Sync vs Async Communication in Remote Work
Remote work is most noted for its flexibility and freedom with time and location. In-office jobs require employees to work and collaborate during the same set hours, which is known as sync communication. Fully remote jobs, on the other hand, do not have any set hours and allow employees to work and collaborate at their convenience, which is known as async communication.
Although both have their own set of merits and caveats, async communication will prove to be superior for remote working. It is also preferred by the majority of employees, be it remote or not.
In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at the two types of communication in remote work, how they’re uniquely different, and an in-depth comparison between the two.
What Is Sync Communication?
Synchronous communication is a way of working and collaborating in real-time, within the set hours of a company. For instance, if the working hours of a company is from 9 am to 5 pm, then all employees of the company are required to be active and work during these hours.
This is the traditional way of working, often followed by the employees working at a company’s offices. This has been the default way of work since the industrial age, and has been followed by decades in offices around the world. Companies that favour remote work are not constrained by the same physical boundaries as those with physical offices, and many remote employees may even live in a different country and different time zone of their colleagues, so many remote companies prefer async communication.
Sync Communication in Remote Work
Synchronous communication is usually followed inside the office. However, since the emergence of the pandemic, remote work skyrocketed, forcing the entire world to work from home.
Despite the number of advantages of remote work, this quick adaption led to creating a bunch of challenges.
The Two Sides of the Spectrum
The majority of employees were happy to work remotely. But the idea didn’t appeal to many of their employers. Especially for managers, who were in denial, assuming they wouldn’t be able to manage their remote employees as effectively as they could in the office.
This occurred as they chose to bring their traditional managing strategy over to remote work. Remote work is a different way of working, that requires different management processes.
The Troubled Remote Workers
The biggest challenge was synchronous communication. Even when companies were remote, they still stuck with traditional collaboration methods. Although remote work opened the opportunity for flexibility in time, most employers decided to still function during their set hours.
This ultimately became a problem as companies started hiring remotely. People from different time zones, halfway across the world, joined the companies. When they were required to work their company’s set hours, this created problems for the remote employees, as they had to work outside their comfortable hours and even stay up late to work through the night.
Problems of Sync Communication in Remote Work
Ever since employers decided to stick with sync communication even in remote work, a lot of problems emerged into existence.
Sync communication strictly demands urgency. It requires remote employees to be active at the same time, which might be a challenge for those who are in a different time zone and hours behind or ahead of the company.
Some of the concerning problems of sync communication in remote work are:
Dependency is normal in every organization, but it’s a risky game. Employees are all interdependent. However, it becomes a greater challenge when a company is remote and has employees from all around the world.
When a remote company follows synchronous communication, it’ll drop much more burden on top of remote employees if they’re expected to be active and available immediately when needed.
When inside the office, it’s easy for an employee to turn to a colleague or the manager to seek help. It’s easy for the helping party as well, since they’re all in the same work environment and available.
But when it comes to remote work, an employee in India might have to rely on their colleague in the US, where they both have around 9 hours of difference in time. This forces the US employee to be available when required, even if it’s time for sleep or in the middle of sleep.
Just like inside the office, distractions within the work environment will decrease productivity while working remotely. This may be caused by colleagues constantly asking for help, or managers constantly monitoring and asking for input.
Because sync communication requires employees to work in the same set hours of the company, remote employees will have to keep all their sources of notification on and loud, so they can respond to any queries or requirements from work.
These are unnecessary distractions, since many processes in a team can be easily documented in text or video, thus reducing blockers. These documents will also be a source of reference for employees, who won’t have to bother managers or colleagues unless it is absolutely important.
Constant meetings without prior notice will also drain productivity. When employees are focused at work, they’ll easily lose trail of productivity if they’re immediately expected to join meetings, which, most of the time, may not be necessary. Managers should try to reduce such unnecessary meetings, especially in remote work.
Work and Life Conflict
One of the major challenges of synchronous communication in remote work is the work and life conflict.
A remote company hiring remotely will have employees from all over the world. This means that remote employees will be hours behind or ahead of each other. To follow the company’s set work hours, most of these remote employees will have to work remotely outside of their comfortable hours.
For instance, a remote company in India might have their set work hours from 9 am to 5 pm. If they have remote employees from the US, they’ll have to work through the night, from 11 pm to 8 am to be able to work within the hours of the Indian company.
This disrupts the life of those remote employees, who should work harder and inconveniently than others.
Lack of Deep Work
Synchronous communication demands urgency. Whenever work calls for a remote employee, they need to respond almost immediately.
