Determine if Your Team Needs Sync or Async: A How-to Guide
Have you ever wondered if your team is collaborating in the most efficient way? If your team is distributed across time zones or locations, determining the right mix of sync and async communication is key. Sync, or synchronous, communication happens in real-time, like video calls or instant messaging. Async, or asynchronous communication, happens over a longer period of time, like email or project management tools.
As a team lead, choosing the right blend of sync and async collaboration for your team can be challenging. But finding that perfect balance will make your distributed team hum like a well-oiled machine. This guide will walk you through determining if your team needs more sync or async communication, the benefits of each, and how to thoughtfully integrate them into your team’s workflow. By the end, you’ll have the insights to build a collaboration cadence that boosts your team’s productivity, creativity, and connection.
Defining Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication
Synchronous communication happens in real-time, like phone calls, video conferences or in-person meetings. Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, happens via delayed exchanges, such as email, chat or collaboration software.
For distributed teams, determining which method(s) to use depends on your needs. Synchronous communication enables quick decisions and bonding, but can reduce focus. Asynchronous communication gives space for deep work, yet discussions may drag on. Many teams use a hybrid approach.
To decide what’s right for your team, consider these three categories of collaboration:
❓ Quick questions or clarifications
For a fast answer or minor back-and-forth, asynchronous options like chat are good. No need to interrupt others’ focus with a call.
🤯 Brainstorming or complex problem-solving
For creative work or navigating tricky issues, synchronous video calls are best. Cues like tone of voice and body language aid understanding. Follow up async to document insights.
📬 Routine status updates or task management
For recurring or logistical communications, asynchronous methods work well. Update work schedules, share task lists and project plans via docs, software or email.
The key is matching the method to the purpose and balancing synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Don’t default to video calls for everything—or rely only on texts and miss out on relationship building. With the right mix of sync and async, distributed teams can collaborate as effectively as co-located ones.
The Benefits of Asynchronous Communication for Distributed Teams
The benefits of asynchronous communication are huge for distributed teams.
- Flexibility. Team members can collaborate on their own schedule. No more stressful meetings at odd hours to accommodate time zones! People can work when they’re most productive.
- Inclusion. Asynchronous tools like Slack, Google Docs and Trello make it easy for everyone to participate on their own time. Shy or introverted team members have more opportunities to contribute.
- Focus. Without the pressure of an ongoing meeting, individuals can take the time to thoughtfully consider ideas and responses. This often leads to higher quality work and decisions.
- Documentation. Conversations and discussions are automatically documented, creating a searchable record of ideas, questions, answers and decisions. This “paper trail” helps avoid confusion and ensures nothing slips through the cracks.
Three main categories of collaboration
There are three main ways distributed teams interact:
- Quick questions and clarifications. For a fast exchange of information, asynchronous chat tools like Slack are ideal.
- Brainstorming and strategizing. For these more complex discussions, asynchronous project management platforms enable organized, threaded conversations. Multiple teammates can build on each other’s ideas over time.
- Decision making. When decisions need to be made, an asynchronous process provides time for people to thoughtfully consider options and voice opinions before voting or reaching consensus.
With the right mix of asynchronous and synchronous communication, distributed teams can build connection, enhance productivity, and do their best work together, even when they’re apart.
How to Know When Your Team Needs Synchronous Communication
There are times when synchronous communication is critical for team success. How do you know if your team needs to sync up in real-time? Here are some signs it may be time for a team meeting or quick call:
Lack of shared understanding
If you notice team members seem confused or out of the loop on key details, it’s a good indicator you need synchronous communication to get everyone on the same page. Have a quick call to clarify goals, share updates, and ensure everyone understands their role and responsibilities.
When asynchronous communication isn’t resolving important issues or roadblocks, it’s time to talk in real-time. Discuss the problem via video call so you can share screens, sketch ideas, and have a collaborative back-and-forth conversation to troubleshoot solutions.
For distributed teams, synchronous communication is key for building rapport and camaraderie. Have occasional video calls for casual conversation, team bonding, and social interaction. Putting faces to names and engaging in informal chitchat can strengthen relationships and boost team cohesion.
