Hybrid Communication is Broken: The Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Async

May 30, 2023
Hybrid Work
Hybrid Communication is Broken: The Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Async

TL;DR Article Summary

Hybrid work environments benefit from balancing synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous (flexible timing) communication.

  • Synchronous communication, such as meetings, can lead to fatigue and reduced productivity, while asynchronous methods offer flexibility and focus.
  • The increase in digital meetings (252% more weekly meeting time per Microsoft's 2022 report) often leads to inefficiencies.
  • Asynchronous communication aids global collaboration and optimizes individual performance but lacks the immediacy of synchronous methods.
  • A strategic blend of both communication styles is crucial for effective collaboration and productivity in hybrid workplaces.

A hybrid work environment calls for changes in where and how we work. In this flexible work landscape, strategically utilizing various workflows is critical to overcoming the challenges of working in a hybrid office and achieving seamless collaboration among team members.

Hybrid teams often leverage synchronous workflow (real-time interactions) like meetings to communicate and collaborate with remote teams. However, this can lead to meeting fatigue, reduced productivity, and even unequal representation of information. Asynchronous workflow, which allows for communication and collaboration on your own time, may be a new means to counterbalance an overreliance on synchronous communication. 

With technology making it easier to connect digitally, time spent in meetings has steadily increased over the past few years. Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index reported that the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time and a 153% increase in the number of weekly meetings they have. Across the Microsoft 365 apps, the average employee spends 57% of their time communicating (in meetings, email, and chat). 

The average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time and a 153% increase in the number of weekly meetings they have, according to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index.

And even though meeting hours have increased, they’re showing to be non-effective for many employees. A recent study by Canon USA about communication in a hybrid work environment revealed that 9 in 10 employees found it challenging to speak up at work, with 47% of respondents pointing to everyone speaking simultaneously as the main problem.

The results highlight the importance of providing various communication options to reduce employees’ digital overload and make better use of the workday. Organizations must consider the various needs of their hybrid teams to ensure the most effective way to achieve productivity and collaboration.

Below we share how synchronous and asynchronous communications look like in a hybrid office and tackle the pros and cons of each for your hybrid team.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous: What’s the Difference? 

Synchronous communication happens in real-time, with all parties simultaneously engaged. It is often face-to-face and calls for immediate back-and-forth interactions. Synchronous communication can be both in person and virtually. It usually requires some form of scheduling beforehand in a hybrid work environment and offers less flexibility. 

Examples of synchronous work include:

  • In-person meeting
  • Video conferences using tools like Zoom or Google Meet
  • Phone call
  • Chatting in person
  • One-on-one huddle
  • Instant messaging using tools like Slack or Google Chat
  • Live virtual chat

Asynchronous communication happens on your own time and doesn’t need to be during specific work hours. The self-paced workflow gives employees flexibility in their work schedules and makes it more convenient for employees with conflicting matters. 

Examples of asynchronous work include:

  • Pre-recorded video message using tools like Loom
  • Data repositories for employees to access at any time
  • Messages that are not time-sensitive (e.g., emails, letters)
  • Share-file collaborations
  • Project management tools
  • Preparing for meetings (e.g., review slides, gather questions)
  • Deep, focused work (e.g., researching, writing)

Pros of Synchronous Work

Synchronous workflow’s greatest strength is immediacy. It’s suitable for work requiring back-and-forth interactions and immediate responses. Real-time communication can also be better for relationship building. 

Here are some of the pros of synchronous work:

Deeper interactions.

Synchronous communication, facilitated in person or virtually, builds trust and camaraderie, and allows participants to pick up on social cues in the moment. Being able to exchange information in real-time and see facial expressions are essential to effective collaboration. Respondents from the Canon study reported that sharing documents, images, and videos in real-time during meetings (66%) and seeing who else is in the meeting (58%) helped them better interact with their co-workers.

Additionally, socializing with colleagues boosts mood and makes employees happier. Gallup found that nearly all forms of social time—whether in person or virtually—help to increase mood.