This negatively impacts the ability of remote employees to do deep work. Those tasks that require a few hours of uninterrupted attention will be forever postponed in an environment of urgent notifications buzzing all the time.
The absense of deep work makes the whole culture more reactive to urgencies, and less proactive towards preparation and documentation.
Sync communication negatively impacts initiatives that require such immersive level of focus. For those, synchronous communication won’t provide adequate time to craft relevant input. An handicap like this ultimately decreases the quality of the deliverables.
What Is Async Communication?
Followed primarily by fully remote companies, async communication is the freedom and flexibility in time for remote employees to work and collaborate.
Unlike synchronous communication, async communication doesn’t require all remote employees to be active and working at the same time, or within the set hours of a company. When following asynchronous communication, companies won’t have set hours, so remote employees will have the freedom to choose the hours and work at their convenience.
The major difference between sync and async form of communication is urgency. While synchronous communication demands immediate response during the set work hours of a company, async communication works the opposite and allows every remote employee to take action even if it's hours later.
When remote teams collaborate asynchronously, employees from different time zones will get to work at their convenience and at comfortable hours.
For instance, remote employees from India and the US can both work during the daytime. When compared, remote employees in India can sleep through the night while the employees in the US will be working during the daytime, and vice versa.
Advantages of Async Communication in Remote Work
In short, the disadvantages of synchronous communication in remote work are essentially some of the pros of async communication. From eliminating urgency to increasing productivity, these are some of the most notable benefits of async communication in remote work.
Lack of Urgency
Unlike synchronous communication, async communication doesn’t require remote employees to immediately respond to queries or take action on a meeting call. The flip side is that they have the bandwidth to pursue tasks that require deeper focus.
While this may sound like it slows down the work process, it actually won’t if the company implements the right management strategy for remote teams.
Managers can document the majority of the processes of a company, to reduce dependencies and blockers. Tools like Notion and Loom are two of the best collaboration tools for remote work, that help document in written and video formats respectively, which companies can utilize to document their basic functional processes.
This way, remote employees can easily refer back to those documents if needed, rather than bugging their colleagues or managers unless it is extremely important.
If such terms are perfectly implemented within an organization, async communication will effectively give every remote employee the freedom to manage time that suits them best.
Another notable advantage of async communication in remote work is increased productivity. As asynchronous communication doesn’t require employees to be active during the same hours, remote employees can turn down their notifications and focus on only working.
Fully remote companies usually follow a 24-hour rule, where every remote employee will have around 24 hours to respond to their colleagues and managers unless absolutely necessary.
Having this freedom and flexibility in time allows them to only look at their work messages when they’re out of focus from work. This ultimately leads to increased productivity as they won’t have distractions while working.
Creates Sources of Knowledge
In a remote company, everything that’s been written or said can be documented. Meetings can be recorded and texts can be stored.
This is unlike sync communication, where people might not always get the chance to turn their recording on if they’re expected to join a meeting spontaneously.
Having the ability to document things will contribute to sources of knowledge. For instance, the important decisions, strategies, and working processes of an experienced and key remote employee can be documented. This can later serve as a dose of inspiration, knowledge, and training that managers can use to motivate other remote employees that want to perform better for the company.
Having the freedom to take action at your convenience provides the opportunity to gain insight and reflect appropriately on a situation.
Perhaps a colleague asks for another remote employee’s input on something, and they can provide valuable input by sparing a few of their minutes and respond later. This is known as the time for reflection, where remote employees can take their own time and come up with the most accurate response.
Better Work-life Balance
Because async communication eliminates set working hours for remote work, remote employees can create their own schedule and work according to it.
Having this freedom means that every remote employee will create a schedule that works best for them. For some people, it could be during the daytime, and for some, it could be during night. Ultimately, this will be a schedule that won’t interrupt their life outside work.
Synchronous communication, on the other hand, demands every remote employee to work during the same set of hours of the company regardless of what time zone they’re in. So the working hours of a company from 9 am to 5 pm might be nighttime for remote employees in a different time zone.
We can essentially conclude that the weaknesses of sync communication in remote work are pretty much the strength of async communication. It is also worth noting that sync communication is a good technique for management inside the office, while for remote work, async communication is the right way.
Both have their merits, and it’s important to know what each one is best at. While Sync communication is prone to chasing urgencies and works best in ad hoc organisations. Async communication favours planning and documentation to reduce dependencies, and creates space for deep work, which leads to higher quality work done by happier teams.
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