Asynchronous Meetings: A Beginner’s Guide

The digital age revolutionized the way we communicate, and it’s had a tremendous impact on how teams function in the workplace.

It’s no longer necessary for team members to be physically present with each other in order to exchange information. Now teams can function remotely (also known as “distributed teams”), with members working from home around the corner, on either end of the country, or even on different continents. The opportunities presented by digital communication are unprecedented, allowing companies to expand and operate in powerful new ways.

Meetings on live video tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts have become commonplace.  At one point or another, most of us have participated in these types of live video meetings with everyone present at the same time, also known as synchronous meetings. They are an invaluable way of bringing together people who otherwise could not be present for an in-person meeting. 

Technology, however, often brings challenges along with opportunities. Synchronous meeting technology sets expectations of immediacy and presents scheduling hassles that can put pressure on employees working remotely, leading to higher stress levels and lower productivity. The more employees you have working remotely, the greater the issues become.

The emergence of technology tools that allow team members to communicate without everyone being present at the same time are changing the workplace landscape. These tools, known as asynchronous meeting technology, are alleviating some of the synchronous challenges. 

This guide will walk you through the basics of asynchronous meetings. We’ll explore how they work, why you should consider them, and how they can be valuable communication tools for your remote work teams.

What Is an Asynchronous Meeting?

Asynchronous (sometimes called “Async”) communication means transmitting a message without the expectation that you will get an immediate response. The recipient can receive, review and reply to your communication at a time and place convenient for them and at their own pace. 

This can happen through written communication, such as email or instant messaging, or it can be shared through an asynchronous video software where employees submit recorded videos that can be viewed and responded to by team members during or after the workday.

Examples of asynchronous communication tools include:

  • Email – Message from computer to computer via a network.
  • Slack – Instant message individual employees, specific groups or the entire company.
  • Trello – Post agenda items, track progress, and set deadlines.
  • Grapevine – Record, view and respond to video updates in lieu of live video or in-person meetings.
  • Dropbox – Store and access document files from computer, phone or tablet.
  • G Suite – Create, collaborate and share documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
  • PM Tools – Use tools like Asana, Basecamp, and others to keep connected.
  • To Do Apps – Record your to-dos in an organized list so you can access them later.

Asynchronous vs Synchronous Meetings

While asynchronous communication does not have the expectation of an immediate response, synchronous communication requires an immediate response. Familiar forms of synchronous communication include: 

  • Face-to-face conversations.
  • Standups (brief team update meetings attended while standing).
  • Phone calls.
  • Live video meetings through tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts.
  • Off-site conferences and retreats.

Synchronous meetings offer the opportunity for a real-time exchange of ideas and unparalleled personal engagement.

If, however, you’ve hosted a live video meeting on Zoom or Google Hangouts you may have realized that there are challenges with scheduling participants in different time zones, or with providing the opportunity for everyone to contribute when there are a large number of attendees. And even though live video meetings do not require in-person presence at a physical location, they are still meetings that take up work time and impact individual and team productivity.

Asynchronous video meetings can help alleviate these challenges. Here, each team member can express thoughts, share ideas, and make presentations on their own time, and their videos can be reviewed by the team when convenient. This allows for complete focus on the content, thoughtful reflection and response, and participation by all members – not just those who can get a word in edgewise in a live meeting.

How to Run a Successful Asynchronous Meeting

The beauty of asynchronous communication is that you have plenty of time to prepare or respond to the subject matter. You can rely on asynchronous meetings to relay information that, while important, doesn’t require a live audience or immediate action.

Tools discussed above such as email, Slack, Trello, Dropbox and G Suite are familiar to many work teams and are fairly straightforward in their application. Information is distributed via messaging, on a dashboard, or in a document or spreadsheet. Responses take the form of reply messaging via email or Slack, or comments on the dashboard, document or spreadsheet.

If, though, you are considering meeting via asynchronous video software, then some additional pointers will come in handy.  

