Asynchronous or Synchronous Collaboration?

The Expert Low Down On What's Best For You

As companies adapt to new ways of doing business, synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools have become indispensable for fostering efficient communication and productivity. Globally, 16% of companies have fully embraced remote work, and 27% of the US workforce now operates remotely at least part of the time. The office is no longer a static, physical place and the demand for flexible communication solutions that adapt to this workplace flux is growing.

But where do you start? Simply, synchronous tools facilitate real-time interactions, promoting quick decision-making and instant collaboration, while asynchronous tools offer flexibility, enabling team members to contribute at their own pace.

By seamlessly integrating both types of tools, businesses can stay agile, foster innovation, and create a work environment that accommodates the diverse needs of their teams, promoting efficiency and inclusivity. Sound good? Read on...

Each method holds distinct advantages, creating a dynamic environment where teams can flourish.

What is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools?

Asynchronous collaboration: Flexibility at your own pace

In asynchronous communication and collaboration, teamwork unfolds without the constraints of real-time interaction. This approach allows individuals to contribute at their convenience within their time zone, fostering a flexible work environment. Common tools for asynchronous collaboration include:

1. Email Communication: Sending messages and updates without the need for an immediate response.

2. Message Boards: Platforms like Slack for threaded discussions and sharing information at any time.

3. Shared Documents: Collaborative documents, like those in the Google Workspace, enable team members to work independently, yet collaboratively on shared projects.

Synchronous Collaboration: Real-Time Engagement

Synchronous collaboration involves immediate, real-time interaction among team members. In essence, it's how we humans have communicated for thousands of years—by talking to each other face to face (albeit now over a video conferencing platform rather than in the same physical space). This method is valuable for activities that require instant feedback and live participation. Examples of synchronous collaboration tools include:

1. Zoom: A video conferencing platform that facilitates virtual face-to-face meetings.

2. mmhmm: Enhances virtual presentations by making them engaging and interactive.

3. Microsoft Teams: Enables real-time communication, file sharing, and collaborative project management.

Balancing these approaches strategically is key to optimizing productivity in modern workspaces.

The rise of asynchronous communication

Asynchronous communication is reshaping how teams collaborate across the globe. As communication styles go, asynchronous communication has been around for a while. We've all relied on emails at work for years and text messaging on phones has been around since the early 1990s. Now these tools are ever-expanding. Apps like Slack or Teams allow instant messaging, file-sharing tech helps team members to work collaboratively without the constraints of time or space, and even presentations to the board can now be recorded, saved, and shared, then viewed when needed.

The Pandemic has accelerated this workplace shift towards asynchronous collaboration. With more and more companies offering hybrid or fully remote roles, solutions that facilitate effective collaboration between team members in varying time zones and locations are growing in demand.

What are the benefits of asynchronous communication in the workplace?

Global Collaboration:

Asynchronous communication eliminates the constraints of time zones, enabling teams to collaborate seamlessly regardless of geographical locations.

Enhanced Flexibility:

Team members have the freedom to contribute at their own pace, fostering a work-life balance.

Reduced Meeting Dependency:

With asynchronous tools, there's a decrease in the need for real-time meetings, saving valuable time and allowing team members to focus on impactful tasks.

Tools that facilitate asynchronous communication

From project management software like Trello to messaging apps like Slack, asynchronous tools are growing in complexity and popularity. At mmhmm, our fully remote team uses them all the time. Here are some of our faves:

  1. Trello: Trello is a visual project management tool that utilizes boards, lists, and cards to enable teams to organize and prioritize tasks asynchronously.

  2. Asana: Asana provides a platform for teams to manage projects, track progress, and collaborate on tasks asynchronously, enhancing overall productivity.

  3. Slack: While known for real-time messaging, Slack also supports asynchronous communication through channels, threads, and integrations, allowing for ongoing collaboration.

  4. Notion: Notion serves as an all-in-one workspace, enabling teams to create and collaborate on documents, databases, and tasks.

