Synchronous vs. asynchronous communication: What they are and when to use them

Knowing the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication—and when each is most appropriate—is a productivity superpower.
February 23, 2024
Elise Dopson
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You spend your work day chatting to colleagues all day long. You’ve got important project details and deadlines to discuss. Conversations are spread across emails, in-person meetings, video recordings, Zoom calls, and Slack messages. 

This hive of conversation is a good thing—it means your team is talking with each other. Studies have shown 72% of business leaders think teams with strong lines of communication are more productive. The problem happens when you’re not communicating in the best style for the task—like sending infinite Slack messages about an issue that needs a face-to-face conversation or having an hour-long meeting that could have been an email.

We can break all types of communication into two groups: synchronous and asynchronous. This guide shares what either term means, the benefit of either communication style, and how you can blend them together to make internal communication more efficient. 

What is synchronous communication?

Synchronous communication is any form of communication that happens in real-time, whether that’s an in-person conversation or a video conference to chat through a work project. 

Some popular examples of synchronous communication include:

  • Video conferencing
  • Physical team meetings
  • Phone calls
  • Coffee break conversations
  • Live chat customer support

Benefits of synchronous communication

Zoom meetings and phone calls still have their spot in the work environment because they offer the following benefits: 

Deeper interactions

Picture this: you’re a manager that’s conducting performance reviews for your team. Which would your colleagues respond better to: an email thread or a one-on-one video call? Chances are, it’s the latter. 

Synchronous communication allows you to build stronger and deeper relationships with your team. People can see your body language and the conversation can veer into new topics that wouldn’t have come up if they replied to your email. 

Faster resolutions, most of the time

If you pride yourself on going from idea to execution faster than your competitors, the last thing you want is to get bogged down by unanswered emails or Slack notifications. Constantly pinging your colleagues for a result can feel like you’re bugging them. Jump on a quick phone call, though, and you’ll get an immediate response—provided they’re available. 

“Relying solely on emails can lead to disastrous situations, especially when deadlines are there,” says Tim Hopfinger Lee, founder of Tim’s Coffee. I've experienced situations where people disappeared right when I needed them most, leaving me hanging. This made me completely change my communication style. While I still use emails from time to time, I now prioritize direct messaging.”

Tim adds: “Tools like Slack and Skype have become my go-to tool. They offer real-time discussions, which is exactly what I want. It is the only sure way to achieve an accountable team dynamic.” 

Handle complex topics more sensitively

You’ll likely face difficult conversations when working as a team. Whether your colleague is going through a tough time personally or has made a professional mistake, real-time communication builds personal connections better than async methods. Seeing someone face-to-face can make a world of difference when showing empathy or compassion. 

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication doesn’t take place in real-time. Instead of a two-way dialogue where someone responds as soon as you’ve finished speaking, anyone communicating asynchronously does so at a later time.

Say you’re a marketer launching a new project, for example. Your team’s schedules don’t align, so you take the async route and film a screen recording that walks people through the upcoming project, how to use the software, and key deadlines. Anyone who has questions can send them to you after they’ve watched the replay. 

Other popular examples of asynchronous communication include:

  • Emails 
  • Text or instant messaging (such as Slack or Microsoft Teams)
  • Comments or updates in a project management platform
  • Video messages 
  • Google Doc comments  

‎Benefits of asynchronous communication methods

A 2023 Grammarly report found that 72% of knowledge workers are communicating more asynchronously than they did last year. Let’s explore the reasons behind this shift. 

More flexibility

Bigger teams have more difficulty communicating than smaller ones. This largely boils down to the mammoth task of finding a date and time that works for everyone. If everyone but two people are free on Tuesday at 4 p.m., do you go ahead with that time slot and let them miss out? 

Async communication solves this problem because there’s no need to find a time that works for everyone. The person doing the communicating can record or write a message in their own time, at their own pace. 

