Sync vs. Async Communication

Jack Lancaster
November 18, 2021

Internal communication is essential for an organization to function. From strategy meetings and company-wide updates, to Slack messages or a coffee-break chat. It’s what keeps employees informed and strengthens alignment across teams, allowing people to work effectively.

The value of internal communication doesn’t end with productivity. Workplace communication supports engagement, helps integrate employees into a company culture, and boosts happiness through social connectivity.

In the post-pandemic world communication in the workplace is even more crucial. As companies make the shift towards distributed working, many experience issues with alignment and internal communication. Knowing when to choose synchronous vs asynchronous communication is central to communicating successfully and keeping people in the loop.

Why both sync and async communication is needed

Synchronous communications are those exchanges that take place in real-time: face-to-face meetings, Zoom calls (we use Around at Spoke), or instant messaging on Slack or Teams. With async, there’s a time lag between when information is shared and when it is received. Writing emails, project documentation in Confluence or Notion, and video recordings in Loom, are all examples of asynchronous communication.

There are benefits and disadvantages to each. Sync encourages discussion and allows for on-the-spot problem solving, but it can be distracting when you’re trying to focus. If you’re in the middle of a task and get disturbed by Slack or have to jump on yet another call, it takes time to refocus on your work (23 minutes on average).

Asynchronous communication empowers people to respond to information in their own time, and is great for teams working across different locations and time zones. But to feel the benefits of async communication, companies need to develop cultures that support this style of information exchange – it’s frustrating when people can’t do their work because they’re waiting on input from other teams. Async requires a culture of proactivity and empowerment, rather than reactivity and micro-management.

As more companies adopt permanent hybrid working practices, organizations will have to take a flexible approach to managing remote teams – there’s no one-size-fits-all model for internal communication.

How technology can help companies shift to hybrid working models

When the pandemic forced offices to close, challenges around information sharing quickly became apparent. Organizations relied heavily on technology to maintain internal communications and encourage team alignment. This has seen share prices skyrocket for workplace collaboration and communication tools, like Zoom or Slack.

On average, companies already use 3 different tools to facilitate communication, and 67% are increasing investment in web conferencing tech. But using more tools won’t necessarily solve internal communication issues. In fact, app overload could be undermining employee engagement and harming productivity. More than two-thirds of people waste an hour each day swapping between apps that are supposed to help them work more efficiently.

While technology is essential for communicating with hybrid teams, the tools themselves are not enough to keep employees engaged. People are at the heart of communication, and the informal exchanges – those water-cooler moments – that keep us connected (stopping by somebody’s desk, or chatting in the kitchen) aren’t easy to replicate in a hybrid setup.

That’s why we need effective communication rituals, to engage teams and create information alignment while working remotely.

How to build communication rituals and bring closer alignment within hybrid teams

The in-office setup favored sync – it’s faster to shoot a quick question across a desk than to write an email. But to develop functional hybrid teams, async forms of information sharing must be built into communication rituals at a company level. Both styles of communication are needed to engage teams who work remotely.

Synchronous communication is essential for sustaining relationships (and close workplace relationships make teams more successful) when employees are spread across multiple locations. The daily stand-up became a pandemic set piece – a time for people to come together, to share updates on projects, and report blockers. These real-time meetings help mitigate the loneliness of remote work. And there are many other ways to help employees connect with one another: planning virtual social events and checking in with individuals through regular one-to-one meetings, for example.

While sync brings us closer, asynchronous communication can help us to go deeper. When you’re constantly responding to messages on Slack, communication becomes reactive rather than responsive. The slower pace of async allows employees to gather their thoughts and present ideas in a more considered way – this leads to higher quality information exchange, and less of the time consuming back-and-forths that discussions can get lost in. One of the companies leading the way on async communication is Stripe, whose writing culture encourages clarity and consistency at every level, from emails through to documentation.

Documentation is key to asynchronous communication, especially in teams where employees keep different hours. Using tools like Google Docs, Notion, or Loom allow collaborative discussion without a video call. Unlike real-time meetings – where points can be forgotten or lost – these physical records preserve the discussion, so you can see how decisions were taken.

How Spoke can help with alignment + engagement

Wondering how you can streamline communications between distributed teams, across multiple different tools? Here’s where Spoke comes in.

Spoke curates a personalized feed for every individual within an organization, with updates from across the company at the right level of granularity – giving employees the context they need to work. With Spoke, information is pushed to you directly (so you can cancel that alignment meeting).

Spoke’s smart summaries support async information sharing, keeping teams in the loop across different time zones. Spoke gives teams back the time to use sync communication for more meaningful interactions – brainstorming ideas and solving problems, instead of status updates and alignment meetings.

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