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A guide for your remote company

Asynchronous Communication, Explained (with examples)

An in-depth guide to leveraging asynchronous communication with your customers and colleagues in your remote company.

Asynchronous Communication
by Brian Casel

Is your company missing out on the shift to asynchronous communication?

It’s a question you should really consider—especially in our post-pandemic world, where remote work is becoming the norm for companies, teams, customers, alike.

Asynchronous communication might be a term you’re unfamiliar with. It sounds technical, maybe a bit jargony, right?

Don’t worry. It’s not complicated.  But it is incredibly important to how remote business communication happens in 2021.

With “Zoom-fatigue” becoming a reality for many remote workers, companies are looking for alternatives to Google Meet and Zoom for live calls. That’s where asynchronous communication comes into the picture.

And these days, “async messaging” is much more than just communicating via email, group chat, or text.

Your guide to asynchronous communication:

We had a number ZipMessage users ask us about asynchronous communication, so I wrote this guide. I hope you find it helpful! And if you’re looking for a zero-friction tool for video messages from your customers, we made ZipMessage for you.

This guide aims to explain—and help you embrace—asynchronous communication in your remote company.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Asynchronous communication, explained
    What is asynchronous communication?
  2. Asynchronous vs. live communication
    4 hidden advantages that benefit remote companies when they embrace asynchronous communication.
  3. Tools for asynchronous communication
    From Slack to email to other video-based messaging tools, which one is right for which situations?
  4. Opportunities to start using asynchronous messaging
    5 examples of the types of conversation with customers and colleagues where moving to asynchronous comms can really make an impact.
  5. How to shift to asynchronous communication at your remote company
    A simple guide to making the shift to async comms with as little friction as possible.

Asynchronous communication, defined

Let’s keep it simple. No technical jargon.

Asynchronous communication is how companies can conduct back-and-forth conversations without the need for participants to be present, live, at the same time.

First, let’s see what asynchronous communication is not:

A call on Zoom or Google Meet or a live in-person meeting (remember those?!), would be considered a synchronous conversation. Everyone is present at the same time. All participants have made arrangements to their schedule in order to conduct this live, face-to-face meeting.

Synchronous (live) conversations certainly have their time and place. These won’t be going away anytime soon—nor should they! Sometimes, the benefits of live interaction outweigh the disruption and hassle of scheduling live meetings.

Asynchronous communication steps in where live meetings can’t (or shouldn’t).

You already use common forms of asynchronous communication, and have been for quite some time: Email. Text messaging. Slack. Voicemail. These are all forms of asynchronous messages, since you’re sending, receiving, or replying to a message without having to be present with the other person at the same time.

Asynchronous messages don’t need to be text-only. These days, async communication can be taken to a whole new level using video, or screen-share recordings, or audio, thanks to tools like ZipMessage.

What’s the difference between asynchronous and synchronous communication?  

Is your company still clinging to live meetings for all situations?

That’s the most common pitfall we see companies make when they’re in the midst of shifting from an on-premises office location to a remote or distributed office culture:

They try to replicate the same communication styles that worked well in the office world, but not-so-well in today’s remote work world.

There’s a real missed opportunity here for companies who sleep on asynchronous forms of communication. Let me show you.

4 hidden advantages for companies that embrace asynchronous communication:

Hidden advantage #1:

The best ideas don’t happen live.

Think about it. Live meetings put people on the spot.

Here’s an example:

You’re in a marketing planning meeting and your marketing person, Tim, is asked to provide some ideas for new channels to tap into next quarter. Not wanting to cause an awkward, extended silence, he blurts out the first idea that comes to his mind: “Let’s run some advertisements on popular websites.” He says.

If this meeting had happened asynchronously, here’s what could have happened:

Tim receives the question about ideas for new marketing channels. Tim is able to take some time to research and evaluate several options. He prepares his answer, with a bit of light editing for clarity. Then he replies with this: “Well, we can try an outreach strategy to these 3 websites. But based on some research, it appears a targeted search engine marketing strategy could be our best bet next quarter.”

You see? Thanks to this meeting being conducted asynchronously, a much better idea came to light, which might not have happened had this meeting been conducted live. This could mean the difference between a mediocre strategy that falls flat and a winning execution based on a well-communicated idea.

Hidden advantage #2:

Get more (and better!) responses with async

Communicating with customers is “the other half” of all the communication that happens in your company. And let’s be honest, your ability to communicate with customers is a lot more important than your daily internal meetings with your team. 

Customer support interactions. Asking for input from clients. Reaching out to prospects for sales conversations. The way in which these communications happen is, quite literally, everything.

