Comparing Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication in a Hybrid Work Environment

Lida Peat
February 8, 2023
February 8, 2023
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Comparing Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication in a Hybrid Work Environment

The pandemic was a significant stress test for organizations. Employers had to quickly shift from a traditional in-person office to a fully remote work environment – while maintaining interpersonal interactions with remote employees and clients. They were also bombarded with a plethora of new platforms, communication tools, apps, and new ways of working, thinking and collaborating. Organizations that thrived during this transitional period were called “gymnastic enterprises.”

Now that much of the world has embraced hybrid work or a fully remote working model with virtual teams, let’s compare synchronous vs. asynchronous communication.

Let’s face it: synchronous communication is an integral part of remote work

The pandemic caused a worldwide low in morale. Leadership struggled to build rapport with new employees and clients, keep current ones engaged, and manage the onboarding processes with new remote workers.

In evaluating team morale, gymnastic enterprises quickly realized that nothing beats synchronous communication: face-to-face, real-time communication with all parties simultaneously engaged. Some examples of synchronous communication include in-person meetings, one-on-one huddles, video calls, phone calls, instant messaging, direct messaging and live chats. Synchronous communication brings out team members’ personalities and allows contributors to pick up on social cues and engage in extra chit-chat. You may even get to see what others are consuming (brands, food, drinks, etc.) or meet a furry friend or little one.

Synchronous communication’s greatest strength is immediacy. Since it is centered on live interactions, it is perfect when employees or employers need immediate answers for a smoother workflow – especially on urgent matters like troubleshooting, clearing blockers and tackling action items. It also allows for detailed and extensive interactions: it’s much easier to review a complex topic in real time rather than trying to explain it statically.

But because synchronous communication occurs in real-time, it requires all participants to simultaneously be in the same workspace (virtual or physical). This requires time coordination, internet connectivity or remote collaboration tools, some of which are not easily accessible in every situation or in every country.

So, if synchronous communication doesn’t work for you or your organization, what’s the alternative? Let’s get to that.

Asynchronous communication is flexible and can reduce stress

Asynchronous communication is a communication method that does not occur in real time during specified work hours. Some examples of asynchronous communication include emails, letters, text messages, share-file collaborations, project management tools and even pre-recorded video messages.

By freeing the remote team from time constraints, asynchronous communication enables participants to respond thoughtfully and at their own pace – which helps reduce employee stress. It also helps optimize the team’s performance and focus by reducing distractions and unnecessary meetings. Managers can even use asynchronous communication to learn more about their team by analyzing historical communication data, response records, and video analytics (i.e.: who watches what for how long).

While many employees appreciate its low-stress format, asynchronous communication channels make it challenging to build interpersonal relationships. Between technological difficulties, poor online etiquette and unclear communication tactics, plenty can get lost in an email or text chain (ever try to analyze someone’s tone over text? Not easy). Another downside to asynchronous communication? Explaining complex problems through its channels can be cumbersome, making it an unideal work environment for brainstorming or strategizing.

So, which is better for your workplace: synchronous or asynchronous communication?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Managers should take a customized approach that works best for their team. Many find it helpful to host one-on-ones with each team member (or small groups for larger teams) to gauge interactions and personalities before deciding which method works best. Most organizations utilize a hybrid approach with a slight slant toward one.

Still need help? Check out the chart below for quick comparisons of synchronous and asynchronous communication.

Synchronous Communication  Asynchronous Communication 
Delivery Real-time Self-paced
Response Live When convenient for user
Flexibility Often less flexible; scheduled Offers freedom and flexibility
Message Complex topics, project discussions and deep work Simple routine check-ins for feedback
Discussion Length Meet at prescheduled times Work on your own time beyond scheduled times
Team Local, interpersonal, smaller (sometimes in-person) teams Larger remote teams that can easily work together from remote places or in different time zones
Best Practices
  • Provide a planned agenda
  • Encourage immediate responses
  • If you’re working remotely, research and identify the best platforms for your virtual team. Examples: Microsoft Teams, Asana, Slack, Trello, Zoom and Loom
  • Use a webcam and help facilitate connections to help build team morale while video conferencing
  • Develop rapport/relationships
  • Provide sufficient detail and instructions with clear deadlines
  • Follow up on obstacles
  • Iterate on feedback for clarity purposes
  • Keep prerecorded videos as short as possible (content > production value)