58% of respondents state that seeing who else is in the meeting helped them better interact with their co-workers, according to Canon.

Get resolutions in real-time.

Since synchronous work centers around live interactions, it is very effective when teams need immediate answers. These can include urgent matters like troubleshooting and responding to a business crisis. Real-time interactions are also essential to brainstorming or discussion sessions, as back-and-forth talk is needed to free creativity and idea generation.

Allows for instant feedback

Synchronous communication allows for back-and-forth interactions, which are crucial for clarifying information and receiving feedback. Clarifying questions that may arise from a  complex topic in real-time is much easier and more effective than waiting on responses and potentially creating a project bottleneck. Synchronous communication also allows for more immediate feedback, which can benefit an employee’s growth and development.

"Async work taught me to better self-assess and self-edit, as teammates are not always available to give feedback. Once I've had a chance to sit with the problem, it's very effective to have a synchronous session to build on each other's ideas and get clarity on any remaining problems in real time."
-Alice Twu, Skedda Marketing Specialist

Cons of Synchronous Work

Synchronous work does have its challenges—especially when it’s overused. Since synchronous work requires that all participants engage simultaneously in the same workspace, whether virtual or physical, it hinders convenience. 

Here are some of the cons of synchronous work:

Coordination and scheduling issues.

Synchronous communication requires all participants to be in the same workspace simultaneously, making it challenging for people who need more flexible schedules or extra tools for accessibility. Scheduling time may be an issue for parents, caregivers, and global communications. Additionally, if teams need to meet in person, organizations need to ensure that there’s a comfortable place for them to sit and to collaborate. Leveraging hot desking along with room reservation capabilities can help with scheduling issues and the employee’s overall experience. 

Requires technology.

Ensuring onsite employees have the tools they need when they need them can become an issue if there are more people than desks or equipment. Using a desk booking solution can help an organization coordinate when employees will be in the office and how equipment is shared. Synchronous communication through virtual means has additional technological challenges. Internet connectivity and remote collaboration tools, which may not be easily accessible in every situation or every country, must be accounted for to ensure smooth collaboration. 

Disrupts focus.

Synchronous communication requires that employees be present at the moment. In a hybrid environment, many employees may feel the strain of being “always on” and feeling attached to their devices to give timely responses when working remotely. Too much synchronous communication virtually may also lead to ‘Zoom fatigue’ that affects employees differently. A Stanford study found that women reported feeling more exhausted than their male counterparts, with 13.8% of women compared with 5.5% of men reporting feeling “very” to “extremely” fatigued after Zoom calls, due to “self-focused attention.” 

13.8% of women compared with 5.5% of men reporting feeling “very” to “extremely” fatigued after Zoom calls, according to a Stanford study.

Additionally, synchronous communication can decrease the productivity of employees who are in the middle of working on a project that requires focus. Employees may become distracted from their work and unable to give full attention to what’s happening presently.

Pros of Asynchronous Work

Asynchronous work frees teams from time constraints, which is ideal for global teams and employees needing more flexible work schedules. Employees can give information and respond to non-urgent matters when they’re ready. Here are some of the pros of asynchronous work:

Connecting a global team. 

Asynchronous work methods allow employees worldwide to work on projects together. Since it’s challenging to coordinate a time that works for everyone across various time zones, recording informational Loom videos and leveraging data repositories are ways for employees to stay updated on tasks. For instance, team members in the U.S. can send a Loom in their evening and by the time they arrive the next day, can have responses and comments to it by all their AU counterparts.

Optimizes performance and focus.

Leveraging asynchronous work methods can reduce unnecessary meetings and free up time for employees to do independent work. A June 2022 study of employees in remote-ready jobs by Gallup found that 88% of people have a mix of independent and collaborative work, and that 61% perform their tasks independently and then bring their work to the team for collaboration.

Hybrid work allows for more heads down time at home, and asynchronous communication lets employees carry out specific tasks when they are most productive, which can help with focus and overall performance. Asynchronous work also reduces distractions since employees do not necessarily have to be “on” for an interaction.

