Connecting with Coworkers via Calls and Emails

18.10.2020 |

Episode #4 of the course How to work from home: From surviving to thriving by Jordan Thibodeau and Joe Ternasky


“You can spend hours editing an email but send it as if you wrote it in a minute.”—Sally Rooney

In this lesson, we will talk about how you can more effectively communicate with others who work with you, for you, or above you by mastering the use of asynchronous communication in your work from home experience.


What Is Asynchronous Communication?

Asynchronous communication is any exchange of information that occurs between two or more people at staggered points in time. Email, voicemail, and day-old text messages are all examples of asynchronous communication, whereas speaking in person, instant messaging, and conferencing in real-time are not.

Remote work relies heavily on these methods of communication. Whenever you summarize and report on what you are doing, how you are feeling, or what needs to happen next, you are participating in asynchronous communication! You can’t necessarily expect an immediate response in these instances because your conversation partner is likely to be busy with more immediate matters. However, you do expect a response eventually. One thing that will be crucial to your work from home success is mastering these asynchronous conversations.


Advantages of Asynchronous Communication

If used properly, delayed communication is a powerful tool that can work in your favor. There are numerous advantages to using asynchronous communication:

1. The audience has time to read and respond. Since your audience can choose when to review your message, you are more likely to catch them when they are undistracted and ready to focus on what you are saying, then thoughtfully compose their response to your message.

2. The audience need not be available at the same time. You can communicate with a large number of people without organizing a specific meeting time. You completely sidestep the need to coordinate between time zones.

3. The audience is accountable, and so are you. Using asynchronous communication, your conversations are all recorded and time-stamped.

Now that you understand what asynchronous communication is and how it can work to your advantage, let’s go over some strategies that can help you improve your own asynchronous messaging—from written to recorded.


Writing to Your Colleagues More Successfully

No method of communication is perfect. Conveying complex ideas in writing requires some additional work on your part. You may need to jot down some talking points, plot out an outline, or write a rough draft to help keep you on track. You might need to use a spelling or grammar checker to improve your writing. Writing is easy to misunderstand, and tone is often impossible to communicate. Consider the sentence, “This is not going to work.” It could be interpreted as sarcastic, angry, or an emotionless fact, but it says nothing useful. Take care with your words. People can’t read your mind.


Dos and Don’ts of Asynchronous Communication

Every style of communication has its own implicit set of guidelines. If everyone follows the rules, the system works better as a whole. Here are some guidelines to follow when practicing asynchronous communication:

1. DO remember to give more context than you would in real-time conversation. Try anticipating your recipient’s follow-up questions, and provide answers ahead of time. This will save everybody time in the long run.

2. DO provide a deadline for a response if one is needed. Place it prominently, not buried in the fourth paragraph.

3. DO attach any relevant documents. We all forget our attachments sometimes, but double-checking that your email is complete will save you time and embarrassment in the long run.

4. DO tell the recipient what you want. Reading three pages of details can leave one wondering, “Yes, but what do you want me to do about it?” Specify your need at the beginning (I need approval, an answer, your report, your opinion on…) then follow up with details.

5. DO be proactive about communicating reminders. The responsibility for following up on an email is on the person who needs something (so nine times out of ten, the person who sent the email). If you’re the one with the question, it’s in your hands to follow up until you get an answer.

6. DON’T send a standalone greeting and wait for a response. “Hey, Jim!” “Carol, I’m ready to report.” “Anyone there?” What a waste of time! Get to the point, and give your recipient something worthwhile to respond to.

7. DON’T let your conversations devolve into arguments. If something is emotional, or there’s an emergency, then a real-time conference is a better way to go.

8. DON’T stress urgency that doesn’t exist. Be honest about timelines, but realize that most things aren’t “urgent.” Faking urgency only causes unnecessary anxiety. Additionally, no one will take you seriously if you cry wolf too many times.

It might take some time for a team to get into the flow of asynchronous communication, and what works for one group of people might not work so well for another. The most effective teams listen to one another, and now without being within earshot or walking distance, you all must transform the skill of listening into the format of asynchronous communication.

If it seems that communication is suffering, for example, you aren’t getting the feedback you need, or projects are getting stalled because it’s taking too long for everyone to weigh in, perhaps some guidelines would be helpful. One of your team’s weekly videoconferences could be used to establish ground rules and response deadlines. As with many work-related processes, not everyone will know what the major pitfalls are until you fall right into them, so perhaps gauge how the process works for a couple of weeks before meeting about it. All remote teams must hone this skill if they want to operate smoothly! Try to lead by example, making your own communications as effective as you would like their responses to be.


To Do

This week, we’ll hold you to taking some extra care in every email you send, including spell checking and re-reading everything for clarity before sending it. It takes a little extra time, but the benefits are many, and worth the extra couple of minutes.

That’s a wrap for this lesson. We look forward to having you join us for our next lesson.

Jordan and Joe

Work From Home Teachers


Recommended book

The Remote Worker’s Guide to Excellence by Eryck Dzotsi


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