Now that I’ve worked at a few remote companies, and have one of my own, I’m seeing that the gap between asynchronous and synchronous communication is closing, or at least the lines are beginning to blur. Loaded statement, but first, a few definitions:
Asynchronous: Not existing or happening at the same time.
Synchronous: Existing or occurring at the same time.
Marissa Mayer of Yahoo once said “people are more collaborative, more inventive when they come together”. In 2013 I would have agreed with her. But asynchronous and synchronous communication had changed quite a bit since 2013.
Here’s the most interesting part: remote work is getting easier and more efficient because technology is closing the gap between asynchronous and synchronous communication.
In the past (let’s say 2013), maybe remote work was too asynchronous. Team members felt left out, they couldn’t effectively talk to their in-office brethren, and almost every aspect communication with clients was harder.
The technology simply was not there.
The tech is here now, and we should talk about how remote teams are utilizing that technology to close the communication gap that hamstrung remote teams in the past.
I meet on a Zoom.us meeting at least once per day. Remote teams can accomplish the minutiae of everyday work with communication apps, but when a broader scope of information needs to be transmitted, a video meeting is the best move.
In-office teams can just jump into a conference room for meetings, but thanks to the people at Zoom.us and other video conferencing tools, the conference room can be recreated virtually.
As someone who has attended a lot of in-person sales meetings and whiteboarding sessions – I can say that a Zoom meeting with my team accomplishes the exact same objectives very effectively.
Video conferencing is a purely synchronous form of communication, and here’s how it’s helping remote communication:
Asynchronous – I know…I literally just said “a purely synchronous form of communication,” but video meetings can be recorded. Once recorded, remote companies usually store these calls in a giant repository of video meetings.
Because it’s great training material.
Call shadowing has always been a big part of my onboarding as a salesperson…but call shadowing can be harder to execute in a distributed environment (due to the whole distance thing). Thus the repository of recorded meetings: new hires can access them for training, and management can access them for call reviews.
Recreate the conference room – I’m a big believer in fewer meetings, but when they are necessary, video is the only way to meet for remote teams.
The perception is that “aha moments” can only happen in the hallways and at the “watercooler” (or at least this is the reasoning behind Yahoo’s remote worker recall).
Remote workers will tell you otherwise…
Video communication brings nonverbal communication into the mix for remote teams. The “sitting around the conference table” element becomes a reality when your team meets on a video call, and the ideas begin to flow.
Hang out time – Think company culture can’t be developed in a remote work environment?
Just wait until your first Friday afternoon status meeting as a remote worker.
In my experience, I’ve laughed harder and had more fun on video calls with my remote colleagues than most of my past in-office meetings.
Video conference technology no longer drops calls, video and audio are generally synched, and meetings really feel like in-person interactions.
Intranet/ Process docs
I touched on this with the “repository of video content” bit earlier. Remote companies record everything, and create processes for everything.
Before going forward I should clarify one thing: Process docs and data recordings are not the same as red tape and bureaucracy.
Remote companies are militant about recording everything because recorded information can be used for onboarding and optimization of processes.
Why processes? You might ask.
The answer is this: Remote workers are far away from each other, and new hires would be inundating senior staff with questions if process documentation did not exist. Even with advanced technology, there’s still going to be some time between question and answer.
This specific asynchronous communication problem is mitigated by process documents or an intranet. Instead of asking questions, remote workers can solve problems autonomously by jumping into the company’s intranet.
The technology behind great communication
The age of remote communication is here!
I’m about to list off some software platforms that you need to communicate effectively in a remote environment, but it’s also important to talk about internet connection.
High speed internet is a MUST for working at home. If communication is going to run smoothly, a proper internet package is required. Most internet providers won’t charge much more per month to upgrade to 60-100 MBPS internet speed. Here’s a pro tip: Hook yourself up with a nice router.
Without getting too nerdy, I use VoIP for making calls, and standard routers don’t really support that kind of communication without custom configuration. My solution was to buy OnHub by Google. OnHub is not really a business solution but it supports everything that I need for work (and has a cool app).
Bottom line: without good wifi, communication is going to suffer. Video calls might cut out, and VoIP calls are hopeless. So before proceeding, get your internet situation figured out.
Without further ado, here are the platforms responsible for amazing remote communication:
Slack – At this point I’m like a Slack salesperson in my blog posts. But in reality this is a necessity for remote teams. Asynchronous and synchronous communication at the same time within one tool…
Zoom.us – I really like GoToMeeting, but Zoom takes the cake. The free version can’t be beat, and when you “go paid” the features are endless.
Trello – This is a project management tool, but maybe an intranet too. Ideas can be thrown around in here with links to external resources as well.
Calendly – The days of “I’m free at 11:15, 2:30, and 4:30 EST on Monday, when are you free?” are now over. Calendly makes booking meetings really, really easy.
Lastpass – Yes, you can save your Twitter password in here, but you can also send passwords to colleagues with Lastpass. No more risking security by having a shared document called “IMPORTANT PASSWORDS”.
These platforms are great already, and they are constantly improving. They get faster and improve your work efficiency by small but steady increments. At this point, the only thing standing in the way of great communication is hiring great communicators…
Writing is the way
Aside from amazing technology and advanced remote training programs, remote teams are finally realizing that writing skills are a must have.
Why is writing so important for remote teams?
Because remote workers communicate via the written word probably 90% of the time (no science behind that stat). Remote workers are usually working in different time zones, and “synching up” usually means writing a Slack message and getting a response later on.
If you don’t communicate effectively the first time, your teammate in the UK is going to be confused and ask “what do you mean?”…and boom…20 more minutes wasted.
Remote workers need some good old writing skills. And I’m not just talking about email writing skills. Remote workers are (or should be) articulate on a variety of platforms:
Slack (or any other team communication app) – where asynchronous meets synchronous communication. Writing skills are required because Slack can act as a chronicle to past problems and challenges. If a specific problem was addressed in a team-wide or company-wide channel, Slack can serve as a quasi-intranet. That said, this information is only useful if the problem and solution are recorded in an articulate way.
Email – I can’t remember the last time I emailed a co-worker, but I email the heck out of my clients all the time. I’ve never met most of them in person, and talking on the phone is not always feasible, so email communication needs to be concise and representative of my personality at the same time.
Project Management Tools – This is where teams collide and major miscommunications can happen. For example: sales and customer success, might run into problems with each other in the chat box. A new customer is unhappy with onboarding, and if customer success doesn’t effectively communicate with the sales rep that sold the deal, animosity happens pretty fast.
That said, if both teams can effectively articulate in writing, the chance of a real problem developing are much lower.
When Synchronous and Asynchronous collide
In the past, the beef with remote work has been mostly around communication. Synchronous communication is our natural state of being; most people like to meet up and do things together. In fact, most people need in-person interaction, and at this point, I think communication tools have come very close to replicating those in-person interactions.
Between Slack, video calls, documented processes, and an intranet, I’ve not had a single communication problem in a long while.
To be clear, this technology has been around for a while, none of these tools are particularly new.
My argument is that these forms of communication technology have improved to the point where asynchronous and synchronous communication are working in harmony to create an environment of extremely efficient communication.
Communication is less of a worry for remote teams now. Anything from “send me a link” to major company ideation can be handled remotely. Remote efficiency has been “dinged” by technology in the past, and the complaint of “too much asynchronous communication” has sent droves of people back to the office.
Not anymore. The technology is here and it’s only getting better. Remote teams are more synchronous than ever, and companies are starting to take notice.