“I primarily use email and Slack messages to communicate asynchronously. I think it gives people more time to think about their responses, which allows for more thorough feedback and well-researched and data-driven input on decisions.” —Sarah Spencer, director of operations at Content Cucumber

Allow teams in different locations to communicate

Remote workers have an easier time communicating asynchronously for similar reasons. They don’t need to find a time that suits everyone involved. 

For example: Sophie, an Australian team member, wants to chat with Andy at 11 a.m, but he’s based in Dubai where it’s 4 a.m. There’s no chance of them jumping on a real-time voice call. Instead, Sophie records her screen and tells Ben what he needs to know. As soon as Ben is online, he responds to Sophie—who is about to clock out.

Talk without disruption

There are two elements of effective communication: talking and listening. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on both at the same time. 

Say you’re excited about a project and want to get all of the details across when telling your team. Stick to a real-time Zoom call and people might cut you off and derail your train of thought. But if you use asynchronous communication tools like Descript to make a presentation video, you can read from a script and get everything across the right way. People can always ask follow-up questions afterwards.

Asynchronous vs. synchronous communication

Now that we know how both communication methods work, let’s recap the biggest differences between the two. 

Scheduling

Conversations that happen synchronously need to be scheduled in advance. Because people will be talking in real-time, you need to find a date, time, and location (even if that is Zoom) to chat with your colleagues.

Async, on the other hand, doesn’t require you to schedule a date and time. Just start the conversation with an email, text message, or video recording. Your colleagues can respond at a time that suits them.

Response times

Synchronous communication happens at a single point in time, which means anyone involved in the conversation will need to respond in real-time. 

With async communication, however, there’s no pressure for your recipient to respond in real-time. They can watch a video recording or reply to an email whenever they’re free—even if that’s at a different time from the sender. This usually means conversations take longer. 

Time zone differences

Talking in real-time does have its benefits, but it’s just not possible for remote and distributed teams to find time to chat. Synchronous comms means you’d all have to be online at the same time. But when you go async, you can send your message when a colleague is asleep. They’ll respond when they’re awake (and vice versa). 

Best practices for synchronous and asynchronous

There is no “best practice” for choosing whether you’ll adapt a synchronous or asynchronous communication style. Most companies play in the gray area, taking some elements from either method. The key to success is knowing how to manage both. 

  • Have an agenda. Time is money, but most people aren’t afraid to spend it on unnecessary meetings. We spend 31 work hours on unproductive meetings each month, which can lead to burnout and low productivity levels. Whether you’re chatting in real-time or asynchronously, set an agenda beforehand as part of your communication workflow and try not to veer off topic. 
  • Set clear communication guidelines. Things get messy when you have conversations dotted everywhere. Keep things consistent by outlining the best communication channel for each use case. For example: “Discuss small project details asynchronously in Slack; record your screen for software demonstrations; host a meeting for important status updates or brainstorming sessions.”
  • Invest in your toolstack. While extra apps might sound like an unnecessary expense, there is software that makes either communication style easier. Teams who manage projects might be better suited to a project management tool (like Trello or Asana) for async, whereas larger remote teams might need synchronous communication tools like Zoom to talk in real-time. 

Streamline workplace communication with Descript

Searching for collaboration tools that help your team communicate with ease? If you’re looking for an app to fill the asynchronous gap, Descript is your best bet. 

Primarily a video editing tool, Descript has a bunch of useful features to encourage effective employee communication. That includes:

  • Screen recording to show your screen as you talk 
  • Comments and reactions to collaborate on video projects 
  • Templates to create social media, onboarding, and training videos
  • Automated transcription to make async videos more accessible
  • Shareable links to distribute your internal video with the team 

Teams at HubSpot, Masterclass, and Shopify, are already using Descript for work.

Start using Descript today for free, and see why it’s the preferred asynchronous comms tool of choice for many of the world’s most efficient teams. 

