Asynchronous communication - a top productivity booster

At Nozbe, we believe that the NoOffice style and asynchronous communication are keys to team productivity. While we have explained the first feature a couple of times already, the latter might still need some clarification :) Asynchronous may sound faulty or suspiciously to some of you.

A-synchronous. No sync. No flow… Well… not necessarily. Faster doesn’t always mean better. What’s urgent often turns out not to be so urgent as we thought. And there is something super important at stake. Focus! Something that I’ve been really struggling with in recent years. And how is your focus? If the answer is “not-so-well” then asynchronous communication can be something you might want to try with your team.

Note: I’m glad you’re reading this post, however if you’d rather listen to it, here is the way:

“Hey, what’s up?! Could you…”

Let’s start with synchronous communication - the total opposite thing. Well, firstly, it is so 20th century! And secondly, we consider it one of the main hindrances to efficiency at work.

Example:

You are fully concentrated on your task. It took you some time to get prepared and focused. You are doing well, progressing nicely and feeling almost as if you were flying… when suddenly your colleague comes up to your desk, taps you on the shoulder and asks for something that, honestly, could wait!

He or she didn’t do it on purpose; ruining your flow wasn’t their goal. They just did it because this is the thing you generally do in offices.

It is the same with calling people whenever you need information or an opinion.

Asynchronous vs. synchronous

A message in asynchronous communication can be sent at any time, no matter if the receiver is ready or not. An e-mail or even better: a task delegated in Nozbe Teams or other task manager, for example, is asynchronous. The receiver can react when they want or when they can.

Synchronous communication is totally time-dependent - all the parties need to be available at the same time. They need to be synced up. You expect an answer right away.

Respect for focus

The main reason behind the asynchronous communication is respect towards other people’s time and focus.

I’m sure you know how much it takes to fully concentrate sometimes. And most of your important tasks require such a state of mind in order to get them done well, don’t they?

Now, estimate how many times you are distracted during your work day… and multiply this number by 23.

Why 23? According to Gloria Mark of University of California, it takes about that time in minutes to return to the original task after an interruption, especially if the interruption’s topic was not related to your current task. When disrupted, you need to shift your thinking to a completely different field, and it takes time and mental effort to get back on track.

Then, after being interrupted, you want to catch up - you work faster, but feel stressed and frustrated.

Benefits of asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication, like tasks and comments in Nozbe Teams or e-mails (that nonetheless have some disadvantages of a different sort), is ideal for discussions in which everyone needs to digest information and get their feedback ready, if needed. This way, everybody is on the same page but in their own terms and when they are ready.

This communication model is great because:

  • It lets your team work in blocks of uninterrupted focus time.
  • You have a record of what’s been said and shared, while synchronous communication often doesn’t get registered. If it does, the notes can be subjective or incomplete.
  • It gives people a chance to think before responding (immediate answers aren’t always your best ones).
  • This way, you can communicate with members in multiple time zones.

The idea here is to indicate to the other team members that you count on their reaction in order to get something done, but you respect their time and are able to wait for the answer patiently. If they happen to be free or handling something requiring less focus, they may reply and contribute right away. If they are busy, working on an important task, they will have a chance to read your message and respond when it suits them. Everything is in writing, and reference materials like files, links, and videos are available any time.

Asynchronous communication tools we use at Nozbe

To gain more focused time and respect each other’s efforts to concentrate, we use applications that help us communicate asynchronously:

  • Nozbe Teams - to manage our projects and tasks.
  • Github - to manage code — we’re a software company after all.
  • Dropbox Paper - for documentation (we also comment things here, but remember to move any important threads/discussions/arguments to Nozbe).
  • Dropbox - for shared files and folders.
  • Google Docs - for shared spreadsheets and text.
  • Slack - our main chat app in which you can also apply some of the asynchronous communication standards, provided your team has rules for reducing noise in chat channels.

Please note that even great tools can fail if not used properly. For example, if you set all types of notifications and alerts on, you won’t be able to focus even though your colleagues aren’t interrupting you by tapping you on the shoulder anymore and your boss agreed you don’t come to the Tuesday meetings.

Getting ready for things to change

Asynchronous communication is a key for productive teamwork and the future of collaboration. In order to popularize it in companies of all sizes, some changes need to occur. These may be changes in the ways we think and act.

It is about thinking of what I have to do and doing it efficiently, but at the same time respecting the time, attention and focus of others.

It is about reducing counterproductive meetings.

It is about introducing communication etiquette in your organization and knowing which issue requires immediate reaction and which can wait 40 minutes or so.

It is about using tools designed to facilitate asynchronous communication, like Nozbe Teams :)

It is about rationally planning your work and respecting the plans of other people.

And last but not least…

Of course, it’s no good to exaggerate - we are all human! Sometimes we just need to let go, break all the rules and get instant feedback from a colleague. Life will go on :)

Implement asynchronous communication in your team today

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Magda
One of the Nozbe team "dinosaurs" - #NoOffice practitioner since 2013. Extravert, neurotic & vegetarian feminist with 189 imperfections.