Most of the time, customers are asked to join you on a live call.

“Let’s connect on a call this week. When is a good time?”

“Let’s have a call to troubleshoot this issue. When and how should we meet?”

“Let’s schedule a meeting to hash out all of your feedback on the work we’ve delivered. When can everyone make it?”

Sound familiar? These are BIG asks. They require a hefty buy-in from your customer. They have to make time in their schedule. They have to show up. They have to agree that this meeting you’re asking of them is important enough for them to agree to.

What if you communicate asynchronously with your customers? Perhaps even have video customer support conversations, all asynchronously?

Here’s what this would mean:

  • Customers are more likely to respond and engage with you.
  • Customers are able to give more complete and thoughtful responses, especially if you offer video as an option.
  • Customer’s can have their issues resolved faster because they didn’t have to schedule a time on the calendar for a live call.

Hidden advantage #3:

Recalling conversation points enables strong follow-through

Ever feel like there are a lot of really good points being discussed in your live meetings, but very few of them actually follow through and materialize into results after those meetings are over?

This happens all the time when conversations happen exclusively in live meetings. These live discussions might feel productive during the meeting, but what good did the meeting do if your team (or worse, your customers!) can’t recall and act on those points later, after the meeting has already happened?

Sure, those long Zoom calls or Google Meet sessions could be recorded. But that doesn’t make it much easier. The key point or points are probably buried somewhere in the middle of an hour-long meeting recording. Who has the time to scrub the playback to find the exact minute that something important was said?!

If meetings are conducted asynchronously, you have the benefit of logging, and easily recalling each individual response from every participant in the meeting.

Was something important said midway through the meeting? Bookmark it. Link to it. Pull it up when you're executing the work later on.

Who was it that said that really insightful thing? Finding who said what, and when is easy when your conversation was threaded and logged.

This is how remote collaboration is done well.

Hidden advantage #4:

Super-charge remote team productivity

Have you considered the true cost of all those live meetings when your team is working remotely?

Many companies—especially those making the transition from in-office to fully or partially remote—make the mistake of using frequent live meetings as a way to ensure the team stays productive while working remotely, when in fact, quite the opposite can happen.

Excessive live meetings can cause a remote team’s productivity to evaporate. This happens in 3 not-so-obvious ways:

  • The time factor
  • Time-of-day factor
  • The employee-happiness factor

Let’s unpack these:

The time factor:

Perhaps the most obvious. The length of time that your live meeting occupies is only about half of the time it costs your team.

Each team member must plan their work day around this meeting(s) on their calendar. That means they choose smaller, faster tasks, and procrastinate or never get to those larger, deep-work tasks.

There’s also the amount of time it takes to wind-down work before a meeting, and ramp back up to fully focused mode after the meeting. These are major disruptions to a person’s focus and ability to execute at a high level.

Asynchronous meetings solve the time factor because each participant can make time for their thoughtful input at a time that makes sense for them without the requirement that the same time must work for everyone.

The time-of-day factor:

This is especially true when team members are located in different time zones, but it can affect teams residing in the same region or city as well.

Personally, I prefer to devote my morning hours to creative, highly-focused and productive work. I like to handle my emails, calls, and smaller tasks in the afternoons. But some members of my team are the exact opposite! They prefer to talk in the mornings and push their productive work time to the evenings. I’m a morning person, they’re a night owl.

If we’re in different time zones, then even if my team member and I are both morning people, my morning could be very different hours than their morning.

Asynchronous meetings perfectly solve the time-of-day factor. We can each contribute at the optimal time-of-day while still making time for our best productive work to happen whenever that works best.

The employee-happiness factor:

These days, employees specifically seek out remote work opportunities more than ever.

Why?

The flexibility, of course, is one factor. Parents need to homeschool their kids. Or simply trade commutes for more family and relaxation time.

But what’s really driving employee’s preference for remote is the nature of remote itself. They seek more autonomy to execute the work they’re truly best at from the comfort of working from home.

If your company is going to compete for the best talent in today’s remote-first culture, you need to truly embrace what it means for your company to run remotely. Actually giving your team the ability to enjoy the benefits of remote work—flexible scheduling and comfortable work environments—is what turns remote work from just a checkbox into a full-fledged company perk that your employees appreciate.

Asynchronous communication goes a long way to making remote team collaboration happen consistently, without the drawbacks of missing the live face-to-face interactions of a real-world office.

Tools for asynchronous communication

So we’ve covered what asynchronous communication is, and the ways your company will benefit from going asynchronous.

