Asynchronous: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly



“Asynchronous” — it’s just a fancy word for your team’s communication and workflow that doesn’t occur in real-time, but asynchronous communication can have big impacts on your organization, both good and bad.


Asynchronous communication and work allow for more flexible work schedules, collaboration across time zones, and more productive remote working environments, but on the other hand, asynchronous communication can also lead to overloaded employees and diminished customer experiences.


The Good

Asynchronous communication is hardly anything new. It’s not something that began with the pandemic, even if it is more prevalent now than ever, thanks to remote work. Asynchronous communication has evolved with technology, thanks to project management software and other tools, from email to Slack (the latter of which has been called “asynchron-ish” in nature versus purely “asynchronous”).


Asynchronous communication allows remote (and even in-office) workers to collaborate quickly and on their own time, from just about any device, and succinctly, without the need for Zoom meetings and video calls for every little conversation (after all, there’s a reason “Zoom fatigue” has become a recognized issue).


It also allows teams to collaborate with independent workers, like freelancers, as well as team members across the globe, without coordinating hectic schedules. For those who need completely uninterrupted time to dive into their work, asynchronous communication is especially beneficial, allowing those individuals to log off and come back to communicating with their colleagues when they’re ready.


But asynchronous communication need not solely exist internally. There are plenty of instances that show how asynchronous communication is desirable when communicating with customers as well.


Asynchronous communication gives customers a convenient way of communicating with a brand, on their own terms, when and how they want — rather than sitting down and taking a chunk of time out of their day to talk to a rep on the phone or a chatbot that requires timely responses.


And while some may say that asynchronous communication removes the personal touch from the customer experience, with the help of AI and NLP, it’s easier than ever to retain a positive customer experience, as business software builder Pega details.


The Bad

Where asynchronous communication goes bad, though, is when it’s improperly managed, leading to a wealth of EX issues, including employee overload, lack of communication from management, and more.


Sure, asynchronous communication is convenient, but too much asynchronous communication can overload your employees. The average worker receives an estimated 126 emails daily and checks their inbox once every 6 minutes. One study found that “the longer one spends on email in [a given] hour the higher one’s stress is for that hour.”


Still, your employee likely needs to address those emails, while also completing their normal tasks; so, rather than neglecting them, they spend valuable non-working time answering them, which is a larger issue. As an example, I once had an employee take off two days in the middle of the week. They were planning to take off a full, five-day weekend, but opted to come back to the office early, on Friday, because they knew that the number of unanswered emails they would otherwise have on Monday morning would be overwhelming. Just on Friday, when this individual arrived at the office, they already had 200 happy emails to read and address.


Too much asynchronous communication can also result in people simply not knowing what they need to know. When everything is an email, you (a) don’t really ever know your team and (b) don’t know what you simply don’t know. If Employee A has a synchronous conversation with Employee B about a project, but absent Employee C is never told asynchronously, important information quickly begins to fall through the cracks.


Both of these issues for your employees lead to diminished employee experiences, which inevitably translate to a bad customer experience. When your employees aren’t able to function well, for whatever reason, it’s just a given that your customers’ experiences begin faltering as well. Remember, EX + CX = CS, and whenever there’s an instance of bad EX, it negatively impacts the entire equation.


Additionally, poor asynchronous employee-to-customer communication management can further diminish CX, with poor management leading to issues like long wait times for customers or unresolved complaints.


The Ugly

Unfortunately, beyond the potential “bad”s that you can entirely avoid with a little careful planning, asynchronous communication does have some simple “uglies” that can’t be avoided. Asynchronous communication, just like hybrid work, won’t work for every employee.


Some have a difficult time connecting to colleagues over a screen, not knowing when or if they’ll get a response if it’s not immediate. Some have a difficult time working and moving a project forward when they don’t have those instantaneous responses to questions or comments.


Every employee and every company is different, so when you’re making a decision about your organization’s asynchronous/synchronous communication ratio, keep that in mind.


The Answer?

So how can your team take advantage of all the good that comes with asynchronous communication while avoiding both the bad and the ugly?


One place to start is simply balance. Try to balance your asynchronous and synchronous communication. Offer both, but don’t force unnecessary synchronous communication on your team members. Capture synchronous communication and then share it asynchronously with the entire team, or take things a step further with newer asynchronous video options, like Weet, which allows you to record your screen and/or face and share a link inviting people to interact when and if they’re available.


Additionally, take a look at your so-called asynchronous communication tools (like Slack) and really think about whether or not they’re truly asynchronous. Is communication truly asynchronous if you’re constantly getting pings and notifications?


If these tools make focused work difficult for your team members, it might be a good idea to encourage turning those notifications off, as well as logging out while working on big projects. One study from Slack found that its users were actively using the platform for approximately 90 minutes per day on average — 90 minutes that they likely could’ve spent doing something else.


Encourage any asynchronous communication that does occur to be precise, transparent, and specific. Tammy Bjelland from Workplaceless recommends defining expectations for communication using written agreements like a communication charter, and building commitment to asynchronous work at all levels of the organization.