To sync or to async; that is the question.
Knowing when to use synchronous or async communication — and which tool or tech to use to communicate which type of information — is critical to successful collaboration. It can mean the difference between your project being a chaotic sh*tshow that runs over time, and your team working like a well-oiled machine.
On the other hand, getting it wrong often looks like this:
The meeting that could have been an email.
Whether you work remotely, in an office, or in a hybrid workplace, you’ve experienced some of these frustrations.
In the wake of the pandemic, remote work and hybrid workforces are becoming more common, making effective communication more important than ever. However, many teams still struggle to find the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous communication.
In this guide, we’ll break down what’s currently wrong with asynchronous communication and how you can bridge the gap with the right work methodology and the right tools.
Whether you’re a content editor, creative director, software QA, product owner, or hands-on CEO, the odds are, you’ve tried to implement asynchronous collaboration but found it lacking.
We get it. Async communication has its shortcomings. It seems our async communications get deprioritized, lost in endless threads and channels, and it seems… simpler to just “hop on a quick call” to get things straightened out.
But let’s face it, nobody wants to be in more meetings.
All too often, they make us confuse “urgent” with “important.”
With the rise of remote work, we all desperately want async to work. But so far, nobody’s quite figured out how to get asynchronous communication right.
And tools like Slack that promised to save async have made it worse, not better.
The article cites a RescueTime study that found that instead of causing workers to use fewer tools (as intended), Slack users actually switch communication tools more often. The average Slack user only goes 5 minutes without checking communication channels. Meanwhile, non-Slack-users can go an average of 8 minutes without checking communications channels.
Granted, that’s not a major difference, but still.
Somewhat horrifyingly, the average worker “checks in” on their email and instant messenger (IM) every 6 minutes.
A recent study of hybrid work by Microsoft found that digital collaboration has significantly increased the intensity of the average knowledge worker’s day. An analysis of data from its own Microsoft 365 tool suite between February 2020 and February 2021 showed the following trends:
Synchronous communication — and crappy asynchronous communication — forces us to multitask, which we know makes it much harder to get focused work done.
This is well established by scientific studies by neuroscientists and psychologists that have proven that task-switching comes with a “computational cost.” Our brains simply aren’t built to split attention between multiple tasks, and trying is detrimental to our productivity — to the tune of a loss of up to 40% of our productive time.
It’s like trying to run too many programs on a janky old MacBook Air — performance is simply going to suffer. Hell, even anticipating a scheduled meeting divides our attention and makes it hard to focus properly. Trying to work with the constant threat of unscheduled interruptions makes it next to impossible.
As Jory MacKay memorably phrased it in this excellent blog about communication overload, remote work’s constant check-ins “turn your focus into Swiss cheese”. The visual below demonstrates what this looks like in practice by visualizing a week in one RescueTime data scientist’s life.
In this breakdown of a typical workweek for RescueTime data scientist Madison Lukaczyk, there were only eight half-hour blocks of productive work uninterrupted by email or IM.
How do we collaborate effectively while maximizing our individual productivity, without sacrificing the creativity and innovation of in-person collaboration?
The answer is simpler than it sounds: Upgrade the way we work and the tools we use.
With the right work methodology and the right tools, teams can communicate clearly while giving individuals the flexibility to get their best work done with minimal interruptions.
By building a work culture that prioritizes asynchronous communication — equipped with the right tools to make this possible — you build a foundation for deep, productive work. Here are some communications best practices to consider implementing:
Bubbles allows you to collaborate asynchronously without sacrificing the pros of synchronous collaboration.
In a nutshell, bubbles is a tool that lets you effortlessly record your screen with voiceover or video and share your bubble with your collaborators, who are free to respond at their own pace.
With its cutting-edge video messaging, bubbles makes it easy to bridge the gap between synchronous and asynchronous communication by making asynchronous in-context conversations possible.
This makes bubbles uniquely suited to providing in-depth feedback, whether you’re a creative director giving a designer very specific feedback, a software engineer asking a fellow dev to clean up a piece of code, a head of marketing trying to get the tone of a blog just right, or a startup founder trying to communicate your vision to your team.
Unlike other async communication tools, bubbles facilitates two-way conversations by letting recipients reply to specific parts of the recording.
Whether you want to kick off an epic, give contextualized feedback on that new landing page, or walk your team through a product requirements document (PRD), bubbles is the fastest way to get your point across without having to pull everyone into a meeting.
Think of it as a voice note you can respond to as you listen to it (just imagine — you don’t have to listen to it three times before you’ve responded to everything!), except with the added context of the video showing precisely what you’re talking about.
For example, a review of a Product Requirement Document (PRD) can easily be done using bubbles. The Product Lead can record a bubble sharing the vision, strategy, and plan. Next, the team members can each review the recording in their own time, taking the time to add their questions, feedback, and ideas.
Here are some practical ways you might use this feature:
Check out the bubbles below to see how easy async collaboration can be when you have the right tools.
For founders, CEOs, and product owners: Feature walkthrough in 90 seconds
For engineers, product managers, and quality assurance pros: Bug report in 90 seconds:
For marketing leads, creative leads, and designers: Creative feedback request in 90 seconds:
Bubbles lets you experience that true joy of connection that only creative collaboration can inspire—something that’s sadly been missing from other async collaboration tools.
As bubbles founder and CEO Tom Medema put it to TechCrunch, bubbles’ mission is “to return joy to work: to get back to creativity and productivity, to foster deep work, and mitigate burnout by moving away from hyper-responsiveness and real-time communication towards greater asynchronous (async) collaboration.”
Here’s how bubbles “returns the joy to work:”
At the end of the day, less time spent in meetings = less digital burnout and more time for meaningful, impactful work.
While it will always be more efficient to convey certain information in real-time, you might be surprised by just how much of your communication can be handled asynchronously when you have the right tools.
Whether your work model is remote, in-office, or hybrid, the trick to implementing an effective communication strategy is making sure that your whole team is aligned on which communication mode to use in which context — and following this protocol religiously.
Keeping synchronous communication to a minimum allows teams to get more focused “deep work” done and only meet in real-time when it’s absolutely necessary.
Here are some of the factors you should consider when deciding how you reach out to someone:
Again, the shorter your list of occasions that warrant synchronous communication, the better.
With this in mind, synchronous communication methods may be appropriate when:
On the other hand, asynchronous communication makes sense when:
For those unavoidable conversations, there’s synchronous communication. For everything else, there’s bubbles.
Unlike many other video and screen recording tools on the market — *cough cough, Loom* — bubbles is fast. You don’t need to wait ages for screen recordings to sync and hope and pray your computer doesn’t crash while your file uploads to the cloud.
Bubbles is totally free, signup takes just a few seconds — in fact, we call our onboarding process “nonboarding.” Plus, our free Chrome extension makes it super user-friendly.