Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: The Dynamic Duo

In the remote working world, there is a common narrative – synchronous: bad, asynchronous: good. The question is, does this really have to be a tale of good versus evil in the synchronous vs. asynchronous debate? We’ll be exploring this topic, whilst also looking at where remote-pioneers sit on the async vs sync communication spectrum. Along the way, we’ll share our unique perspective on how to best deploy and tweak the common async-sync hybrid communication model.

💡 Hint: the answer lies in making meetings simultaneously synchronous and asynchronous.

In this article:

The basics: what is synchronous vs. asynchronous communication?

Before we delve into the intricacies of how to best differentiate and deploy diverse communication types and models, let’s quickly brush up on the basics.

What is async communication?

Async communication, which is short-hand for asynchronous communication, involves the exchange of information between two or more groups of people without the involvement of live or immediate responses. Common asynchronous communication methods include texting (when not replying immediately), email, and video messaging. Such common tools used for asynchronous communication are Slack, Gmail, and Loom.

What is sync communication?

Async communication via vox
Source: Vox.

Sync or Synchronous communication involves real-time communication, either in-person or online. Synchronous communication usually involves video conferencing or live chat. Those involved are expected to respond instantly. Common synchronous communication methods include instant messaging tools, video and audio conferencing, and of course, good ol’ face-to-face communication!

Benefits of synchronous vs. asynchronous communication

Communication is the lifeblood of any company. We know this. It is the way problems are solved, products are built, and company culture is forged. So much is riding on communication, thus, there are a lot of diverse opinions about how to best optimize communication in order to increase productivity. This is the crux of the synchronous vs. asynchronous communication debate: which communication type results in more productivity?

In short, both have their strengths and weaknesses. Synchronous communication offers an immediate response, thus should be used to clear up misunderstandings, or quickly get all team members aligned. Synchronous communication can quickly remove roadblocks that can manifest into delays.

Asynchronous communication enables a distraction-free workflow, a welcome need considering that 71% of workers report numerous disruptions whilst working. Think of asynchronous communication as the German Autobahn – designed for maximum speed and efficiency. Whereas asynchronous communication is the maintenance workers that keep the road smooth, and operational, allowing teams to continue to achieve their goals and maintain productivity. 

Aside from this basic distinction, here is the skinny on the general benefits of synchronous vs. asynchronous communication:

Synchronous communication benefitsAsynchronous communication benefits
Real-time collaborationFewer distractions, thus, results in more focus & deep work time
Immediate feedback can lead to less road-blocks or delaysTime to perfect ideas and responses before communicating
Most are familiar with & adept at synchronous communicationLess accomodating for communication across different timezones & schedules
Less lag or delay in obtaining informationA stable internet connection is less vital
live video better conveys body language and toneDoesn’t require everyone to be at peak productivity at the same time
Synchronous communication can be more personableCan communicate at one’s own pace & schedule enabling greater employee personal freedom

Stephan-Sinofsky on asyn and syn communication and collaboration

The ability to use text-based tools and communicate asynchronously made it possible for the first time for introverts, shy people, English as a second language, and more to be on equal footing with the outgoing person. Stephen Sinofsky.

Clearly, there are some common threads when considering the benefits of either synchronous vs. asynchronous communication. However, the above quote by Steven Sinofsky shows the myriad of layers to this debate. For example, as a talkative and sociable extrovert, one might assume that I’d much prefer synchronous communication. But alas, I actually love asynchronous communication as it forces me to think mindfully before communicating, a habit that I am looking to develop further. These examples serve as a reminder that the impacts of sync and async communication will vary greatly between people and situations. 

So then, is one form of communication better than the other? Before we delve into that, let’s look at how some pioneers in this space sit on the asynchronous vs. synchronous communication spectrum.

The thought leaders on sync vs async communication

Yac's thoughts on sync versus async communication
Source: Yac. Yac boldly advocates to end most meetings.

On the far-left side of the debate, we have startups such as Yac and Claap. They generally lean more towards the asynchronous communication side and discourage synchronous communication. This can be seen in Yac’s blog titled “That Meeting Could Have Been a Voice Note” which details the ways to avoid live meetings and instead replace these with other asynchronous communication methods. Yac takes a hard-line approach against synchronous communication, especially when it comes to meetings, as can be seen in their website messaging: “Stop all the meetings. Async voice and video messages let you share ideas & talk to your team.”

Source: GitLab.

So who sits in the middle of the spectrum? Many companies that have been relishing in the bounties of remote work have been prominent async and sync communication advocates. Doist, GitLab, and Aula are some of the most prolific hybrid communication advocates.

Doist is well known for promoting its brand of “async-first communication”, to enhance remote team’s focus and productivity. Doist has good reason to be confident in the future of remote and async communication, as their async communication stack includes their own async communication and collaboration tools, including their popular Todoist App, which has been downloaded over 220,000 times on Google Play alone. 

GitLab has an extensive 24,000-word employee handbook on communication. This details how, when, and why to use either synchronous vs. asynchronous communication. Their preference is to guard one’s time by defaulting to asynchronous communication. However, they acknowledge the need and advantages of synchronous communication to quickly align on details or fix misunderstandings and roadblocks.

