Discover what asynchronous communication is, the pros and cons, and how to make it work for you—and get more done whenever, wherever
Table of Contents
Ever notice how people default to their comfort zones when they're faced with something new or unfamiliar? Like going with a hamburger at your favorite restaurant, as always, instead of trying the fish.
Much like sticking to your choice of comfort food, teams often default to meetings whenever they need answers or have to update people. But too many meetings–or too many unproductive ones–can make people feel like they have zero control over their day and work. It also takes away from time for crucial focus work.
That’s why you need to know when async working makes more sense–and how to do it–so they can cancel more meetings and ensure the ones you do have are worthwhile. When you do, you’ll get happier, more productive employees who have more control over their time.
In this piece, you'll learn what asynchronous communication is, the benefits and challenges, how it differs from synchronous communication, and when to do it. You'll also discover how to make async communication work a reality for your teams, including by using a visual collaboration platform like Switchboard.
Move faster with fewer meetings.
Switchboard's persistent rooms save your work, so you can do more in–and in between–meetings.
What is asynchronous communication?
Canceling meetings won’t ruin company culture. Instead, asynchronous communication encourages people to move at their own pace and find blocks of time for deep, meaningful work. It's a method that doesn't require immediate responses or action—emphasizing output rather than busywork or the time spent on each task.
This way, you can move work forward in your own time and actually do work instead of just talking about it. Done right, teams can share and review project materials when it makes sense for them, before coming together for focused synchronous discussions.
Asynchronous vs synchronous communication: what's the difference?
Synchronous communication means everyone involved is online and interacting at the same time. Connecting in sync is appropriate for situations that require real-time interactions like team-building, planning, making complex decisions, or brainstorming.
Communicating async is ideal any time you don't need an immediate response. This includes sharing project updates, assigning tasks, collaborating on documents, and giving non-sensitive feedback.
Here are some real-life examples of synchronous vs asynchronous collaboration:
- Your product team gets together in a synchronous Slack huddle to discuss an urgent bug that needs to be fixed.
- A product manager creates a Switchboard project room to share async product updates with their cross-functional team. They add their project management tool, product roadmap, and action items to keep sales, marketing, and product teams aligned without constant meetings.
When is it best to use asynchronous communication?
Knowing when to communicate async can free up more time for focus work and give people control over their schedules. But remember, it's not about cutting out all meetings—only the inefficient ones.
Here's a framework you can use:
- Share information async—like docs, slides, or code
- Review it async—add comments or make video walkthroughs
- Discuss and decide async or together—either though comment threads on items in a Switchboard room or by meeting over video to talk as a group
What are the benefits of asynchronous communication?
Based on research by Grammarly, 43% of business leaders report decreased productivity due to poor communication. This means communicating in ways that benefit everyone, including async, can improve output and morale.
More time for focus work
Asynchronous communication reduces the need for immediate responses and constant meetings. This means fewer interruptions and more time for deep work. Some meetings will still be necessary, but if you share async updates beforehand you can make the meetings you do have more productive as you can get straight down to work.
Suits different working styles and personalities
Connecting async empowers team members to manage their schedules and work when they’re most productive. For example, morning people with peak focus and creativity during early hours can get to work without waiting on their team members.
Plus, not everyone performs best face-to-face or in big groups, so async gives them a chance to reflect before contributing, which lets different personalities shine.
Improves cross-functional collaboration
Asynchronous communication lets team members contribute to discussions, provide updates, and share information at their own pace. Since everything needs to be well documented, communicating async accommodates diverse working styles, time zones, and responsibilities.
For example, sales, product, marketing, and customer success teams can collaborate async on developing new features without being online at the same time.
Gives people more autonomy over their work and day
Async communication means you can cancel more meetings and get back time for focus work, so your day isn’t dictated by your calendar. Async work also requires you to trust employees and give them autonomy and responsibility, not micromanage their time. This fosters accountability and ownership and makes for more engaged and satisfied employees.
What are the disadvantages of asynchronous communication?
Now that you know some asynchronous work benefits, let's explore the disadvantages.
Can be hard to keep everyone and everything in one place
When people work on their own time, it can be difficult to keep everyone connected and on the same page. Moreover, too many apps, tools, and communication channels can interrupt focus work and lead to notification overload.
Pro tip: Switchboard unifies all your people, projects, and tools in one platform so you can keep projects moving forward async and in real time. For example, product designers might create a dedicated Switchboard room for design reviews.
In the persistent room, they can open Figma, project roadmap documents, virtual whiteboards and more to work side by side on them. Or, leave memos for each other to check out later. That way, everyone always knows how to contribute and where to go to find key materials, organized by project.
Too much time spent searching for information
When people collaborate across tools, locations, and departments, there's the danger of information being scattered across platforms. This wastes time searching for files, leads to siloed working and information, and makes it harder to keep everyone on the same page.
Easy to normalize context switching
During async communication, with multiple tools open, people can default to multi-tasking and thinking every notification is urgent and needs their immediate attention. This can normalize context switching and notification overload as you constantly toggle between tools and messages.
Let's dive into some tips to communicate more effectively async.
6 ways to make asynchronous communication work for you
Strong async communication relies on creating an asynchronous work culture where employees feel empowered to take control of their time and workload.
1. Audit your communication and working practices
According to Startup Marketing Consultant Elliott Brown, "You need to look at parts of your process that would work well asynchronously, like reviews and feedback sessions. But you also need to know when to spontaneously hop on a phone call with each other to avoid back and forth on a Google Doc."
