Productivity

Asynchronous meetings: Your complete guide

What is an asynchronous meeting? What are the benefits of holding async meetings? Learn everything you need to know and how can you effectively organise async meetings for your team.

Ivor Colson

During the UK lockdowns throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, 60% of the adult population worked from home. And although the lockdowns have now ended, this trend of working from home is not one that we expect to change in the future

The figures are even higher for those considering a hybrid working schedule. In a survey that was conducted across more than 2,000 British adults in July 2021, 75% stated wanted to work remotely at least two days of the week. And the UK is not alone, with 75% of the global companies surveyed in Travel Perk’s research also opting for a hybrid working model.

With this change in the way we work, there has also been a change in the manner in which teams communicate. One noticeable trend has been the switch from synchronous-first to asynchronous-first communication.

But, what does asynchronous communication mean, what is an asynchronous meeting, and how can you organise them effectively for your team?

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication is non-instant communication. It functions in the workplace by allowing workers to set their own schedules due to fewer meetings. These schedules can often disrupt the status quo of having a typical Monday to Friday, 9am until 5pm schedule.

The following are key components of asynchronous communication:

1. Workers setting their own hours

2. Limited scheduled meetings for workers

3. Reliance on technology for communication 

4. Slower response times to messages

5. Greater flexibility for workers

Asynchronous communication is a slower, but typically more thoughtful form of workplace communication. It can sometimes take over 24 hours to get a response, depending on the schedule or location of the workers involved.

Async-first communication frequently leads to a rise in quality communication as responses tend to be more well-thought-out. People take their time to compose their communication which lends to higher quality output. For example, a response by email will almost always be more comprehensive and detailed than an instant reply via Slack or Microsoft Teams.

Asynchronous communication can also lead to a greater diversity within your workforce due to increased flexibility. Why? Those who operate on different time zones or those who have life commitments such as childcare are more free to set their own working schedules. This increases the talent pool and encourages a greater variety of people in your workforce.

What is an asynchronous meeting?

Asynchronous meetings reframe what a meeting looks like within the workplace. 

Asynchronous meetings still have the same aims as the standard synchronous meeting, but rather than expecting the discussion to be resolved within a given time slot, async meetings favour longer discussions that may occur over several days.

We personally love the definition of async meetings offered at Loom:

“If a meeting is an assembly of people for the purpose of discussion, then an asynchronous meeting is also an assembly of people for the purpose of discussion - just not all at the exact same time. The same people receive the same message; they just interpret and react to it on their own time.” 

How does an async meeting work?

Asynchronous meetings have the same objectives as a synchronous meeting, but the way in which they are set up differ. In an async meeting, the relevant team members will be invited into the discussion space, there will be a set goal for the meetings and an agenda.

However, the key difference is that responses to any points raised within the meeting are not expected instantly. Communication can be shared in many forms: videos, emails, messages, voice memos, or any other channel that does not require both people to be present at the same time.

Examples of async meetings

Trello example:

  1. Trello: A new e-book campaign is due to be sent out. A member of the marketing team creates a new card to start the project. They set out the agenda to discuss e-book’s contents, and team members are tagged in to join the conversation. The conversation takes place over a week, everyone has had their say and in the end the contents are decided via a poll.

Google Docs example:

  1. Google Docs: New boiler text copy needs to be written, and signed off by senior management. The Head of Marketing sets out the objective and deadline on a Google Document, writes the first draft and sends it to management. Everyone contributes with comments and suggestions, and the boilerplate text is approved and ready to be published in 2 days. 

Both of these examples would likely be disruptive and inefficient meetings in a sync-first world. However, in an async-first world, the objective of can be met effectively without the participants needing to be available at the same time. 

What are the benefits of async meetings?

1. Productivity increase

Asynchronous meetings are often linked to an increase in focused productivity.

Have you ever experienced a situation where you’re being extremely productive and experiencing deep work (a state of extreme focus) but then remembered that you have a meeting to attend?

We’ve all been there. Asynchronous meetings boost productivity by reducing the amount of sync meetings. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that employee productivity was 71% higher when sync meetings were reduced by 40%.

Meetings can sometimes be unnecessary distractions and the benefit of async meetings is that they allow you to work to your own schedule, rather than disrupting the day around due to needless meetings. 

2. Quality communication

Taking longer to respond to a message improves the overall quality of communication. Although it may feel like having fast and more instantaneous communication would make things more productive for your company, it is often better to prioritise the quality of your responses rather than the quantity. When it comes to communication, sometimes less is more. 

This focus on quality will ensure that things don’t get miscommunicated or misinterpreted and will help to mitigate against any issues that could arise later on.

3. Allowing introverts to speak

In person or synchronous meetings over online platforms such as Zoom favour instantaneous responses and therefore, it can typically be the case that only the loudest voices get heard. For those who are more introverted, synchronous meetings can feel overwhelming, and they may be less likely to contribute.

This can then have a knock-on effect within your team. Studies show that when employees don’t contribute or speak in meetings, it can lead to them becoming more unproductive, and a higher chance of becoming absent.

Asynchronous meetings give introverts the time and space to consider what they want to say and respond to their team, increasing diversity of thought and workplace productivity as a whole.

4. Inclusivity in the workplace

As mentioned previously, asynchronous communication allows companies to employ more widely than ever before. Global talent pools are unlocked as hiring is not restricted to those who can commute to the office or those that operate in the same time zones of the company.

