”

This trend toward near-constant communication means that the average knowledge worker must organize their workday around multiple meetings, with the time in between spent doing their work half-distractedly with one eye on email and Slack.

To make matters worse, the rise of mobile technology means that workplace communication is no longer limited to the physical workplace or work hours. We can, and do, check email and respond to messages at any time, day or night. As a result, we’re never fully off the clock. As one office worker told New York Magazine, “I used to wake up and turn off the alarm and check Tinder. Now I wake up and check Slack.”

Slack boasts that users spend 9+ hours per workday connected to the app.
Slack boasts that users spend 9+ hours per workday connected to the app. 90 minutes of active usage spread over 9 hours is a whole lot of interruptions.

This highly synchronous way of working would be understandable if it produced results, but there is more and more evidence that all the real-time communication overhead makes it hard to focus, drains employees’ mental resources, and generally makes it more difficult to make meaningful progress on work.

I’ve written before about why we’re betting against real-time team messaging apps, but it’s worth summarizing the core problems and generalizing it to most forms of synchronous communication:

🛎It leads to constant interruptions. Interruptions split people’s attention and make it more difficult to make meaningful progress on work. High-value, cognitively-demanding activities — like coding, writing, designing, strategizing, and problem-solving — require long periods of deep, focused work. Synchronous communication makes creating large, uninterrupted chunks of time during the workday impossible.

Shallow Work vs Deep Work
The phrase “Deep Work” was coined by Georgetown University computer science professor and author Cal Newport.

🗣It prioritizes being connected over being productive. In real-time environments, you’re incentivized to stay connected and available at all times. If you disconnect, discussions will move on before you even had a chance to respond to, or even see, them. To avoid missing out on crucial decisions and discussions, people try to always be online and in as many meetings as possible, hurting both their wellbeing and productivity.

😰It creates unnecessary stress. The expectation to be constantly available means that workers lack control over their schedules. They spend their workdays reactively responding to requests rather than proactively setting their own agenda. One study found that people compensate for the time lost to workplace interruptions by attempting to work faster, leading to “more stress, higher frustration, time pressure, and effort”. This type of synchronous culture can quickly lead to burnout.

😣It leads to lower quality discussions and suboptimal solutions. When you have to respond immediately, people don’t have time to think through key issues thoroughly and provide thoughtful responses. Your first response to any given situation is often not your best response.

The benefits of a more asynchronous workplace

Most people accept distractions and interruptions as just a part of doing business, but some companies — like Doist, Gitlab, Zapier, Automattic, and Buffer — are embracing a more asynchronous approach to collaboration. Here are some of the core benefits of giving employees more control over when they connect to communicate with their team:

⏰Control over the workday = happier and more productive employees. In an async environment, there are no set work hours. Employees have almost total control over how they structure their workdays to fit their lifestyles, biorhythms, and responsibilities (like childcare!). Some Doisters work during the night as it suits them the best. I spend an hour with my son every morning, and no one inside my async organization notices.

🤔High-quality communication versus knee-jerk responses. Async communication is admittedly slower, but it also tends to be of higher quality. People learn to communicate more clearly and thoroughly to avoid unnecessary back-and-forths. They have the time to think through a particular problem or idea and provide more thoughtful responses. Instead of knee-jerk responses, people can reply when they’re ready. (As an added benefit, when people have the time to think through their responses, there tend to be fewer unthinking outbursts. Over the last 8 years, we didn’t have a single serious HR issue.)

💆‍♀️ Better planning leads to less stress. When last-minute, ASAP requests aren’t an option, advanced planning is a must. People learn to plan their workloads and collaborations more carefully to give enough time for coworkers to see and respond to their requests. This leads to less stressful collaborations and ultimately higher quality work.

🔍Deep work becomes the default. Because employees don’t have to stay on top of each message as it comes in, they can block off large chunks of uninterrupted time to do the work that creates the most value for your organization. They can come back to process their messages in batches 1-3 times a day instead of bouncing back and forth between work and messages or meetings.

Synchronous vs Asyncrhronous Modes of Working

📝 Automatic documentation and greater transparency. Because most communication happens in writing, key discussions and important information are documented automatically, particularly if you use a more public tool than email. It’s easier to share and reference those conversations later. For example, at Doist instead of asking for or explaining why a certain decision was made or the status of a particular project, we can search for and/or link to the relevant Twist threads.

Century 21 IT team is recognized by Information Week Elite 100

2015 – Information Week Elite 100 Winners – 72. Century 21 IT team


Emerging Tech Drives Hard Results

Re-post: Author Chris Murphy – editor of Information Week and co-chair of the Information Week Conference.

The 2015 Elite 100 companies are applying emerging technology in practical ways that will rewrite the rules of business. For 27 years, as Information Week celebrates the very best in tech innovation, our focus has always been on practical, measurable use of technology to drive real business value. We’re not impressed by gee-whiz tech for tech’s sake, and that continues with this year’s Elite 100 ranking.

But don’t confuse practical use cases for humdrum technology. You want virtual reality, big data analytics, Internet of Things, and mobile apps used in breakthrough ways? The Elite 100 companies are applying all these and more, in ways that will rewrite the rules of business.

I emphasize this point as an antidote to the misuse of the “consumerization of IT” idea of recent years. Consumerization is undeniable — the average person can buy NASA-worthy personal and mobile computing power off the shelf and connect it to world-class online resources.

The colossal blunder of consumerization, though, is thinking that IT’s role is remotely diminished by this trend. Here are a few examples of how this year’s Elite 100 are applying emerging technology in new ways:

Virtual reality: Boeing is testing an augmented reality system that lets a mechanic look through a tablet’s camera at an airplane’s torque box and see the actual box overlaid with digital elements such as assembly instructions. Big data analytics: ConocoPhillips is collecting and analyzing data to understand how effectively the oil and gas company is using new hydraulic fracturing techniques to tap unconventional oil fields. Data from just a single well can include more than 100 million records. UPS, the No. 1 company in this year’s ranking, is constantly analyzing an ever-rolling stash of near-real-time operational data to spot potential package-delivery delays as they’re happening.

[ Want more innovation ideas? Read about all the Elite 100 winners. ]

Mobile apps: Allstate has put its driver-monitoring system in a smartphone app, giving people feedback on their car-handling skills — and parents updates on their teenagers’ driving. Intermountain Health has put a myriad of healthcare app functions into one location, along with medical record data, for its patients. Cloud: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is using public cloud computing resources to make critical calculations like what functions the Mars Curiosity Rover has enough solar power stored up to use. MetroHealth is using online medical records, combined with online video consultations, in treatment of Cuyahoga County inmates, reducing the costs of caring for prisoners and the risks involved with moving them. Internet of Things: You can’t have an Internet of Things without a good Internet connection.

Royal Caribbean is using a new generation of low-orbiting satellites to bring fiber-like connectivity speeds to a part of the world that has never had it — the middle of the sea. Royal Caribbean is expecting a bonanza of free publicity from social media posts direct from the ship, and crew members are enjoying being able to Skype home to family for the first time during their months at sea. There’s a potent mix in all of this, combining still-emerging technology with painful business problems, plus a ruthless pursuit of ROI.

Add it up, and you get business applications of technology that are changing our world.

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in … View Full Bio