Now let’s get specific, starting with the tools in your async messaging toolbox.

Which one works best in which situation?

Email

Email is the oldest and still the most widely used form of asynchronous communication on the web.

Email isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the ways email is used continues to expand far beyond your personal inbox.

Now, companies manage customer support helpdesk tickets, which often take the form of email exchanges with customers. Marketing often takes the form of automated email messages sent from popular email marketing software providers. Most people maintain at least two emails accounts: Their personal email address and their work email.

Email works best when the message or question is short and to the point. It’s ideal when there doesn’t need to be much technical detail or nuance in order to get the point across clearly.

If the detail and nuance is essential, then email often fails us. Think about all the times you had to go back and forth several times with a customer, just to fully understand what it is they’re asking. Or the times you thought your colleague was saying one thing when in fact they intended to emphasize a different point, and it resulted in a ball getting dropped.

Oftentimes, email works best in conjunction with one of these other methods of asynchronous communication:

Slack

Most remote teams are using Slack as another form of asynchronous chat and messaging within an organization.

Like email, Slack is also primarily text-based messaging. It adds an element of group visibility that email often doesn’t, along with the ability to “thread” conversations. Oh, and don’t forget the real killer feature of Slack: Responding to messages with emojis and gifs :)

Slack, other asynchronous chat tools like it, are a good tool of choice when:

  • Archiving and being able to pull up this past conversation (from long ago) is important. If it is, then email is usually a better choice, as older Slack conversations can be hard to pull up. 
  • The conversation requires many back-and-forth responses in order to reach a conclusion or resolution.
  • Slack messages can take on a slightly higher “urgency” since they can trigger notifications on your team members’ devices when a new message mentions them.

Where Slack falls short are when the conversation would benefit from video or screen sharing, and when there are associated tasks involved. That’s where these next 2 asynchronous messaging tools are a better choice:

Project & task management software

There are many project management and task management software these days, and they come in all sorts of flavors, shapes, and sizes, each with pros and cons depending on the type of operation you run.

But when it comes to asynchronous communication, these tools fit into the picture when the messages need to be associated with a specific project, or a specific client.

Oftentimes, the communication is related to a specific task—either a new task is being delegated to someone, or someone completed a task, or someone has a question about a task they’re currently working on. These messages often take the form of comments posted to that task or project in the software.

Where project & task communications don’t fit are the scenarios where the message is more general (doesn’t relate to a specific project or task).

The other area where this can leave communication gaps are when you need to communicate your message on video (like in a screen share), or you need to give in-depth feedback that’s best done on camera or using a microphone. That’s where the last tool in our toolbox enters the picture: Video messaging tools.

Video messaging

Here in the year, 2021, the conversation around asynchronous communication wouldn’t be complete without covering how you could use video in those messages.

After all, tools like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and FaceTime have exploded in popularity for synchronous (live) communication on video. But what about achieving the ability to send and receive messages with the fidelity of video recording, but without the hassle and distractions of scheduling a live meeting?

This is where video messaging tools come into the picture.

Just about everyone has access to a webcam on their laptop or smart phone. So recording a message and attaching the video to an email is somewhat straightforward, albeit a little cumbersome.

Where things get particularly dicey are the cases where it would really help to request your customers to record and send back video messages asynchronously—without asking them to join you on a live Zoom call. There’s a lot of friction in asking customers or clients to create their own recording and share it back with you—especially if they’re not very tech savvy.

At ZipMessage, we’ve solved this problem by making it incredibly easy to send a ZipMessage link to a customer, then all they have to do is click record to capture their message and send it back to you—all from within the browser.

Tools like ZipMessage work seamlessly with the other asynchronous messaging tools we covered above (email, slack, task management) to fill in the gaps and add the much-needed video element to these conversations.

5 opportunities to leverage asynchronous communication (examples)

Here are a few examples of common communications, to help you spot opportunities where you can leverage asynchronous methods to improve the way your company communicates.

Customer support

Many companies are providing customer service via telephone, Zoom, live chat or in-person. In these scenarios—particularly when the customer isn’t technically savvy—it can feel like there’s no other option.

For those situations where you’re resorting to live calls to work with a customer live, moving to asynchronous video messages can greatly reduce the time investment for both your support team and the customer.

And for support inquiries that are already handled via email or tickets, adding the ability for customers to record themselves on video (and making that easy for them) adds clarity and helps your team diagnose their issue quickly.

These steps can go a long way to improving customer satisfaction (CSAT).

