It has to make sense to leverage different ways of communicating with different people in different situations. While virtual communication is more efficient, in-person communication is more effective for emotionally charged situations and relationship-building. But, digging a little deeper, that misses the power of asynchronous communication to enable diverse input and others’ time management choices.
- In-person communication is best for emotionally charged situations and building relationships.
- Virtual and synchronous communication (at the same time) is a more efficient, but less effective option. The smaller the group the better.
- Asynchronous communication (at different times) is best for enabling diverse input and others’ time management choices.
You can use a blend of these – just not at the same time. When some are in-person and some are virtual, the virtual people’s ability to contribute is limited.
Darren Murph told me that asynchronous communication should be most organizations’ default way of communicating – with some strategic in-person events thrown in. Note that Darren is biased because he’s the “Head of Remote” at Gitlab which makes a fully integrated software development operations platform. Their 1300 employees all work remotely, spread across 65 different countries, which they view as a strategic advantage, allowing them to:
- Recruit and retain talent anywhere in the world.
- Redeploy assets at will – with no physical relocation costs.
- Empower people to live their lives the way they want to.
The efficiencies are real. And Gitlab’s people have strong relationships with each other because of their tooling and culture.
- Tooling. Gitlab was “Built by remote teams for remote teams.” Their people built, do all their work on, and continually improve their own work tool.
- Culture. Gitlab’s culture is rooted in its values of Collaboration, Results, Efficiency, Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, Iteration, and Transparency. These best practice nuggets from their transparently available note on Embracing Asynchronous Communication are particularly helpful:
The advantage of asynchronous input
Asynchronous input enables insights from people normally not expected to have insights across geographies and disciplines. For example, Gitlab is in the process of refining its content strategy – putting out their current best thinking and inviting every one of their 1300 employees and “the entire world” to contribute whenever and however they can.
Giving individuals more control of their lives
Gitlab explicitly encourages employees to “Consider shifting your schedule to better suit your peak productivity hours, caregiving hours, or experiment with alternative work schedules that would not be supported in rigidly synchronous organizations.”
As Darren explained, commuting time used to belong to employees to read, write, or “call their mother.” But with the pandemic remote work requirements, some employers have assumed employees are more available for virtual meetings since they don’t have to commute.
Asynchronous versus synchronous
Gitlab provides direction to default to asynchronous for updates and process documentation; pivot when things stall; and start synchronously for things like sales engagements, first-time meetings, high stakes “One-way door” decisions, complex initializations, emotionally sensitive topics, supporting and celebrating.
Implications for you
There is no going back. You either evolve your culture after the pandemic or disappear. Think hard about how you return to work.
You will need some in-person meetings for emotionally-charged situations and to rebuild relationships and help recent joiners build initial relationships.
You’ll likely want to take advantage of people’s newfound technical prowess to benefit from the efficiencies of some virtual meetings. Hard to imagine anyone traveling great distances for one-hour follow-up meetings instead of jumping on a video.
And shame on you if you don’t make better use of asynchronous work. Don’t just free people up from the confinement of their pandemic-induced isolation. Free them up to be more in control of their own time, so they can get updates on demand and give you the benefit of their best thinking when and how they do their best thinking – not when and how it’s most convenient for you.
Relationship building – Better in-person, at the same time to enable active listening.
Emotionally charged – Better in-person. Consider a 2-step to give people a chance to process.
Extroverts – Strong bias to synchronous for people that think with their mouths.
Introverts – Require a 2-step so they can process with their brains.
Flipped classroom – 2-step so all (and especially introverts) can process input before discussing.
Diverse input – asynchronously enabled.
Individual time management – asynchronously virtually enabled, especially for updates, (and more cost-effective.)