Of all the working from home challenges, adjusting to asynchronous remote communication has to be one of the toughest. When you don’t speak to colleagues face-to-face in real-time, relationships and trust can quickly deteriorate. Important emotional context gets lost and wires cross more easily, slowing down collaboration and breaking team connection.
Just finding the right time to talk can be extremely difficult, and you may even feel guilty about interrupting someone’s space or start questioning the validity of your requests. But transparent, thoughtful asynchronous communication is the bedrock of virtual collaboration. So what steps can you take to become a better remote communicator?
Shifting to asynchronous communication
Effective remote work cultures promote asynchronous communication as the default. Of course, synchronous chat and video calls still take place, but are generally used sparingly. Without being able to stroll over to a coworker’s desk to ask a question, you need to adapt to async channels to get your point across.
But this isn’t always as simple as just starting more Slack threads, or sending more emails, as Memory founder Mathias Mikkelsen explains:
“The shift to an asynchronous remote mind-set can be quite challenging – people suddenly realize that they’re not constantly entitled to each other’s time and need to adjust how they communicate. Interactions become extremely intentional; you have to consider all the information a person needs from you in order to get on with a task. That can be quite daunting for people used to casually dropping by their colleagues’ desks.”
When used well, async communication is easily the most efficient vehicle for remote collaboration. It minimizes digital interruptions to help teams focus better on their work and promotes more thoughtful exchanges, ensuring communication only happens when people actually have the space to think carefully about what they’re saying. You just need to know how to use it properly.
7 tips for better remote communication
Having worked together remotely since our inception in 2014, our team has developed a few strategies to keep company-wide communication effective. If you’re looking to sidestep the snags of async communication and become a better remote communicator, try starting with these seven best practices:
1. Agree how communication will work
To be successful at remote work you need to have a clearly defined communication structure. Everyone must know what different channels are for: should you ask an important question on Slack or email? If Slack, what thread do you use? When does a task warrant a video call? There should be common protocols in place for how to use different communication tools, including processes for escalating urgent requests. You need to clearly define spaces for every type of communication – from feedback, company news and new research, to team announcements and socializing.
Before hitting “send” on a message or comment, ensure you’ve clarified your point, laying out anything you need, next steps, expectations or deadlines. Don’t assume people will know what you mean if you don’t reference something (or someone) specifically, and don’t leave anything open to interpretation. Ask clearly when you need something – never expect people to read between the lines.
3. Make it easy for others to grasp your availability
Async communication means you’re not always going to be available to instantly answer someone’s question or give your opinion, but your coworkers should still know when to expect a response from you. If you have set hours for managing and responding to emails, make sure your team knows about them. You should also use simple visual clues in daily communication tools like Slack to show your availability – like updating your status when you’re doing deep work or out of the office. Make life easier by getting smart tools to manage these for you as you enter and leave flow states throughout the day.
4. Keep messages self-contained
Your messages should contain all the relevant information, resources, actions and context your colleague needs to act. If they send a ton of follow-up questions you’ll know you haven’t done this. While asking questions is never wrong, it can slow the whole collaboration process down – especially when your coworker is in another time zone. Even if you think you’re hammering the point a little too hard, it’s always better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. Ideally, your colleague shouldn’t need to request extra information, request tool access or clarify the purpose of a task.
5. Factor in other people’s schedules
Just as you expect people to respect your availability, realize other people won’t always be immediately available to you. Do your best to preempt task deadlines and respect colleagues’ schedules when sending messages – you need to give them enough time to scope and factor your request into their workload. Use a tool that makes it easy to visualize and sync all team calendars to coordinate team efforts and assign work more thoughtfully.
6. Be asynchronous-first
Asynchronous tools help remote teams keep their conversations transparent, accessible and searchable – so people can stay update and join in when it suits them. But this approach can be extended to some forms of synchronous communication too. Try recording video conferences or taking automatic meeting minutes, so those who can’t attend can catch up on what was said and agreed.
7. Keep communication human
The casual interactions that happen naturally in the office don’t exist when you work remotely… but just because you can’t chat over the coffee machine doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some relaxed conversations. These are important for strengthening relationships and building trust, which in turn make it easier for people to collaborate. They’re also fundamental for just remembering you’re all humans, not resources. Take proactive steps to reintroduce casual communication – like reserving last 10 minutes of meetings for chat unrelated to work, scheduling daily virtual breaks and creating channels for casual chat.