Daily or weekly standup meetings

These meetings can become monotonous and repetitive, especially when they’re done live at the same time each day or week.

Moving these “standup” meetings to an asynchronous cadence, where each team member is expected to post their update sometime each day or at the end of each week can make these much more valuable.

First, your team members benefit from managing their time more effectively (the daily standup no longer occupies valuable production time).

Also, each person’s message can be more thoughtful and provide more substance and clarity when they have some space to prepare it in an asynchronous context. This helps your team move the ball forward more effectively.

Hiring interviews

When you’re running many live interviews for candidates for a position, , these calls can wreak havoc on your calendar!

Not to mention the slow, tedious, grind of doing every one of these calls.

This can be streamlined by moving to asynchronous, recorded exchanges with candidates.  

In the hiring process, asynchronous interview calls be a great way to pre-screen candidates before inviting them to a live interview—this way you’re much more likely to spend that live time with highly qualified candidates.

Gathering feedback from clients

If you’re providing client services, particularly creative or marketing services, it’s common to follow a pattern that looks something like this:

  1. Kickoff call
  2. Create and deliver some work
  3. Another call to get the client’s feedback and edits on your work
  4. Create and deliver the next iteration
  5. Another call to get more feedback and/or approval
  6. And on and on…

Your team could save a lot of time and headache (as will your client!) if some or most of these client calls happened asynchronously.

Send some work, and then request your client to send their feedback asynchronously. A video response, perhaps with their screen share, could go a long way to getting clear, concise, actionable feedback from your client—without the lengthy live Zoom call.

And remember, this feedback is actionable and needs to be easily recalled when your team works on making the requested revisions. This is where a fully logged, and threaded asynchronous conversation makes a ton of sense for all parties.

Sales conversations

Now let’s turn to perhaps the most consequential conversations that drive your business: Sales conversations with prospective customers.

These come in many forms:

  • The initial outreach to a prospect (if it’s outbound)
  • The initial inquiry from a prospect (if it’s inbound)
  • The first sales conversation
  • The follow up to nurture and close the deal
  • The new customer onboarding communications

How personalized and time-intensive these are usually depends on the value of each customer and how much (time, money) your business can afford to invest in acquiring a new customer.

In almost all cases, it’s worth taking a look to see if there are ways you can reduce your customer acquisition costs by streamlining these sales conversations.

Asynchronous communication could come in handy here. Perhaps instead of asking a prospect to schedule a live sales consultation, you can ask them to reply to a message whenever the time is right for them.

Perhaps after a demo call, your follow-ups can be handled asynchronously until the deal has closed.

And during customer onboarding, much of the setup and kickoffs can be done with asynchronous back-and-forth messages either via email, using video messaging, or a combination of both.

How to move to asynchronous communication at your remote company

To conclude this guide, I want to offer a few concrete steps you can take right now to move your remote company into asynchronous communication, so you can begin to reap many of the benefits we discussed here.

1. Audit your recent live meetings

Take an inventory of all the live meetings you had booked on your calendar in the past month or two.

Can you group them by meeting type? (Sales, client call, internal team calls, job interview, etc.). Then consider whether any of these types of calls can be moved to an asynchronous format.

Think outside the box here. You’d be surprised how this shift can really open things up for you, your team, and your company.

2. Audit your recent customer communications

Look through the past month or two in your customer support tickets, or your service appointments.

For those that are already asynchronous (i.e. the requests that were handled via email or helpdesk ticket), do a closer analysis:

  • Was a text-based email the best medium to solve this customer’s inquiry?
  • Could adding a video-based element have helped your team understand and diagnose the issue more effectively, and giving the customer a faster resolution?

3. Choose one communication area to optimize first

Based on the audits you’ve done on your recent meetings and customer communications, choose one common communication area that you think could benefit most from moving to an asynchronous cadence.

Focus on the process around how these conversations initially start, and how you and your team handle and resolve them.

Then identify the tweaks to your tools and processes to move toward a more streamlined asynchronous communication style.

Rinse and repeat for other types of communications.

4. Prioritize async tools that have minimal to no “friction” for users

Since changing the way your company communicates may involve introducing new tools to your team or to your customers, it’s critically important that you prioritize tools that have “zero friction”.  That means a super simple interface without a learning curve or special software to download or install.

The last thing you want to do is cause more frustration and slow-ness around your communication workflows. That’s the whole reason for moving to asynchronous int he first place. To streamline!


I hope you found this guide to asynchronous communication helpful! And if you’re looking for a zero-friction tool for video messages from your customers, we made ZipMessage for you.