Elise Dopson
Elise Dopson is a freelance writer, creator, and fierce Descript user. She's also the co-founder of Peak Freelance.
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Synchronous vs. asynchronous communication: What they are and when to use them

computer with cellphone next to it and pink background

You spend your work day chatting to colleagues all day long. You’ve got important project details and deadlines to discuss. Conversations are spread across emails, in-person meetings, video recordings, Zoom calls, and Slack messages. 

This hive of conversation is a good thing—it means your team is talking with each other. Studies have shown 72% of business leaders think teams with strong lines of communication are more productive. The problem happens when you’re not communicating in the best style for the task—like sending infinite Slack messages about an issue that needs a face-to-face conversation or having an hour-long meeting that could have been an email.

We can break all types of communication into two groups: synchronous and asynchronous. This guide shares what either term means, the benefit of either communication style, and how you can blend them together to make internal communication more efficient. 

What is synchronous communication?

Synchronous communication is any form of communication that happens in real-time, whether that’s an in-person conversation or a video conference to chat through a work project. 

Some popular examples of synchronous communication include:

  • Video conferencing
  • Physical team meetings
  • Phone calls
  • Coffee break conversations
  • Live chat customer support

Benefits of synchronous communication

Zoom meetings and phone calls still have their spot in the work environment because they offer the following benefits: 

Deeper interactions

Picture this: you’re a manager that’s conducting performance reviews for your team. Which would your colleagues respond better to: an email thread or a one-on-one video call? Chances are, it’s the latter. 

Synchronous communication allows you to build stronger and deeper relationships with your team. People can see your body language and the conversation can veer into new topics that wouldn’t have come up if they replied to your email. 

Faster resolutions, most of the time

If you pride yourself on going from idea to execution faster than your competitors, the last thing you want is to get bogged down by unanswered emails or Slack notifications. Constantly pinging your colleagues for a result can feel like you’re bugging them. Jump on a quick phone call, though, and you’ll get an immediate response—provided they’re available. 

“Relying solely on emails can lead to disastrous situations, especially when deadlines are there,” says Tim Hopfinger Lee, founder of Tim’s Coffee. I've experienced situations where people disappeared right when I needed them most, leaving me hanging. This made me completely change my communication style. While I still use emails from time to time, I now prioritize direct messaging.”

Tim adds: “Tools like Slack and Skype have become my go-to tool. They offer real-time discussions, which is exactly what I want. It is the only sure way to achieve an accountable team dynamic.” 

Handle complex topics more sensitively

You’ll likely face difficult conversations when working as a team. Whether your colleague is going through a tough time personally or has made a professional mistake, real-time communication builds personal connections better than async methods. Seeing someone face-to-face can make a world of difference when showing empathy or compassion. 

What is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication doesn’t take place in real-time. Instead of a two-way dialogue where someone responds as soon as you’ve finished speaking, anyone communicating asynchronously does so at a later time.

Say you’re a marketer launching a new project, for example. Your team’s schedules don’t align, so you take the async route and film a screen recording that walks people through the upcoming project, how to use the software, and key deadlines. Anyone who has questions can send them to you after they’ve watched the replay. 

Other popular examples of asynchronous communication include:

  • Emails 
  • Text or instant messaging (such as Slack or Microsoft Teams)
  • Comments or updates in a project management platform
  • Video messages 
  • Google Doc comments  

‎Benefits of asynchronous communication methods

A 2023 Grammarly report found that 72% of knowledge workers are communicating more asynchronously than they did last year. Let’s explore the reasons behind this shift. 

More flexibility

Bigger teams have more difficulty communicating than smaller ones. This largely boils down to the mammoth task of finding a date and time that works for everyone. If everyone but two people are free on Tuesday at 4 p.m., do you go ahead with that time slot and let them miss out? 

Async communication solves this problem because there’s no need to find a time that works for everyone. The person doing the communicating can record or write a message in their own time, at their own pace. 