They oppose “presentations” in meetings, stating that this act is “taking valuable synchronous time away from the attendees, which could be asynchronous”. Instead, they recommend recording presentations, so team members can watch these asynchronously.

GitLab’s philosophy on synchronous vs. asynchronous presentations.

Another advocate of the hybrid sync & async communication model is Aula. In their publicly accessible employee handbook, “Aula Brain”,  they refer to four guiding principles that summarize their philosophy towards synchronous vs. asynchronous communication, which includes:

  • Default to asynchronous communication. Fewer disturbances, more thoughtfulness.
  • Document your conclusions. Make them available to everyone.
  • Prepare. 50%+ of a meeting takes place before the actual meeting
  • Brief video calls save lots of back-and-forths.

Their recommended communication tech stack, includes all of the likely suspects, along with a few unexpected inclusions, such as Whereby, Krisp, and Movavi – all of which are alternatives to the mainstream synchronous video conferencing platforms or add ons. GitLab, Doist, and Aula are all examples of some of the earliest adopters and public advocates of the hybrid sync-async communication approach. Thus, they’re sitting comfortably in the middle of the sync-async communication debate.

My communication style is better than yours!

So, among all of the varied opinions, does there appear to be a consensus emerging?

Whilst opinions and working paradigms vary between companies, the blended approach is widely regarded as the best way to maximize efficiency for most organizations. In the book Trends and Innovations in Information Systems and Technologies: Volume 3, it is concluded that a mixture of both communication types is commonly cited to be the most efficient and is supported by numerous studies. This approach is not only echoed by Dolist, Aula, and GitLab, (as cited above) but many more such as Slite, Focus, Pragli, and Loom.

Synchronous communication and multitasking

For a team to operate effectively, simply using one type of communication (asynchronous) is typically inadequate. A delicate balance between both synchronous and asynchronous is needed as both have strengths and weaknesses Trends and Innovations in Information Systems and Technologies: Volume 3

For a team to operate effectively, simply using one type of communication (asynchronous) is typically inadequate. A delicate balance between both synchronous and asynchronous is needed as both have strengths and weaknesses — Trends and Innovations in Information Systems and Technologies: Volume 3

There are numerous ways organizations can blend synchronous and asynchronous communication. One method is to divvy up communication according to the required goal. For example, if a looming deadline is dependent upon an answer to a question, then synchronous communication is your best bet. If you require deep-focus time to complete work with a looming deadline, then asynchronous communication is your go-to. 

But we believe there is yet another layer to the raging synchronous vs. asynchronous saga…

Are sync communication and async communication mutually exclusive? async and syn communication guide
Here is a quick preview of our employee handbook on synchronous and asynchronous communication.

The popular debate about how to balance asynchronous and synchronous communication, appears to imply the two communication models are mutually exclusive. But why can’t one communication mode be both at the same time?

We’ve decided to push the envelope in how we perceive meetings as strictly synchronous forms of communication. At tl;dv they’re vehicles for synchronous and asynchronous communication, as we record our synchronous meetings with tl;dv. We recommend that only essential participants attend meetings synchronously, and the rest catch up asynchronously on the tl;dv as needed, when needed. This has tremendously decreased our time spent attending synchronous meetings, without actually limiting our accessibility to context-rich, video meetings. This means that we don’t need to choose between guarding our time or access to rich meeting insights and information. Rather we can get both!

Hybrid synchronous-asynchronous meetings are enhanced by the instant shareability of important meeting takeaways that are still fully contextualized. tl;dvs also work with your favorite async collaboration app and CRMs.

The duality of our meeting culture is further enhanced as team members can catch up on meetings in minutes with our timestamped highlights feature. Link your meeting minutes to the exact moment in your video recording & transcript. 

Moseh Quote for async and sync communication with tl;dv google chrome extension

In summary, many of our daily communication tools can serve both a synchronous and asynchronous function. This is what we think the future of communication will look like. We further enhance the asynchronous accessibility of synchronous meetings with our instantly sharable meeting minutes, which are linked to the exact moment in the meeting. Now, when you’re sharing your valuable insights, from (for example) a customer demo, sales discovery call, or recruitment interview, team members can jump right to the most relevant point in the meeting, skipping the points that are not of interest to them. 

Below, I’ve copied and pasted the meeting link for “tl;dv: How it works?”. Doing so automatically includes the timestamped highlights. ⚡

tl;dv: How it works?

[00:21] Add tl;dv to Google Meet

[00:35] Add highlights during the live meeting

[01:05] Share meetings with your team

Google Meet to Asana. Sync Rich Google Meet Notes to Your CRM in 1-Click!
Link your synchronous meeting minutes to the exact moment in your video recording & transcript. Catch up on meetings asynchronously with tl;dv.

💡 Asynchronous meeting tip: Onboarding meetings are critical. Yet, many new hires face the difficult task of retaining this crucial information. Many of our customers record their onboarding meetings, to enable new recruits to reference the important information again and again.

Final thoughts on synchronous vs. asynchronous communication

The synchronous vs. asynchronous debate is not really about which communication method is best, but understanding the different strengths and weaknesses and when to use each communication type. Following in the footsteps of many remote leaders, we also advocate for an ‘async-first’ approach that is carefully balanced with sync communication. However, we also bolster our team’s productivity by making essential synchronous meetings forever asynchronously available, with tl;dv.

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