On embracing asynchronous communication

• 3 min read

I’ve been trying to improve my workflows this year. One thing I’ve known for a while, but never really got serious about implementing, is defaulting to asynchronous communication. I first learned about this concept a few years ago when reading Basecamp’s Employee Handbook.

I work remotely for a company in the UK, and we use Slack for communication. The timezone difference is only two/three hours, so the whole team is usually all online at the same time for most of the day. I, (and I’m sure most other members of the team), just find it a lot easier to pull someone in for a ‘quick’ huddle each time there’s something to discuss. I always hesitate before doing this, but end up doing it anyway most of the time. The fact that it is very easy to do doesn’t help. I think it does more harm than good.

More than a few times I try to invite someone for a huddle, and they’re not available. I then have to write down whatever I wanted us to discuss - and it always ends up feeling more productive. I think better when I write. Or, maybe writing actually forces me to think about the thing more - something I may have been avoiding and choosing the easier option of ‘discussing’ it instead. I even come up with the solution sometimes in the middle of writing, and find the call, or even the message itself, not to be necessary.

Another benefit of writing things down is that you can actually refer back to the messages months/years down the line when you can’t figure out why a certain decision was made. I know Slack huddles have threads attached to them but we rarely ever use them. Handovers are a lot easier when you can actually search for something in threads and follow discussions that were made in the past.

Writing is also great practice for communication skills as things usually need to be a lot more clear written down than spoken.

I know these kinds of impromptu calls are distracting, but I understand why people do them. It’s just the easiest thing to do in the moment. They’re hardly ever necessary though.

In my experience, I have never been in a situation where I would be completely blocked unless I got into a call to discuss something. I’m never in need of an immediate answer to be able to continue with my work. And even if I am, there’s no guarantee that calling someone is going to get me that answer. They may not be available, and then I’ll still have to write down whatever I wanted anyway.

It’s usually not worth breaking someone’s focus over whatever issue I feel needs immediate attention. It’s not easy, but it’s worth embracing asynchronous communication more.

Write something down as clearly and precisely as you can and send it. Don’t expect an immediate reply. Find something else to do in the meantime.

I think that’s a better way to work.

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