  5. Basecamp: Basecamp is a project management and team collaboration tool that centralizes communication, documents, and tasks for effective teamwork.

Adopting these tools strategically empowers teams to communicate effectively, and work efficiently no matter where they are based.

The power of synchronous communication

We're all humans, so we're always going to stay a little bit in love with real-time communication. That's what synchronous communication is. And it's effective. It's often easier to understand someone when we talk to them person to person because we pick up on nuances of tone and body language that can get lost in a Slack message sent yesterday.

But, as tech advances and remote work is set to stay, synchronous collaboration tools—beyond picking up the phone—offer powerful real-time engagement that instantly connects virtual teams. The advantages of synchronous communication are particularly evident in scenarios where immediate interaction and decision-making are crucial. Given the chance, 87% of Americans would work remotely at least some of the time. Synchronous tools that can bridge virtual distances are becoming more and more necessary.

Advantages of synchronous communication tools

Real-time collaboration:

Synchronous communication allows teams to collaborate instantaneously, fostering quick decision-making and problem-solving.

Personal connection:

Video meetings and real-time interactions help build a stronger sense of community among team members, enhancing the human connection that can be lost in asynchronous exchanges.

Clarification and feedback:

Complex topics can be discussed and clarified in real time, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings, and enabling immediate feedback.

The best tools for synchronous communication

Beyond picking up the phone for a good old-fashioned chinwag, these are some of our favorite ways to collaborate in real time. Hold onto your hats for some of the best video conferencing and live presentation software out there.

  1. Zoom: Zoom is a widely used video conferencing platform that facilitates real-time communication through video and audio meetings, webinars, and collaborative features.

  2. Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams integrates chat, video conferencing, file storage, and application integration, providing a comprehensive platform for synchronous collaboration.

  3. mmhmm: mmhmm transforms virtual presentations by allowing users to enhance their video presence with dynamic backgrounds, interactive elements, and engaging features in real-time.

  4. Slack (real-time messaging): While often associated with asynchronous messaging, Slack also supports real-time communication through instant messaging and quick collaboration.

  5. Google Meet: Google Meet offers secure video conferencing with features like screen sharing and real-time collaboration, catering to synchronous communication needs.

Leveraging these synchronous communication tools empowers teams to bridge geographical gaps, yet still keep up in a fast-paced working environment.

Synchronous or asynchronous communication: A comparative analysis

When it comes to efficiency, asynchronous communication can deliver thoughtful, well-considered responses. This method allows individuals the time to digest information, reflect, and respond in a manner that optimally aligns with their workflow. On the other hand, synchronous communication, with its real-time exchange of ideas, offers immediacy and rapid decision-making. Getting the most out of each collaboration style to foster a more efficient work environment requires a delicate balance between the measured and the instantaneous.

Asynchronous collaboration provides a platform for deliberate, unhurried interactions. Team members can contribute thoughtfully, ensuring that each perspective is thoroughly considered. Synchronous communication, by contrast, thrives on instant exchanges, promoting dynamic, real-time collaboration. Let's look deeper into some case studies to dissect how these differing approaches to engagement impact team dynamics and ultimately contribute to a more cohesive work culture.

Desk Plants increases sales by 30% with Trello

Houseplant start-up, Desk Plants, strategically integrated Trello—a productivity titan—into its work environment resulting in a remarkable 30% increase in sales. The asynchronous collaboration allows remote team members to adapt at their own pace, fostering a more efficient workflow that drives and retains new business.

Zoom saves time with Asana

By using Asana, Zoom's behind-the-scenes project teams have saved an estimated 133 work weeks per year through efficiencies in automation, process standardization, and by reducing context switching between tasks. One huge advantage? Being able to spot when teams are working on similar projects so they can collaborate and share resources efficiently.

