Synchronous vs Asynchronous Communication for Remote Teams

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Rafael Timbó
By
Rafael Timbó
|
Chief Technology Officer
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Table of Contents

Learn about synchronous and asynchronous communication, their advantages, and when to use each style when managing remote teams.
Published on
November 15, 2023
Updated on
April 17, 2024

In an era where remote work is rapidly becoming the norm, effective communication between engineering and development teams is no longer a mere luxury but a fundamental necessity. For businesses that pivoted to a distributed model, the challenge lies in cultivating a collaborative environment that mirrors the in-person communication dynamics of a traditional workspace. The key to achieving this is striking the right balance between asynchronous vs. synchronous communication.

Establishing a universal communication channel can make remote team management a daunting task. The goal of every manager is to choose a form of communication that keeps employees engaged, motivated, and productive. To do this, it is important to understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication.

This article will explore the advantages and drawbacks of each and help managers make an informed decision when choosing the right communication protocol for a distributed team.

What Is Asynchronous Communication?

Asynchronous communication is a form of communication that does not require the presence of both parties simultaneously for interaction to occur. It allows team members to respond at their leisure without being tied to a real-time conversation. The vast array of communication tools we have at our disposal today — email, Slack, project management platforms, and more — are asynchronous communication tools designed to make remote work easier and more productive.

Remote teams use asynchronous communication to facilitate cross-time zone collaboration and allow individuals to work on tasks without being interrupted by constant real-time demands. For example, a developer in New York can leave a detailed message regarding a code update on a shared platform, and a team member in Sydney can respond after they've had a chance to review the update despite the significant time difference.

However, while asynchronous communication offers flexibility and respects individual work rhythms, it also requires clear and concise messaging. The lack of immediate feedback can sometimes lead to misinterpretations. Teams must establish strong asynchronous communication guidelines to ensure clarity and meet deadlines.

Asynchronous Communication Examples

Understanding the concept of asynchronous communication is the first step, but to truly grasp its effectiveness, it’s best to observe real-world examples. These instances of asynchronous communication illustrate its flexibility and convenience in various scenarios, particularly in a distributed workforce. Here are some asynchronous communication examples:

  • Code reviews with pull requests: Code reviews, when conducted via pull requests, are another example of asynchronous communication. It allows developers to create and review code without being tied to a real-time conversation. This kind of communication is particularly helpful for distributed engineering teams as it facilitates collaboration across geographical boundaries.
  • Issue tracking and resolution: Issue tracking through software development platforms can be done asynchronously. It allows team members to log and track issues during their available time slots, regardless of the work hours of other members. This communication eliminates long resolution times and encourages cross-team collaboration for smoother workflows.
  • Documentation collaboration: Collaboration on documents is another example of asynchronous communication. It allows distributed teams to share, edit, and comment on documents at different times. This method guarantees that all team members can access the shared document conveniently — and from any geographical location — without missing important updates or discussions.
  • Task assignment via project management tools: Asynchronous communication also plays a role in task assignment. Project management tools like Jira or Trello allow distributed teams to assign tasks without making real-time demands on team members. They can access and work on their assigned tasks when they have the time instead of collaborating with other members in real time.

Advantages of Asynchronous Communication

Asynchronous communication is not just about flexibility, it's about transforming how a team collaborates, manages time, and works toward achieving project goals. It shifts the focus from immediate responses to thoughtful exchanges, fostering productivity, autonomy, and respect for everyone's schedules. Here are some of the significant advantages of asynchronous communication:

  • Flexibility: Asynchronous communication respects individual work rhythms and different time zones, allowing team members to respond when most convenient.
  • Productivity: It reduces the pressure of immediate response, enabling team members to focus on their tasks without constant interruption, thereby increasing productivity.
  • Thoughtfulness: It provides the time to craft thoughtful and thorough responses, leading to better decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Autonomy: It fosters an environment of independence and trust, where team members are empowered to manage their work and response times effectively.
  • Inclusiveness: Asynchronous communication is especially beneficial when managing distributed teams, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their location or time zone, has an equal opportunity to contribute to the conversation.

What Is Synchronous Communication?

Synchronous communication refers to real-time exchanges that require instant responses and engagement from both parties. It’s the traditional form of communication we're all familiar with, and it closely mirrors face-to-face interaction in a physical office. Examples include telephone calls, video conferences, in-person meetings, and instant messaging chats.

