Key Differences Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication

Last updated on April 13th, 2021

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication

Good communication is one of the foundations of every successful organization. And when faced with a major challenge like a pandemic which forces us to work more remotely, communication within your team must adjust accordingly to keep with the times and keep your members efficient and productive.

Recently, the buzzwords “synchronous” and “asynchronous” communication have been widely discussed amongst various business circles. Proper employment of these two types of communication is essential for your operations to stay afloat during remote working.

What is synchronous and asynchronous communication?

Let’s quickly define what these two types of communication styles mean in the workplace. Synchronous communication is communication that happens in real-time. The different parties involved are all actively involved and exchanging information with one another.

Some examples of synchronous communication are in-person meetings, telephone calls, and video conferences like in Zoom or Skype. Sometimes, chatrooms and instant messaging are also considered synchronous with the assumption that all involved parties are active and respond in near-to-real-time.

On the contrary, asynchronous communication does not happen in real-time. The involved parties engage with the conversation and participate in their own time. With asynchronous communication, there is no expectation for participants to immediately respond.

Examples of asynchronous communication are email conversations, digital workspaces, and project management tools used by your organization. Instant messaging can also be asynchronous if involved parties are not expected to immediately engage in the conversation.

What are the pros and cons of each communication style?

Synchronous Communication

The advantages of a synchronous communication

  • Responses and feedback can be quickly given and received. The immediacy of synchronous communication is ideal for timely and important conversations.
  • Communications are infused with a human element. The emotional context in synchronous communications gives deeper meaning to the conversation, and it helps to avoid the risk of feeling like you’re talking to a computer.

Disadvantages of an synchronous communication

  • It’s difficult to schedule a meeting to make sure that all parties can participate. Especially when dealing with remote or larger teams, looking for a common schedule may be unfruitful. Imposing a specific date and time may come at the inconvenience of other members.
  • It may interfere with the participant’s work and productivity. If not well-planned, meetings may interrupt with the person’s work, counterintuitively leading to less productivity despite the immediate communication.

Asynchronous Communication

Pros

  • Participants can respond proactively, instead of reactively. Because there is no pressure to immediately respond, the different parties can take the time to contribute more meaningful content to the conversation.
  • Participants are given more control over their work schedule. There is no worry of being interrupted during office hours for a face-to-face or online meeting. They can engage in the conversation during their own preferred time.
  • It is not dependent on anybody’s immediate availability. This is valuable for remote teams and larger group settings which may find it difficult to find a common schedule for a dedicated meeting.

Cons

  • The non-real-time communication is not ideal for timely or emergency situations. In some instances, conversations may get unnecessarily prolonged and impact your response to time-crucial decisions.
  • Emotional context is sometimes lost which may lead to miscommunication. In most asynchronous mediums, there is no body language, tone of voice, or social presence for the participant to gain a richer context of the conversation.

How to decide when to use synchronous or asynchronous communication

In your organization, you may already be using a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication. Both are valuable for efficient communication within your team, but they must be used appropriately to suit the situation depending on what it demands.

Synchronous Communication

  • For pre-scheduled one-on-one and team meetings. In every project or endeavor, there must already be predetermined schedules for meetings. This includes project launch, crucial initial meetings to get everyone onboard, and after important milestones.
  • For discussing complex subject matters. Through a dedicated meeting, you can easily explain subjects in detail without being confined by written text. It also allows you to gain real-time feedback or to actively assess your team’s understanding of the concept.
  • For dealing with critical or urgent matters. Because the conversation is immediate, you can discuss matters and arrive at an agreement or a decision posthaste.
  • For situations that require a human element. Synchronous communication builds rapport and teamwork within a group. Meetings are valuable in socializing with team members and celebrating accomplishments.

Asynchronous Communication

For situations that are easily comprehensible, non-urgent, or otherwise not requiring a dedicated meeting, it is recommended that they automatically fall under asynchronous communication.

  • For general announcements. In situations that only seek to inform team members that do not require a response or feedback, these are best done using asynchronous communication.
  • For weekly and monthly updates. Unless they are critical in nature, updates regarding status and progress can be done asynchronously.
  • For unconstrained project discussions. Asynchronous communication allows more team members to participate and provide input to the discussion, and do so under their own time.

Maximizing communication during the COVID-19 pandemic

In such a challenging time such as this pandemic, most organizations have resorted to remote working environments to continue their operations. This sudden shift changes the arena so that organizations  need to adjust their communication strategies to find the perfect balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication, depending on what is required by the situation.

In order for your team to remain productive in remote arrangements, you must be able to significantly incorporate asynchronous communication into your strategies because scheduling a meeting becomes much more challenging. This also recognizes that your team members have different work-from-home scenarios and will have varying periods of activity during the day.

Remote work or not, mastering the use of different mediums for asynchronous communication is crucial to success. Early on, clear guidelines on how discussions will be done must be made and communicated.  All members of your team must be properly oriented with which medium your organization will be using.

Synchronous meetings during remote working must not be forgotten. They remain important when dealing with urgent matters and in maintaining the bond among your team members. Remember to plan your meetings beforehand and be strategic on when to hold them.

In summary

Both synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication are essential for a more efficient relay of information within your organization, remote working or not. It’s important to know when to best use which style of communication, depending on your purpose and what the situation demands.

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