The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many workers into a remote experience that is far from ideal. This is primarily because they have no flexible hours and because communication is still synchronous instead of asynchronous.
While remote work gets away with most of the media's attention, we believe it's asynchronous communication that makes remote workers so productive. In this article, we'll explain what asynchronous communication is and how you can get better at it.
Asynchronous communication is a way of communicating where the sender of a message doesn't expect the recipient to reply right away. Instead, the recipient is expected to reply in due time and should not feel as if they have to reply instantly.
Asynchronous communication works well with remote work because it's much harder to communicate asynchronously in an office, where your colleagues are so close by and where impromptu chats and meetings happen all the time.
Unfortunately, impromptu chats and meetings happen all the time in remote work too. That's because companies have a culture where people expect an answer to their question right away and where managers want easy access to all their employees.
Sometimes, impromptu interruptions aren't such a big deal, but for people in jobs that require long stretches of intense focus – like developers – a few interruptions can be the difference between a productive day and one where you get little done.
In order to thrive on asynchronous communication, you need to change your mindset. For one, you need to adopt an unblockable attitude. You should never think you're out of work simply because someone hasn't yet replied to you.
Instead, work on another project. Finish those smaller tasks you've been procrastinating on for days. Read those articles you haven't read yet. Reply to some emails. Never put yourself in a position where you can't do anything because you're waiting on someone else.
This goes hand in hand with the need to plan ahead. Give people time to reply. Don't ask important questions about your project a few hours before its deadline. Asynchronous communication falls apart when no one plans and everyone urgently requires the other to reply immediately.
While you can't ever plan for everything, you can plan for much of it. Work hard, give yourself more time than you think you need, and deliver early. Everyone's lives will be easier for it.
Additionally, if you want to have long hours of productive work, you need to turn off your notifications. Even when you know you're not expected to reply right away, a Slack or email notification will tempt you into doing so anyway.
Don't make things unnecessarily hard for yourself. Designate a time when you'll reply to people and simply don't open Slack or your email client until then. If you need to ask something, make a note of it and return to your work.
As a final point, asynchronous communication works better when you get better at writing. Because the back-and-forth with asynchronous communication is a lot slower, the more and the better you communicate from the get-go, the faster you'll resolve what you were talking about.
All the above doesn't mean synchronous communication is entirely obsolete. Far from it, it's necessary to create a sense of community. X-Team, the company I work for, has many games that are synchronous. The 2020 X-Summit was synchronous. Our one-on-one performance reviews are synchronous.
But the point is that most things don't need synchronous communication. People feel more at ease when they work remotely and when they know there's no expectation to always be online, ready to reply to whatever message comes their way. Instead, they can focus on their work. After all, isn't it more important to be productive than it is to be connected?