Synchronous communication is an effective tool for discussions that require immediate feedback, such as brainstorming sessions, critical decision-making meetings, or urgent troubleshooting efforts. Synchronous communication promotes immediate collaboration, fostering camaraderie and collective problem-solving within the team. It also supplements the human element in a virtual setting, helping build relationships and maintain a strong and cohesive team culture despite the physical distance.

Synchronous Communication Examples

Synchronous communication has several examples commonly used by remote engineering and development teams. Here are some examples of synchronous communication:

  • Video conferencing: Video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Google Meet enable face-to-face interaction, allowing team members to collaborate in real-time regardless of their geographical locations. 
  • Instant messaging chats: Real-time communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams enable instant discussion between team members on a shared platform.
  • Scrum calls: Regular check-in calls can be held among distributed teams to discuss updates, progress, and challenges in real-time collaboration. 
  • Standup meetings: Short standup meetings among remote engineering teams can be conducted via video calls to exchange information and ideas.
  • Brainstorming sessions: Distributed teams can use synchronous communication platforms to conduct brainstorming sessions in real time, allowing quick decision-making within the team.
  • Voice calls and phone conferences: Voice calls allow quick collaboration between team members, especially in urgent situations. Phone conferences are also beneficial for distributed teams because they let multiple members interact simultaneously.

Advantages of Synchronous Communication

Synchronous communication presents many advantages that can greatly enhance the effectiveness of remote engineering and development teams. It fosters a sense of immediacy and personal connection that can expedite decision-making processes and facilitate real-time problem-solving. Here are some key advantages of synchronous communication:

  • Immediate problem resolution: Synchronous communication enables teams to address issues and challenges swiftly, ensuring that progress is not hindered due to response delays.
  • Real-time collaboration: It facilitates collaboration between team members regardless of their physical proximity or time zones. 
  • Instant feedback: It allows for real-time feedback, especially when brainstorming or troubleshooting.
  • Effective decision-making: Synchronous communication can help expedite decision-making processes, enabling teams to reach conclusions quickly.
  • Human connection: Despite distance, it helps maintain a connection between distributed team members.
  • Crisis management: Synchronous communication is especially helpful in crisis management scenarios, allowing swift action and response. In such cases, it can help mitigate potential damages and protect the interest of remote workers.

Key Differences

Several key differences emerge when examining synchronous and asynchronous communication, each with unique implications for remote engineering teams. The primary difference lies in the timing of the interaction. Synchronous communication occurs in real time, forcing all parties to be present and engaged simultaneously, much like a face-to-face conversation. This immediacy can foster a sense of cohesion and camaraderie among team members and can be pivotal for urgent discussions and brainstorming sessions.

On the other hand, asynchronous communication does not require simultaneous presence. Messages can be composed, sent, and responded to at each participant's convenience, enabling flexibility and allowing thoughtful, detailed responses. This communication style is essential for cross-timezone collaboration and respects each team member's diverse working rhythms and schedules.

When to Use Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication

The choice of synchronous vs. asynchronous communication is not a binary one. Successful remote teams leverage both communication forms, depending on the context and purpose of the exchange. Asynchronous communication is ideal for detailed messages that require thoughtful responses, while synchronous communication is best for urgent discussions or real-time collaboration. 

When deciding between the two, it's important to consider the urgency of a certain task. If there's an immediate response required, then synchronous communication is better suited. On the other hand, for slower-paced tasks that can wait for responses, asynchronous communication is the better option. 

Ultimately, what matters most is striking a balance between the type of communication needed and using them according to best practices. The key is to ensure that every form of collaboration respects the team’s needs and promotes productivity without unnecessary interruptions.

Hire Remote Tech Teams With Revelo

As team leads navigate the new trends and complexities of remote team management, Revelo can be a strategic partner, connecting your organization with rigorously vetted developers who are time-zone-aligned for seamless communication. Our developers are rigorously vetted for technical and English proficiency and demonstrate strong soft skills, which are crucial for productive synchronous and asynchronous communication. Revelo also helps simplify the onboarding process, handling aspects such as payroll, benefits administration, and legal compliance. 

Contact us today for more information about how Revelo can help you build and hire fully remote tech teams.

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