“I primarily use email and Slack messages to communicate asynchronously. I think it gives people more time to think about their responses, which allows for more thorough feedback and well-researched and data-driven input on decisions.” —Sarah Spencer, director of operations at Content Cucumber

Allow teams in different locations to communicate

Remote workers have an easier time communicating asynchronously for similar reasons. They don’t need to find a time that suits everyone involved. 

For example: Sophie, an Australian team member, wants to chat with Andy at 11 a.m, but he’s based in Dubai where it’s 4 a.m. There’s no chance of them jumping on a real-time voice call. Instead, Sophie records her screen and tells Ben what he needs to know. As soon as Ben is online, he responds to Sophie—who is about to clock out.

Talk without disruption

There are two elements of effective communication: talking and listening. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on both at the same time. 

Say you’re excited about a project and want to get all of the details across when telling your team. Stick to a real-time Zoom call and people might cut you off and derail your train of thought. But if you use asynchronous communication tools like Descript to make a presentation video, you can read from a script and get everything across the right way. People can always ask follow-up questions afterwards.

Asynchronous vs. synchronous communication

Now that we know how both communication methods work, let’s recap the biggest differences between the two. 

Scheduling

Conversations that happen synchronously need to be scheduled in advance. Because people will be talking in real-time, you need to find a date, time, and location (even if that is Zoom) to chat with your colleagues.

Async, on the other hand, doesn’t require you to schedule a date and time. Just start the conversation with an email, text message, or video recording. Your colleagues can respond at a time that suits them.

Response times

Synchronous communication happens at a single point in time, which means anyone involved in the conversation will need to respond in real-time. 

With async communication, however, there’s no pressure for your recipient to respond in real-time. They can watch a video recording or reply to an email whenever they’re free—even if that’s at a different time from the sender. This usually means conversations take longer. 

Time zone differences

Talking in real-time does have its benefits, but it’s just not possible for remote and distributed teams to find time to chat. Synchronous comms means you’d all have to be online at the same time. But when you go async, you can send your message when a colleague is asleep. They’ll respond when they’re awake (and vice versa). 

Best practices for synchronous and asynchronous

There is no “best practice” for choosing whether you’ll adapt a synchronous or asynchronous communication style. Most companies play in the gray area, taking some elements from either method. The key to success is knowing how to manage both. 

  • Have an agenda. Time is money, but most people aren’t afraid to spend it on unnecessary meetings. We spend 31 work hours on unproductive meetings each month, which can lead to burnout and low productivity levels. Whether you’re chatting in real-time or asynchronously, set an agenda beforehand as part of your communication workflow and try not to veer off topic. 
  • Set clear communication guidelines. Things get messy when you have conversations dotted everywhere. Keep things consistent by outlining the best communication channel for each use case. For example: “Discuss small project details asynchronously in Slack; record your screen for software demonstrations; host a meeting for important status updates or brainstorming sessions.”
  • Invest in your toolstack. While extra apps might sound like an unnecessary expense, there is software that makes either communication style easier. Teams who manage projects might be better suited to a project management tool (like Trello or Asana) for async, whereas larger remote teams might need synchronous communication tools like Zoom to talk in real-time. 

Streamline workplace communication with Descript

Searching for collaboration tools that help your team communicate with ease? If you’re looking for an app to fill the asynchronous gap, Descript is your best bet. 

Primarily a video editing tool, Descript has a bunch of useful features to encourage effective employee communication. That includes:

  • Screen recording to show your screen as you talk 
  • Comments and reactions to collaborate on video projects 
  • Templates to create social media, onboarding, and training videos
  • Automated transcription to make async videos more accessible
  • Shareable links to distribute your internal video with the team 

Teams at HubSpot, Masterclass, and Shopify, are already using Descript for work.

Start using Descript today for free, and see why it’s the preferred asynchronous comms tool of choice for many of the world’s most efficient teams. 

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