Stress less: avoid a synchronous mess

This article focusing on how well-organised asynchronous communication has benefits over synchronous communication is well worth a read if, like me, you’re a bit of a geek for project management, team communication and workflows.


I think the most important things in establishing an efficient system of communication is the perception and expectations of the people communicating and the affordances of the tools used. Phone calls and video conferencing are synchronous; they have to be. Other tools, like chat messaging, can be but aren’t necessarily.

There needs to be a clear understanding of expectations. Does the sender expect the message to be received immediately and perhaps also responded to asap? Or does the sender accept that it may or may not be received immediately and regardless of whether it is or isn’t there is no obligation for the receiver to respond immediately? I think if the answer to that is clear, then whether or not the tool itself is designed for synchronous or asynchronous communication doesn’t really matter.


As for the choice of tools for team communication, it is important to identify the needs of the team and the affordances of the tools chosen. it’s also important to recognise what communication possibilities are available. For instance, Trello is neither a messaging platform, nor an emailing tool. However, it can be used extremely effectively for communication. Likewise a bug reporting platform like JIRA. If these tools are part of the teams software kit, then is it actually necessary to communicate anywhere else? Often, I would say not. It’s a question of identifying the aims of the main communication flows and how best to achieve those aims.

In my field of e-learning / digital content development, if an editor finds an asset error in a digital activity – perhaps the incorrect image or audio file has been added – this needs to be communicated so that the error can be rectified. Is it necessary to send an email, or can a note in Trello, tagging the relevant people, achieve the same aim more effectively? Yes. Don’t add a note and then send someone a message to tell them that there’s a note! There are these things called ‘notifications’.

A tool like JIRA makes such a workflow much more manageable as it is designed for specifically this kind of interaction. My experiences with JIRA, after initial reticence, have been largely positive.

Once the tools have been chosen, it would be an idea to create a ‘communication contract’, or a clearly defined workflow in briefing documents, so that everyone is following the same expected behaviour patterns so that expectations are fully understood. For me as a remote freelancer, having to deal with inefficient communication systems is a real pain. Don’t get me started on email chains.

However, (now I’ve started) I have recently been re-evaluating my opinion of email and rather than jumping on the Slack bandwagon, I think establishing good working practices with email can really help. Email is, as the article notes, an asynchronous medium which has been getting used badly, as a synchronous tool, within many organisations. The sooner that changes, the better.

Thanks for reading!


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