Apply Digital's Scott Michaels and mmhmm magic

Scott Michaels, Chief Product Officer at Apply Digital, uses mmhmm to break the ice during client meetings, increasing engagement and fostering a sense of connection. The synchronous communication via mmhmm—allowing interactive, real-time feedback from clients—helps keep his team, spread across nine offices and three continents, and clients comfortable and connected over video.

Asynchronous communication makes Ahana a top employer

Employee autonomy and schedule flexibility powered by a strategic investment in asynchronous collaboration made SaaS company Ahana, one of BuiltIn's 100 Best Remote Companies to Work For in 2022. Steven Mih, its CEO, is a fervent advocate for asynchronous communication.

He uses recorded mmhmm videos to help his fully remote team of 40 stay more connected, more in synch, and less isolated. His short, content-rich films are engaging and fun, and he believes makes them much more watchable than a standard pre-recorded Zoom meeting. The advantages for Mih? Being able to re-record separate Takes within one video to get individual sections right, rather than having to go over the whole script multiple times.

Appetize uses Zoom to increase scalability

When Appetize, a US-based firm providing point-of-sale tech to some of the world's leading food, beverage, and leisure companies, started using Zoom, they cut their communications budget and increased scalability. Using the synchronous collaboration tool Zoom Phone, Appetize diverts calls to its 800 number directly to the appropriate business development executive, eliminating the need for desk phones and the associated tech support teams.

How to choose between asynchronous and synchronous communication

As advocates for effective communication, we think that a combination of asynchronous and synchronous communication is usually the best way for remote teams to function productively. But, what will work best for you really comes down to a few key points—how big your team is, how complex your projects are, and whether you need instant responses or real-time problem-solving.

Consider the size of your team

When it comes to choosing the right collaboration method, size matters! For smaller teams, the intimacy of synchronous collaboration might be best. Quick decision-making and immediate feedback can be vital in helping guide your team towards shared goals.

On the other hand, larger teams spread over wider geographical areas might find asynchronous communication tools more useful. Here, thoughtful contributions can be crafted at an individual pace without reference to time zones, fostering diverse ideas and leveraging talent wherever it is based.

Think about your project structures

Project complexity is another factor to consider. Are your tasks relatively straightforward to-do lists that a team can work through at their own pace? If so, an asynchronous productivity or project-management software like Trello or Asana can help keep everyone on the same page.

However, if your projects are complex and likely to need real-time feedback or problem-solving to ensure tasks move forward efficiently, you'll want to incorporate an element of synchronous communication to ensure team members can get answers quickly when needed.

When's the deadline?

When time is of the essence, synchronous collaboration can get things done quickly. Swift, real-time exchanges help keep you and your team on course. However, for projects with more lenient timelines, asynchronous communication provides the luxury of working at your own pace, ensuring each idea is explored thoroughly before being submitted to a client or development team.

Asynchronous and synchronous collaboration? Here's what the industry leaders say.

Need some more convincing on how synchronous and asynchronous communication could work for your team? We've picked the brains of some of the remote world's leading CEOs and business leaders to find out what they say.

Steven Mih, CEO of Ahana on why asynchronous collaboration works to create a better remote working environment:

“You have to remind yourself of the benefits of remote work,” he said. “I work the same amount, if not more, but I get to drop off and pick up my kids more often than not, and that's been a great difference.”

Marques Stewart, Senior Director of Network/Cloud Infrastructure at Achievement First on why synchronous communication through Zoom is helping teachers stay connected to students more efficiently.

"With these technologies, we wouldn’t need instructors and staff to travel to multiple regions to reach our schools. We would have a Neat Bar set up in one room in each of our schools, such as the library, and use that space for our professional development program, allowing multiple regions to develop and collaborate without needing instructors or staff to travel to different states.”

Navi Singh, Principle Project Manager at HubSpot on how asychronous tools like Asana improve day to day collaboration with creative teams.

"We needed a platform that not only allows stakeholders to have easy-to-digest information at their fingertips but also answers the needs of our creative partners. By worrying less about the day-to-day documentation, our creative partners would spend more time on the actual creative flow."

