Last updated: 

December 14, 2021

How to Have Asynchronous Meetings for Your Remote Team

Rasheed Ahamed

Rasheed Ahamed

Remote work is the new normal. And study after study has made one thing clear: remote work is better for both the parties involved—employees and companies.

When you peel off the layers to understand why remote work boosts productivity, you’ll see ‘asynchronous communication’ among other reasons. The ability to communicate when you can, rather than in real-time, has a great impact on how you work.

Apart from the commute, all of those benefits aren’t necessarily the result of location independence, but rather the byproduct of asynchronous communication — giving employees control over when they communicate with their teammates.

- Amir Salihefendic, founder and CEO of Doist.

While remote working teams need to embrace asynchronous communication, it doesn’t mean communication should be left to happen on its own. For a remote-working team distributed across several time zones, the default state is either miscommunication or lack of communication.

You need to deliberately plan and facilitate communication within and across teams while allowing everyone to contribute on their own schedule. In other words, you need to run “asynchronous meetings.” Whether you’re new to asynchronous meetings or looking to improve the way you run them, we’ve got you covered.

Let’s dive in!

What are Asynchronous Meetings?

Asynchronous meetings are meetings that don’t happen in real-time (synchronous). They don’t need immediate response from the participants and everyone involved in the meeting can get back on their own time.

Put simply, asynchronous meetings emulate synchronous meetings but give the control of when to respond to the participants.

When you have an async meeting, you’re taking the best parts of synchronous meetings (getting the team together to discuss a specific topic and making a decision) but removing the ‘real-time’ component.

As it’s asynchronous, you aren’t having a real-time conversation with others, rather communicating with them based on your schedule.

Source: Doist.com

Asynchronous Meeting Tools

There are several ways to communicate asynchronously—each with their own pros. Create a list of ‘deciding factors’ after collaborating with your team and then explore the tools that check off all the boxes. Ideally, you’d want to pick a format and tool that suits everyone in your team to run better asynchronous meetings.  

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Email
  • Project management tools (such as Asana, Trello, or Basecamp)
  • Company wikis and workspaces (such as Coda or Confluence or Notion)
  • Text messaging (using tools like Threads)
  • Video messaging (using tools like Loom)
  • Voice messaging (using tools like Yac)
  • Slack can also be used for asynchronous communication, depending on how your team responds to messages and requests. If your team is accustomed to replying instantly and having real-time, back and forth conversations over Slack, then it’s hard to use it for asynchronous meetings. One way to use Slack for async meetings is to leverage a meeting bot.  

How to Run Effective Asynchronous Meetings

Now that you have a clear understanding of asynchronous meetings, let’s learn how to run them effectively.  

1. Onboard Your Team

If your team is new to asynchronous meetings, make sure to get everyone on the same page.

In most cases, to make a synchronous meeting happen, you just need to find a suitable time. Once there’s a time that works for everyone, it’s good to go. Participants can show up and take part in the discussion. Even if someone needs additional information or context, they can throw in their questions and get instant answers. No brainer.

On the contrary, asynchronous meetings require you to set the context and get everyone up to speed — ahead of time.

A new member in your team, for example, wouldn’t know how to contribute best and where to access relevant information and prior decisions.  

Set clear guidelines, create necessary documentation, design templates to help your team propose and run asynchronous meetings, lay out the best practices, and continue to improve them as you go. Your entire team needs to be on board with asynchronous communication and more importantly, how it's been designed to fit the team.

For example, GitLab tends to have extensive documentation on how they run meetings to help new hires.

Note: You can replace only certain synchronous meetings with asynchronous ones. Its worth clarifying which meetings will still be synchronous and which wouldn’t be, to avoid any confusion.

2. Propose Specific Questions as Agenda

Creating a meeting agenda is, perhaps, the most common advice on the internet for anyone who’s looking to run effective meetings.

Well, data says otherwise.

Research has actually found little to no relationship between the presence of an agenda and attendees’ evaluation of meeting quality.

- HBR.

Simply put, what matters is not the agenda itself but what’s on it and how you facilitate the discussion. As the author points out, rather than approaching the agenda as the list of topics to be covered throughout the meeting, design the agenda as a set of questions that need to be addressed.

For instance, instead of having a topic “Customer support problem”, you can have a clear question “How customer support can address questions and concerns from users quickly to cut down the response time?”

Your asynchronous meeting doesn’t need to have a list of agenda items. It can have clear questions the team should address by responding and collaborating asynchronously.

3. Make Responses Mandatory

Not everyone will always have a contribution to make. You’ll likely get the relevant and interested participants to chime in and help you address the questions.  

But it’s best to encourage contribution from everyone involved by making responses mandatory.  

Think about it.

On one hand, by opting in for asynchronous communication, you’re intentionally letting everyone to respond and contribute based on their own schedule. In other words, you can’t follow up as you typically do on Slack.

