While meetings are essential in our work lives, they can often become a significant time sink. They can impede our productivity, and at times, degenerate into aimless chit-chat, making us question the worth of the meeting.
According to a Harvard Business Review survey, 71% of senior managers believed their meetings to be unproductive, with 65% admitting they hindered their work.
Enter asynchronous meetings, a fantastic solution to rid ourselves of unproductive meetings.
Asynchronous meetings allow team members to collaborate effectively, irrespective of their availability. This feature is particularly beneficial for remote teams or those scattered across different time zones, as it eliminates scheduling conflicts and allows everyone to work at their own pace.
In this post we will cover:
What is asynchronous meetings
Asynchronous (async) meetings are meetings that do not take place in real-time or at a fixed location. Instead, they are held over a period of time using a communication tool.
In an async meeting participants can contribute to the discussion at their own pace and convenience.
They can take the time to review the discussion points, consider their responses and contribute when they are ready. This allows for more thoughtful and considered contributions, as well as greater flexibility for participants who may be in different time zones or have other commitments.
Async meetings can be particularly useful for remote teams who may not have the opportunity for regular in-person meetings. By using async meetings, teams can still communicate effectively and stay up-to-date on projects and tasks without having to coordinate schedules or worry about conflicting time zones.
Overall, async meetings can be an effective way to promote collaboration, communication and productivity within a team.
What asynchronous meetings are great for
The main benefit of async meetings is best described by the following quote from WordPress founder and Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg who runs a company of 1500+ employees distributed around the globe:
In a synchronous meeting I get peoples reaction, in an asynchronous meeting I get their reflection.
Matt Mullenweg, Founder of WordPress & Automattic
But lets go deeper into the main benefits:
- It enables better decisions. We humans hate silence so in a traditional meeting we tend to answer within seconds of getting asked a question. That means that the decisions we make don't get the proper time for our brain to work the problem through. We have a full blog post on how to use async meetings specifically to enhance decision quality.
- It gives everyone a chance to be heard. Some personality types have tendency to think before they speak. That is a good thing for thoughtful insights but they often don't get to get the point across in a real-time meeting. Async meetings help everyone to be heard and voice their opinion.
- It allows for exploring multiple paths. In a traditional meeting you can only discover one path at a time and only one person can speak at a time (hopefully). In a async meeting different people can branch out to relevant sub-discussions simultaneously.
- It prevents you from going off topic. Often a meeting gets sidetracked and gets off-topic. This is really hard to discover when you are in it and the discussion is just rapid back and forth. But it stands out super clear when it is on writing and makes it easy to stay on topic even if you branch out in to smaller sub-discussions.
- It allows you to loop in people as needed. When you set up a meeting you have the people that show up and that is it. But what if you discover you need another team-members expert insights? Traditionally you can run out and interrupt them or you have to re-schedule a whole other meeting. With async meetings they can just be looped in and answer on their own time.
- It creates a source of truth. Most meetings have no or bad documentation. Unclear agenda, notes and action items. Because they are not a must for a traditional meeting. Async meetings can't be done without a paper-trail documenting things and going back and finding decisions and important points is thus effortless.
- It works wonders for distributed teams. Remote teams or just teams working in different locations struggle to meet and async meetings is a obvious level up for their decision making.
Where traditional synchronous meetings still shine
Using asynchronous meetings does not rule out the traditional real-time meeting - especially not the value of meeting in person. Never see it as a either-or but instead tools that have their individual benefits and should both be used to have a great meeting culture.
Here is where the traditional real-time meetings shine:
- It gives a chance to meet. People are people and we all need some kind of social contact to be connected. Sitting down in person from time to time for a 1:1 more informally creates a connection you can't get in writing.
- Some things require a quick back-and-forth. When you get stuck on a thing it is often better to hash it out on a whiteboard or jump on a call. This is also true for sub-discussions in a async meeting.
- When we need to talk about sensitive things. Some discussions are so sensitive that you need the full range of you voice and body-language to get your message across the right way.
How to get started with asynchronous meetings
Getting started with asynchronous is fairly straight forward. The most important thing as with any change is to give yourself and your team the patience to get really great at it.
Here is a to-do for getting started with async meetings:
The key to great async meetings is having the right tools.
They work like you physical meeting space for an in person meeting. Having a meeting in a hallway is rarely a great experience. You need a place that works great for the physical meeting.
In the same way you need a "place" that works well for the async meeting.
That tool should have:
- A easy way to write a in depth meeting intro. In physical meetings you can just say what you want (though a written intro makes your team more prepared) but this is harder async. This is actually a benefit as async forces you to conduct better meetings. But you tool should have a visually easy way to get participants well prepared for their meeting.
- A clear separation between meeting lead and participant. The meeting lead facilitates and moderates the meeting and having one person designated for this role makes ongoing communication so much easier.
- A clear deadline. Open ended discussions are the worst. The tool should make it easy for meeting participants to know when we are done.
- A great chat interface. Most of the meeting will be conducted over chat so chat needs to integrate fluently with the tool.
- A great way of summarizing conclusions as the meeting evolves. When participants come back to the meeting they should be able to catch up to the conversation with a glance.
We have build our own meeting tool based on best practices to support all of the above or you see our list of the best tools for async meetings.
2. Start with a win
Start with a small decision meeting as async meetings are great for making more thoughtful decisions.
Also start with team members that like to think before they speak and would therefore like to think before they speak up.
And take a bit extra time for introducing everybody to the new process - eg link to this article as an introduction.
3. Practice makes perfect
Once some of your team are comfortable with async meetings, you can more freely start using them.
Remember that the goal is not to go 100% async but using this technique where it is superior.
We hope you get many more great meetings by bringing async meetings in to your leadership skill set.
We hope this will help you and yor team to have better meetings overall.
Both sync and async meetings have their use-cases and a good leader should a full set of tools to apply to the situation.
If you want to learn even more then we have collected all our best insights for having great meetings here.