Get team buy-in

Unlike email, Slack and Asana for example, using asynchronous video software may be a new adventure for some work teams. Start off by explaining what asynchronous video communication is and how it can help your remote team maintain productivity. Explain the difference between an asynchronous meeting versus a synchronous meeting, and how the two might be used in their workflow. Let everyone know that asynchronous meetings are an opportunity to reduce the number of daily live meetings, and will alleviate concerns with location and time zone issues. And, importantly, ask for feedback and answer all questions!

Explain how it works

Once you get team buy-in, take the time to cover the basics of how asynchronous video meetings work. Videos are posted by each team member on their own time and their own pace, and others on the team are expected to share  comments in response. Team members should be on the lookout for general information sharing, blockers to productivity, instructional material, or the like. You can also walk your team through the mechanics of setting up their dashboards and navigating the various software features.  

Establish expectations

Next, establish expectations that all team members should follow in order to maximize the productivity value of asynchronous video meetings.  For example, what content should be included in video updates? How often should updates be posted? How soon should team members provide comments in response?  By setting expectations everyone can follow, you help ensure that your asynchronous meetings will be a valuable component of your overall team meeting strategy.

Move forward 

Finally, with your team informed and ready to try asynchronous video meetings, it’s time to move forward. While the idea is fresh in everyone’s mind, begin weaving asynchronous video meetings into daily workflow and monitor its effects on individual and team communication and productivity, and company culture. Track whether your established expectations are on target or would benefit from any form of adjustment to frequency of updates, time to respond, or the like. 

Benefits of Asynchronous Meetings

There are many benefits to taking a step back from in-person or live video meetings. In situations where in-person or live video meetings may be unnecessary or impractical, asynchronous tools such as Slack, Trello, Dropbox and G Suite help maintain workflow and bolster individual and team productivity. Asynchronous video tools such as Grapevine fill the communication gap and add the benefits of live action to keep team contact personable and maintain company culture. 

Some additional benefits with asynchronous video meetings in particular include:

  • Greater flexibility and respect for everyone’s personal schedules and time zone.
  • Less time spent in unnecessary meetings.
  • More contribution from those who may not feel as comfortable speaking in a live forum.
  • More visibility and attention given to everyone’s thoughts in and input.
  • Reduced risk of misunderstanding tone or intent that can come with text communication.
  • Opportunity for more frequent status updates without the disruption of live all-hands meetings.
  • Ability to accommodate each employee’s unique workflow to promote productivity.

Optimizing Your Asynchronous Meetings

Asynchronous meetings do not share the immediacy of synchronous meetings. Therefore, it is vital that all participants follow established guidelines.

Diligent participation is key. If team members fail to log in or fail to respond timely, the “thread of communication” is lost. Synchronous meeting tools such as Zoom or Google Hangouts have the participant present and responses not immediately forthcoming can be called out in real-time.

Additionally, asynchronous meetings are optimized when they are a part of an overall meeting strategy. Asynchronous video meetings are powerful tools for filling communication gaps and maintaining productivity, but should be utilized along with synchronous meetings such as Zoom or Google Hangouts to create a balanced blend of live and recorded interaction. 

In Conclusion

Remote teams are becoming increasingly commonplace and companies are recognizing the advantages afforded by such workforce arrangements, including reduced office space expenses, access to a more diverse employee pool across locations and time zones, and, for many employees, an improved work-life balance. 

Managers and team leaders, however, have their own set of challenges with this new normal. The lack of physical proximity enjoyed in an office environment makes it more difficult to keep their teams operating as cohesive units. Developing a clear strategy for utilizing available communication tools has become the approach of choice for many organizations when addressing these challenges.

Examine your team members and their locations, the beneficial frequency of communication, your company culture, and the like to assess what will work best for everyone. Decide which tools should be used when and get buy-in from your team. Constantly monitor the value of each tool under varying circumstances and make adjustments when necessary. Consider utilizing a good mix of all available tools, synchronous and asynchronous, to maximize your team’s communication, workflow and productivity.