State of Work
The way we work has irrevocably changed over the past decade. Some level of remote working has been embraced by most teams, and with the 2020 pandemic, we've seen entire companies shift to fully distributed workforces in the space of a few months. Many companies have benefitted from this shift with lower operational costs, and access to a wide pool of global talent. There is often an accompanying increase in productivity, as workers gain the flexibility to work in whatever way suits them best.
The shift to remote working has been facilitated in large part by the internet and more specifically the tools that allow us to work together even when we're apart. The number of business emails sent has risen to 124.5 billion in 2020, with the average person sending over 40 per day. Slack now has over 10 million daily users, with 43% of the Fortune 100 businesses signed on and more than 1.5 billion messages per month being sent. Microsoft Teams usage has jumped 50 percent to 115 million daily active users between April and October, and Zoom has over 300 million daily meeting participants.
This is great news for those companies, and has facilitated a much smoother transition to distributed working for most teams than if they didn't exist. However, there is still a major problem.
Companies are still trying to work like they are in an office - when they most certainly aren't.
The default most teams have adopted which is to use a meeting whenever something doesn't fit into an email or direct message. This communication gap existed before, but has grown even more pronounced since the global shift to having remote teams. We've already covered why this is detrimental to our psyches, productivity, and wastes valuable time, so instead let's focus on what can be done about it.
This is where Asynchronous Communication steps in to save the day.
What is Asynchronous Communication?
The easiest way to understand Asynchronous Communication (Async) is by looking at the difference between SMS (text messaging) vs a phone call.
SMS is a form of Async, because it doesn't require an immediate response. When you send someone an SMS it doesn't force them to provide a response or feedback instantaneously. They can choose to respond when it suits them.
A phone call in contrast does require immediate response from another party. When you call someone if they answer they then have to have a conversation in real time. This is synchronous communication.
It's that simple.
Many of the communication tools I mentioned earlier can be used in either way, but will depend on a company's culture. For example, when I send a direct message on Slack if our company culture is to expect an immediate response and they reply right away that is synchronous, but if I expect the recipient to reply whenever is most appropriate for them, whether it's in a few minutes, hours or days, that is asynchronous.
What are the benefits of Async?
Let's cover exactly how and why Async makes teams more productive. Here are the benefits:
Efficient information dissemination
Information dissemination (referring to the act of sharing information with team members) constitutes a vast majority of our work communication. This includes stuff like updating your team on project status, showing off a new design, demoing a new tool, or sharing newly made decisions. Unfortunately, attempting to do this synchronously with the tools we use at the moment often misses the mark. In 2020, the biggest culprit of poor information dissemination is the dreaded team meeting.
Let's compare a 10-minute Debrief to a 1-hour status meeting to see exactly why an asynchronous format is more efficient:
- With a Debrief users can always refer back to relevant information, with no risk of having missed what someone has said in a meeting.
- One video can often cover all the important points of a 1 hour meeting, and has the benefit of being easily shared to as many people as required.
- Transcriptions of the text allow users to easily skim to relevant sections, or pick out key points of information.
- Outside of companies where there is a strong culture around meeting notes, for example Stripe, meeting notes are often poorly made, miss key points and are ignored by most employees.
- It can be difficult to both participate in a meeting and take notes at the same time, so you often need someone solely dedicating their time to being the scribe, or have someone doing a poor job by splitting their attention between the two tasks.
It should be pretty clear exactly why Async communication like Debrief takes the cake when it comes to sharing info.
We've covered in detail why meetings are inefficient at information dissemination in another blog post (you can view it here), but the long and short of it is that because they are being used as the default to fill that communication gap mentioned earlier, more time is being wasted by team members in meetings they don't need to be a part of. On top of that meetings are a pain to schedule, particularly across time zones, often cutting into people's most productive hours.
By using Async, the insights from that hour can be condensed into a few minutes and shared with all relevant parties.
It's been written about numerous times over the years (like here, here, and here), but as humans, we are hard-pressed to stay focused with the countless distractions that are apart of our digital lives. Synchronous communications are one of the worst of these distractions. Think about every time you've started to get into a workflow, but stopped to check a message, an email, realized you have a meeting or had an impromptu video call. All of these add up every day and take away our ability to focus on the work we set ourselves.
Async solves this problem. By allowing users to check for new communications and information when it suits them, they can spend more time concentrating on the tasks they were hired to do, rather than spending all of their time flitting between notifications.
Rich information is a beautiful thing (literally). Think about when someone gives you a great demo, shows you an awesome new design, or plays you a short snappy video. This tends to be more entertaining information and often we better retain it than simple message text.
This is one of many areas where Async truly shines. With Async video communication, for example, users can communicate using rich media, showing off demos and graphics.
Take a demo recorded on a Debrief for example. Users can easily and quickly show off the best of what their demo has to offer in only a few clicks, with the ability to narrate their thought process and better convey their goals.
Synchronous communication still has its place, however, smart teams all around the world - the teams that are innovating and adapting to the new global paradigm - they're the ones that are embracing Asyc.
They're the teams that are replacing 1 hour reviews with a 10 minute Debrief, casually conducting design demos in a few clicks, and replacing inconvenient meetings across time zones with succinct and detailed information in a simple and easily sharable package.