Exploring the future of collaborative remote work

How we work is evolving. As more and more tools for synchronous and asynchronous collaboration develop we get a glimpse of the emerging trends that will reshape the way we work together. As technology strides forward, so does the toolkit of methods we employ for seamless collaboration.

Watch for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation

Picture AI and automation as the engines propelling our collaborative efforts forward. AI, with its prowess in data analysis, is becoming an invaluable asset in decision-making. Automation boosts efficiency and reduces time spent on repetitive tasks, creating space for team members to make more meaningful contributions.

Influence on asynchronous collaboration:

The integration of AI and automation into asynchronous communication is a pragmatic evolution. AI-powered tools efficiently process and organize information, enhancing collaboration across different time zones. Asynchronous collaboration benefits from AI's ability to prioritize tasks and spotlight crucial insights, ensuring a smoother workflow.

Impact on Synchronous Collaboration:

In terms of synchronous collaboration, AI and automation play a pivotal role in elevating real-time interactions. Virtual assistants, fueled by AI, assist in schedule coordination and meeting setup and even offer real-time language translation. These elements collectively contribute to a more streamlined and efficient synchronous collaboration experience.

Expect enhanced user experiences

Looking ahead, the future of collaboration not only prioritizes functionality but also places a strong emphasis on user experience. We anticipate interfaces becoming more intuitive and user-friendly. AI's integration will personalize user experiences, adapting to individual preferences and simplifying the collaborative process.

Wrapping up

You've probably realized by now that we're fans of both asynchronous tools and synchronous communication. Use them together for the best results for your remote team. Each method holds distinct advantages, creating a dynamic environment where teams can flourish.

Asynchronous collaboration champions flexibility and deliberate engagement. Teams can approach projects with precision, contributing at their own pace. This method fosters deep work, providing space for individual excellence and meticulous problem-solving. It accommodates diverse perspectives, allowing team members to consider a spectrum of ideas at their convenience.

Conversely, synchronous communication embodies the immediacy of real-time engagement. Meetings, instant messaging, and live exchanges create an environment of immediate decision-making and spontaneous ideation. It propels quick, agile teamwork, making it ideal for smaller groups or projects with tight timelines.

Efficiency, dynamism, and productivity are the rewards both methods offer. Asynchronous methods, with their flexibility and thoughtful pace, enhance efficiency by enabling team members to delve into tasks with undivided focus. It's the art of crafting individual contributions that collectively shape a cohesive whole.

Synchronous collaboration, with its real-time interactions, fosters dynamism. Decisions are made swiftly, feedback is immediate, and the energy is dynamic. It's the orchestration of collaboration, where each element contributes to a harmonious whole, creating a dynamic and engaged team environment.

Choosing between the two methods depends on the nature of your work. For smaller, agile teams with tight deadlines, the swift current of synchronous collaboration may be the preferred approach. Meanwhile, for larger teams or projects that benefit from a more measured pace, asynchronous collaboration is ideal.

The key is to understand the nuances of each method and strategically choose based on your team's unique needs. The future of collaboration is an ever-evolving landscape, and mastering the art of both asynchronous and synchronous approaches will help you move toward business success.

Additional resources

Using mmhmm for asynchronous collaboration

mmhmm stands out as a game-changer in the mix of asynchronous tools, offering a way to create and record dynamic and engaging interactions. We love that our platform can  transform virtual presentations into captivating experiences, making it an exceptional choice for teams where workers in different time zones need to catch up with updates or training at different times.

With mmhmm, users can elevate their communication with dynamic backgrounds, seamless slide control, and real-time adjustments, fostering a more interactive and visually appealing experience. By enabling more interactive asynchronous video presentations, mmhmm not only enhances the quality of communication but also revolutionizes the collaborative process. With its user-friendly interface and creative features, mmhmm proves to be an invaluable asset for teams aiming to navigate the asynchronous landscape with flair and efficiency.

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