Brainstorming or ideation
Some collaborative work simply demands real-time interaction. Brainstorming new ideas, strategic planning, and creative work often benefit from the rapid exchange of thoughts that comes with synchronous communication. Video calls allow for organic, unstructured conversations that can yield breakthrough ideas.
While asynchronous communication has significant benefits, synchronous communication plays an equally important role in collaborative work. Pay attention to your team’s needs and rely on a mix of sync and async to keep your collaboration running smoothly. A balanced approach will help build a cohesive, high-performing team.
The 3 Main Collaboration Touchpoints for Remote Teams
When collaborating remotely, your team has three main ways to connect: real-time meetings, asynchronous communication, and documentation. Finding the right balance of these touchpoints is key to productivity and cohesion.
For quick conversations or brainstorming, real-time video calls are best. These synchronous meetings allow for back-and-forth discussion and rapid problem-solving. However, too many meetings can reduce focus and deep work. Limit meetings to 30 minutes and have a clear agenda to keep them productive.
For most collaboration, asynchronous tools like Slack, Basecamp or Notion are ideal. These messaging platforms let team members communicate on their own time. People can chime in when they have a chance, leading to more thoughtful discussions. Asynchronous communication also creates space for different work styles and time zones.
To provide context and shared understanding, document your work thoroughly. Wiki’s, project management tools and other digital records give team members a single source of truth. Document key processes, decisions, goals and project details. Referring back to documentation helps get everyone on the same page and prevents rehashing old ground.
A balanced mix of real-time meetings, asynchronous messaging and comprehensive documentation will help your distributed team work together smoothly. Meet when needed for urgent discussions or relationship building. Default to asynchronous communication for most collaboration to give people flexibility. And document everything to create alignment and continuity over time. With the right combination of sync and async, your remote team will thrive.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing Sync or Async for Your Team
To determine if your team needs synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous (delayed) communication, follow these steps:
1. Analyze your team’s work and workflows.
Think about the types of tasks your team regularly does. Are they highly collaborative or more independent? Do they require quick turnarounds or longer periods of focused work? Teams that frequently collaborate or have tight deadlines may benefit more from real-time interaction. Those that need longer stretches of focused time may prefer asynchronous.
2. Evaluate your team’s preferences.
Some people thrive with constant communication while others need longer periods of uninterrupted work. Survey your team members to understand their individual preferences and work styles. Having a mix of preferences on a team is common and manageable. Look for any strong trends to determine the best overall approach.
3. Consider time zones and locations.
If your team is distributed across multiple time zones, synchronous communication may be challenging. Asynchronous methods like messaging, file sharing and project management software can help bridge geographical divides. For colocated teams, a blend of real-time and asynchronous may work well.
4. Start with a pilot and make adjustments.
There’s no need to commit to an all-or-nothing approach. You might pilot a mix of synchronous meetings and asynchronous workflows to see what works for your team. Be flexible and make changes based on feedback. You can adjust the frequency and methods of communication over time as needs change.
5. Provide guidance and set expectations.
Once you determine the right mix of sync and async for your team, provide guidelines on when and how to use each method. Let people know the expected response times for asynchronous communication. And set clear rules of engagement for real-time interaction like video calls and messaging.
With some experimentation, you’ll find the sweet spot for synchronous and asynchronous communication that enables your distributed team to thrive. Evaluating your team’s needs and adjusting as you go is the key to getting it just right.
So there you have it, a quick guide to figuring out if your team needs more sync or async to boost productivity and collaboration. The key is understanding how your team operates and what kinds of work you’re doing together. If you need rapid feedback or complex problem solving, synchronous communication is probably the way to go. For work that requires deep thinking or isn’t time sensitive, asynchronous allows people the space to do their best work.
At the end of the day, the most effective teams utilize a mix of both sync and async. They know when real-time interaction is needed to speed things up, but also give people the freedom of asynchronous when possible. The categories of touchpoints are a helpful framework for determining what mix is right for your unique team. Experiment with different rhythms of sync and async and see what helps your team thrive. The options are there – you just have to figure out the formula that fits.