On the other hand, you want everyone to contribute and participate in discussions, even if it means receiving “looks good” or “I like the proposed idea and have nothing else to add” as responses.

The simplest solution is to make responses mandatory.

You don’t need “optional” participants in asynchronous meetings as it only takes a few seconds to respond or acknowledge. The more the contribution, the better the outcome.

4. Track Discussions, Actions, and Decisions

Whether a meeting is synchronous or asynchronous, it’s important to document the discussions and decisions.

We talked about Zoom Amnesia—when a person forgets the discussions and decisions from Zoom meetings either completely or partially over time. It applies to asynchronous meetings as well.

Unless you build a system to document discussions, decisions, and action items, you’ll lose valuable insights and contributions from your team and end up relying on memory dumps—disconnected from the reality of what actually happened.  
Our memory isn’t the best source of reality. We tend to start forgetting information right after we consume it — a phenomenon called ‘Forgetting Curve’.

Creating folders to curate the related posts and docs over time is one option. Regardless of the tool you use, ensure you are documenting and keeping track of decisions and actions.

Side note: If you want to document your synchronous meetings happening over video conferencing platforms like Zoom, Grain is your best bet. Grain helps you search, record, and share the best parts of your Zoom meetings and build a shared workspace where you and your team can upload and collaborate over meeting content!

5. Set Deadlines for Responses

While you don’t need others to respond ASAP, it’s important to set reasonable expectations for response time while you initiate the meeting.

For instance, you can mention that you’re expecting responses from everyone within the next 24 hours.

Better yet, give more context on how the response time will impact the work further down the line. “I would like to finish this project in the next 2 days so that we’ll be ready to launch the campaign next week on time. So, feedback in the next 12 hours is appreciated.”

Having a clear deadline helps others to plan and make a contribution. Without a deadline, even if it’s made up, no one will really know when they need to get back. Naturally, you’ll either get no responses or last-minute responses as your team simply decides to get back whenever they have time.

Best Practices for Asynchronous Meetings

If you’re planning to make a specific meeting asynchronous, especially for the first time, consider following some best practices.

Know when to go asynchronous

Use asynchronous meetings only when you don’t need immediate responses from the others. If the other team members are in a different time zone, then asynchronous communication can come in handy.

If you need brainstorming or feedback for time sensitive projects, you can’t go with async.

Over-communicate

Be it the post—the first message that kick-starts the meeting—or the responses to it, offer as much information as possible, with links to relevant documents and previous discussions. The more clear and detailed your communication is, the better your outcome will be.

Record your screen, attach screenshots, send over the data if needed. You can even respond in a quick “video” message to a “text” post.

Tools

As we mentioned before, selecting the right tools for communication plays a big part in the effectiveness of your asynchronous meeting. Without the proper tools, your team may not be able to make their contribution as intended.

Before investing in a tool, don’t hesitate to experiment with a few options and see how suitable they are for you and your team.

Which Meetings should be Asynchronous?

Now you’re ready to run asynchronous meetings. Yay!

But as we hinted earlier, you can’t make every meeting asynchronous. So here’s a list of meetings that can be run asynchronously.

Stand-ups: Status update meetings or daily check-ins to just share work updates can be done asynchronously. For example, we use Geekbot to get work updates from the team via Slack.

You can also send Loom videos to record and send over the updates.

Presentations: If you want to present slides to a group of people, record your presentation and then share the video. Others can respond based on the deadline with feedback and thoughts.

Training and onboarding: You can record your onboarding and training sessions once and then reuse the recordings to onboard new hires asynchronously.

When you’re walking through the process for the very first time, make the meeting synchronous (Zoom meeting), invite your team, and record the call using Grain. When a new person joins the team, just invite them to Grain workspace where they can access and view the recording.

Source: Grain Workspace.

Announcements:

When you want to share company-wide or team-wide announcements, the best option is to create an asynchronous meeting on your preferred communication channel. No need to hold an all-hands meeting as employees can have the context, documentation, and time to reply back when it’s asynchronous.

Finding the Balance

A healthy team will have both types of communication —synchronous and asynchronous— balanced optimitaly to enable deep work and stay connected as a team. It's not one or the other. Instead, it’s both. Ask a simple question—do you need an immediate response and back-and-forth conversation to address the questions (agenda)? If not, opt-in for an asynchronous method.

In addition, you can record your synchronous meetings using Grain and allow your team members from different time zones to “attend” the meeting asynchronously!

We’ve even started experimenting with recording the video of our meetings so that others can “attend” asynchronously.

- Amir Salihefendic, founder and CEO of Doist.

Regardless of the tool and communication method, it’s important to observe carefully to understand if it’s working for your team. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to team collaboration. Experiment, learn, and improve! Happy collaborating!

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