This means you need to understand how you communicate and work, so you can cancel the meetings that don't contribute to project goals. This also lets you make the meetings you do have more productive. Here's what you can do:
- Conduct a meeting audit. Have each employee evaluate their recurring meetings and identify which ones lack value.
- Try “meeting doomsday." This is when your team deletes recurring meetings from their calendars before waiting 48 hours to repopulate them with only the truly valuable meetings.
- Analyze workflows. Identify bottlenecks, unnecessary steps, or areas where teams can move work forward asynchronously.
- Assess collaboration tools and platforms. Check if all your tools are effectively supporting async communication and working practices. If not, simplify your tech stack or introduce guidelines for async communication. For example, we don't recommend using Slack as an async communication tool because instant messaging lends itself to real-time notifications and immediate replies, which pulls you out of deep work.
Pro tip: Switchboard lets you keep everything related to your project in one place, so everyone can contribute in context at all project stages.
2. Establish guidelines for async communication
To create an environment where people feel comfortable communicating async, you need to establish clear guidelines around team communication. This involves training people how to effectively craft written communication like emails, updates, and informal messages.
Considering 63% of knowledge workers spend too much time trying to convey a message in the right way, training your team on how and when to communicate async can mean a significant productivity boost.
Part of this is defining when to use email, project management tools, or other messaging platforms. For example, Slack for non-urgent synchronous updates; Switchboard for async project work. Some messages, like a company-wide announcement, may be better suited to email. Things like team shout outs are better suited to a Slack channel.
Then, set expectations for response times to make sure everyone knows when they need to take action or when it's time for focus work. Or make it clear through status updates or blocking time on your calendar.
You'll also need to train your team to set healthy boundaries and take ownership of their schedule. Knowing when to cancel a meeting or turn an email into a meeting can help your team free up time for more meaningful work. This lets them make the right decisions for their workload, instead of wasting time in unproductive team meetings.
3. Use the right async tools
Depending on your needs and preferences, there are plenty of asynchronous collaboration tools you can use to do better work.
Here's our shortlist of the best tools for async communication:
- Asana for project management
- Notion for document collaboration
- Google Workspace for knowledge sharing and storage
- Mural for creative visual collaboration
- Figma for design and prototyping
- GitHub for collaborative software development
- Switchboard for async-first collaboration
Pro tip: Async-first collaboration platforms like Switchboard give everyone access to persistent, host-free rooms that save your work. This means people can check async updates and make progress on their own time, so you never risk information slipping through the cracks.
4. Document everything
Async communication doesn't work without well-documented, repeatable processes and systems. It's important to enable people to work autonomously and make progress without having to rely on constant communication for guidance, especially if they’re in different time zones.
Use document collaboration tools like Notion or Google Drive to create a company intranet or knowledge base everyone can access. Then, open these apps in your Switchboard room to keep all your relevant documents organized by project—and eliminate context switching. Your team can connect in real time or move work along async with meeting recordings and voice notes—not everything has to be written out. Plus, with Switchboard AI, you can have all your favorite tools talk to each other and quickly summarize all the information from meetings or project work sessions, so you don’t have to.
5. Overcommunicate but don't overwhelm
Communicating in different ways–for example, via text, video, or a call–helps keep everyone on the same page, especially when they have to learn new processes or make major changes that take time to absorb. But you shouldn’t overwhelm—you need to tailor the level of detail to the audience and match the context to the channel.
Overcommunicating doesn't necessarily mean bombarding people with information at all hours. Prioritize sharing important information during peak work hours, or when people tend to overlap in their workday. Or create a task in your project management tool to review a specific update so everyone knows where to find it, regardless of when they're online.
6. Fine-tune your process
To make async communication work for your teams, set KPIs at the start so you can track whether it's making people more productive, and what needs improving.
Some KPIs you can track include:
- Quality of deliverables
- Task progress over time
- Use of collaboration tools
- Team engagement and participation
- Task dependencies and bottlenecks
Make sure you have feedback mechanisms to collect and understand employee input on async workflows and tools. For example, set up a poll in Switchboard asking everyone to rate their workload or level of satisfaction so you can address any issues during your next team meeting.
Asynchronous communication: move work forward, whenever
Much like sticking with your favorite comfort food, teams often default to meetings to update people, make decisions, or get answers. But ordering the same dish time and again means you could be missing out on something better—like the possibility of working async and regaining control over your day.
Having too many meetings–or too many unproductive ones–can make people feel like they’re being dictated to by their calendar and spend more time talking about work than doing it.
That’s why you need to know when async working makes sense and how to do it. For example, by auditing your communication and working practices, documenting everything, using the right async tools, overcommunicating, and providing guidelines for async working and comms. This lets you cancel more meetings, make the ones you do have worthwhile, and get happier, more productive employees.
With Switchboard as the burger bun of your tech stack, you can unite all your tools, people, and projects in one place and move work forward async and in real time.
Move faster with fewer meetings.
Switchboard's persistent rooms save your work, so you can do more in–and in between–meetings.
Frequently asked questions about asynchronous communication
Is asynchronous working only for remote teams?
Asynchronous working makes sense for teams working across different time zones but it isn’t only for remote teams. It also helps in-person, cross-functional, and distributed teams move work forward when it suits them without constant meetings. While remote workers in very different time zones might create an async-first culture, others might find it more beneficial to mix real-time communication with asynchronous messaging for maximum efficiency.