61% of employees in remote-ready jobs perform their tasks independently and then bring their work to the team for collaboration, according to Gallup.

Increased flexibility and convenience.

With asynchronous communication, there’s no need to make sure everyone’s schedules are aligned, which reduces time and energy spent coordinating meeting times. As it is now, employees are already feeling the strain of meeting overload. According to Microsoft's report, 68% of people say they don’t have enough uninterrupted focus time during the workday due to the volume of constant communications. Asynchronous communication allows employees to allocate their workday more inefficiently. They can respond thoughtfully and at their own pace, leading to better results and helping reduce employee stress. 

Cons of Asynchronous Work

One big downside of asynchronous work is the lack of immediacy. Teams cannot respond to urgent matters quickly, and employees may not receive the answers they need quickly enough to move their projects forward. It’s also challenging to build relationships through asynchronous communication. 

Here are some of the cons of asynchronous work:

Lack of interpersonal relationships.

Technological difficulties and unclear communication can make it challenging to build interpersonal relationships through asynchronous communication. Employees may easily misunderstand the tone of voice through messaging, especially without facial expressions and body language to support the writing. Poor virtual etiquette, such as @ mentioning everyone with irrelevant information and not responding to messages within the expected time, can also hinder trust and relationship-building. 

With more sporadic connection, it can also be difficult to fully express one’s personality or understand someone simply through asynchronous means, which can lead to a lack of trust when employees don’t feel like they truly know the people they’re working with. 

"One of the biggest mistakes for leaders is acting like you have an 'open door' policy with remote people. This may have worked in a workspace when people walked by your door, but remote workers won't get that love (which feeds proximity bias). The onus is on people leaders to check in with their team members regularly. Proactive communication is critical in hybrid work setting." —Drew Fortin, CEO of Lever Talent

No immediate feedback.

If there’s a crisis that teams need to respond to immediately, asynchronous communication is not the way to go. Actions in an asynchronous environment require some time. There’s a delay between each action step, from when the event happens to when it’s processed and eventually to when teams respond. In such instances, wasted time may cause irreversible harm. 

The lack of immediate feedback also makes it cumbersome to explain complex topics. Employees may be lost with how to proceed in certain settings without a means to ask questions and receive answers immediately. For example, in the Canon study, many introverts cited a lack of feedback or communication as their biggest daily hurdle (32%). The lack of back-and-forth also makes brainstorming and strategy sessions unproductive because it stalls idea generation since team members can’t build on one another’s ideas. 

32% of introverts cited a lack of feedback or communication as their biggest daily hurdle, according to Canon.

Confusion over expectations.

Asynchronous work can easily become siloed work when teams are not keeping each other up to date. Collaborating in a hybrid environment requires more planning and mutual understanding of processes. Often, the lack of expectation setting for when to check in with the team for deadlines or feedback can really hinder asynchronous communication. To mitigate this, leaders must set clear expectations for their teams so everyone understands their responsibilities, and team members must provide enough details to avoid confusion since they cannot provide immediate clarification.

"The other side of this is when there is clear communication—resulting in high trust—it creates such an enjoyable environment to work in and allows a really special type of camaraderie! I’m thankful to work on a team that has so much of that currently."
-Sam Smith, Skedda Account Manager

Utilizing a Blend of Both

There’s a place for both synchronous and asynchronous work in creating a productive and engaged hybrid workforce. The combination of these communication methods enables organizations to address the unique challenges of collaboration in a hybrid office. Synchronous communication offers real-time interaction essential for fostering engagement, promoting spontaneous collaboration, and building relationships. Asynchronous communication provides flexibility that supports effective time management, leading to more focused employees and higher engagement overall.

By leveraging synchronous and asynchronous communication methods strategically, organizations can promote effective collaboration, ensure inclusivity, and overcome the challenges posed by a hybrid office setup. 

For best practices on when to utilize synchronous and async workflows, read When to Zoom, Loom, or Get a Room. If you’re ready to start scheduling and booking desks and rooms, create your free Skedda account today.

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