Barring a few big-tech and big finance U-turns, the dust has more or less settled on the remote and hybrid-working debate. All of the ‘which do you prefer?’ polls have done the LinkedIn rounds, lines have been drawn and opinions are given.
Now some employers are designing remote work policies and committing full-blooded to ‘remote-first’ operational models. Partly for leaner overheads, partly to attract the “I-quit” talents of The Great Resigners, and partly to land and expand into new countries without new offices.
The perks of remote and hybrid working are broad, but they come with communication challenges of time and distance. As one team is waking up in New York, another may be winding down in Hong Kong.
How can remote-first employers balance synchronous and asynchronous communication effectively?
Synchronous vs Asynchronous Work Communication
For remote-first employers, this shift from synchronous to asynchronous communication requires adjustments. Not least to bind a cohesive company culture, maintain consistent productivity and protect the wellbeing of teams.
We’ll get to all that. First, the ‘core definitions’ stuff.
You know these already:
What is synchronous work communication?
Synchronous work communication takes place in real-time. Typically face-to-face under the same office roof, but also at distance with the help of technology. Even for (perhaps especially for) remote-first employers, live 1-to-1 and company-wide calls remain of massive importance.
The key benefit of synchronous communication? Nothing substitutes synchronous communication for rapid alignment and effective employee engagement during which managers form personal connections with individuals.
What is asynchronous work communication?
Asynchronous communication doesn’t depend on recipients being immediately present to listen, understand and respond. It may be a Slack message, a note on someone’s desk or even cave art if that’s your preferred mode of colleague and client contact.
The advantage of async work comms is that it doesn’t happen in real-time, but instead ‘in your own time’. Hence, the productivity benefits for distributed or creativity-oriented teams who prioritise output over a live interaction.
How Remote-First Employers Can Extract the Benefits of Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
Bosses and organisations that dug their heels in on the ‘office-based vs remote or hybrid’ debate were likely spooked by perceived risks of strained management and productivity.
To ‘remote-first’ or not to ‘remote-first’. Is it that big a question?
How do you manage people effectively if you can’t easily liaise with them face-to-face? Or worse, peer over their shoulder every half hour. How can scattered teams effectively collaborate on projects? Such were and are some of the concerns and jitters of employers unwilling to roll out remote work policies.
Of course, remote-first employers that took the leap not only easily found the smart answers. Some realised these questions weren’t even a big deal, with remote teams outperforming office-based colleagues in some cases.
Here are a few convictions that remote-first employers hold, allowing them to combine and benefit from synchronous and asynchronous communication.
“Trust the right talent and they’ll deliver the right results”
The ‘purpose over paycheck’ phenomenon that predates and intensified during the pandemic is a testament to people’s intolerance of stifled, overbearing management styles.
Managers with a remote-first mindset realise that the world of work is trending away from micro-management. That means being unafraid to trust the right remote hires and not being nervous about leveraging more asynchronous communication.
“Sometimes, it really can be resolved with an email”
Employers and managers who’ve recently pivoted to a remote-first model can overcompensate by turning up the ‘synchronous comms’ dial. This manifests as team calendars wall-to-wall with micro-management calls thinly veiled as Zoom ‘catch ups’.
Balancing synchronous with asynchronous communication means knowing when to take your foot off the pedal of each. It’s all about not allowing too much of either to infringe on employee autonomy, but also the need for project structure and adequate collaboration.
Take a look at team calendars. What’s their workload? What’s the balance of calls vs execution time? Perhaps scrap some of those ‘Zoom catch-ups’ and tell teams to keep you in the loop via their preferred means.
“Real-time communication doesn’t shape culture”
Employers switching to remote-first models might assume off-the-bat that cranking up real-time communication is what will preserve the culture. This assumption can be entirely well-meaning. Ultimately, the road to work-culture hell can be paved with good intentions.
Over-saturating teams with synchronous-comms calls aimed at maintaining company culture and morale can actually demotivate and burn teams out. Fluffy Zoom socials are useful for bonding remote teams but don’t overdo it.
Often teams value managers who set specific agendas with specific purposes. Managers that realise this are much more likely to maintain employee enthusiasm, preserving productivity and culture.
Ultimately, it’s about transparency and cultivating a non-judgemental atmosphere of voluntary ‘opt-in’ participation. If it’s not your thing then skip it. No big deal.
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