Using async meetings, you can easily communicate with people across the world and also with people who have prior commitments during the time of a synchronous meeting (childcare responsibilities, healthcare appointments etc.)

In Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 study, the biggest struggle when working remotely was shown to be difficulties with collaboration and communication (20%). Implementing effective async meetings should help to ease any difficulties and lead to better collaboration across teams. 

5. Recorded and accessible communication

Have you ever been in a meeting where nothing was recorded, and the whole thing was a waste of time? You’re not alone.

Asynchronous meetings prevent this as the communication is written and digitally stored. This creates an automatic record system for current and future team members, enabling them to find information faster. This helps a tremendous amount as everyone can see what was said and what decisions were made in the meeting.

Potential drawbacks of async meetings

However, there are still a few reasons why async meetings may be challenging for some.

The other biggest struggle when working remotely as reported in Buffer’s 2020 study was feelings of loneliness, which was also reported at 20%. Not having as much face time with other employees through in person meetings or Zoom calls can lead to feelings of isolation.

As a company, a good way to combat this is to organise synchronous social gatherings for employees, whether these are away-days or social zoom sessions every week. However, if you’re doing the latter, get creative. Zoom fatigue is real, so it is important to make these sessions genuinely fun and not a chore. Run quizzes, create competition, fun and encourage your team to connect on a personal level.

Here’s what GitLab suggests:

“Try hosting a “show and tell”, a virtual talent show, or a scavenger hunt. At GitLab, a group of parents even organised regular “juice box chats” for their children to get to know each other. These options create a more casual atmosphere where team members can connect with colleagues on a more personal level, without work at the centre of the video call.”

Another issue is whether workers will actually respond to async meetings. Having people in the same room (whether this in-person or virtually) can encourage workers to contribute. They may feel less inclined to do so when moving to the asynchronous model.

A way of overcoming this is by making async meetings compulsory for all members of the team and encourage team members to participate. This will ensure you still get engagement from your team even if they aren’t in the same room together.

How to run an effective async meeting

1. Communicate with your team

The first thing you will want to do when introducing async meetings into your workplace is communicating why you are doing this. Perhaps you are finding synchronous meetings are becoming repetitive, with the same topics coming up each time, and they are inefficient. 

Whatever the reason is, letting your team know why this change has been made will help your team to understand the importance of using the async model. Being open to receiving feedback is also really important as some members of the team may struggle with this new style of communication. Being adaptable and open to change is really important here.

2. Set clear guidelines

The next thing you will want to do is to make it very clear what is expected of your team during async meetings. Who will be in the meeting? How much are they expected to contribute? On what platform are you going to be having these conversations?

It’s important to have an agenda for async meetings. This helps to keep discussions focused and on-track whilst ensuring everything is recorded. Lay out a clear time frame for the conversation and let your team know who is responsible for taking notes. If this is a collaborative process, share how you will take these notes and what this process looks like.

Again, asking for feedback during this stage is absolutely paramount.

3. Deadlines

So that the conversation doesn’t go on forever, it is important to set a deadline that marks the end of the async meeting. This deadline can be flexible and when you set it really depends on the scope of the meeting’s topic.

If the meeting is a check-in with a team member, the deadline for this could be 48 hours as the conversation may realistically conclude by then. However, you may want to be flexible in case your team member has other commitments. If it is a team-wide meeting about implementing a new strategy then this may be a bigger conversation that could last across a few weeks.

4. Technology

Try to make the way you communicate as inclusive and accessible as possible. You can start to do this by utilising new technologies.

You need to know which platforms you are using to hold the async meetings on and what application you are using for note-taking. Decide whether you want to encourage the use of voice messaging, video, short text-like messages or longer email-length messages.

The best workplace applications to help with async meetings

Here is our list of recommended workplace applications that can help to support the efficiency and productivity of async meetings. For more information about workplace apps for success, you can check out our blog about this topic.

Trello: A collaboration and project management software which allows teams to work productively together. They have written extensively about async meetings and their software can be used to help establish a productive workplace conversation.

Slack: A messaging platform that allows workers to communicate across teams. Particularly useful for async meetings due to their use of channels, these can help divide conversations into specific topics.

Fellow: As a company that uses async meetings, Fellow can be used as a comprehensive meeting notes app to store and share information shared within the meeting.

YAC: A software that prioritises voice messaging over video calls. This is great for employees that struggle to communicate through writing, as they can speak their thoughts whilst still maintaining the async model.

Our take

Whilst synchronous meetings remain important to combat feelings of loneliness and isolation, it’s our feeling that they are over relied on. Managers schedule synchronous meetings and often aren’t aware that they disrupt the working days of their team members. Harvard Business Review found that productivity was 71% higher when sync meetings were reduced by 40%.

At Omnifia, we believe async meetings are the answer to this problem. They are a must-have for those looking to succeed in the hybrid era. We conduct async meetings are conducted to prevent team members from being constantly interrupted, allowing plenty of time for deep work. Asynchronous meetings give back control to autonomy to the team, driving team productivity in the process. 

There are many applications that facilitate this and if you want to find out more information, then please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Does your company use async meetings? And if so, what applications do you use to host them? Let us know by messaging us on our Twitter or LinkedIn.  

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