Productivity

Synchronous Communication: What is It & How to Use it in a Remote Workplace

This article discusses synchronous communication for remote work to help build relationships for your remote team.

Introduction

With remote work being the new norm (and no sign of it going away), it’s time to make it more productive and effective. 

One way is to explore and implement what we call synchronous communication.

Definition of synchronous communication

Synchronous communication is real-time communication. And when we think of that, we usually think of face-to-face. 

In the age of remote work, this type of communication is mostly lacking. Although work-from-home has a number of benefits, we still rely on synchronous communication to build a virtual team.

Asynchronous, or async, work is a helpful tool to have in your arsenal. (Who doesn’t love sending a fun GIF in Slack?!) But you need a balance of both to keep colleagues in the loop and help everyone feel like part of the team.

Benefits of synchronous communication in workplaces

As you can imagine, synchronous communication has many benefits. Speaking face-to-face can create strong dynamics within a team and allow for quick problem-solving. You feel like real people having a fluid conversation with real-time contact. 

Here’s a list of some of these great benefits.

Brainstorming

When working with a remote team and not communicating face-to-face, it can be hard to brainstorm. Synchronous communication allows for fuller and more effective brainstorming.

When we communicate in the same space we can get immediate responses and a chance to build on other people’s ideas. 

The other benefit of talking in real-time with a remote team via Skype or Zoom is that you can read everyone’s facial expressions to see how your ideas are landing with others.  

Because brainstorming is such a critical step in developing and eventually executing new ideas, synchronous communication allows for the in-the-moment process. 

Plus, it’s exciting and way more fun to play with other people and come up with new ideas.

Team Building

It’s difficult to build a team when each member is miles — and in some cases, hundreds of miles — away. 

If people can’t interact with or even get to know each other, it’s hard to build any kind of relationship.

These interactions don’t have to fit within the regular 9-5. In-office or hybrid environments often have team happy hours or the chance to grab lunch together. 

Building a team is crucial for having honest communication and team members that are willing to take risks with their ideas. You have to build a trusting community, and the best way to do that is by giving team members a stake in one another. 

Having your team communicate in real-time can help to show their personalities and establish roles in your group. It’s crucial in building your team.

Crisis communication

A crisis is bound to occur. Likely you won’t have time for back-and-forth messages. When a crisis occurs, it’s crucial to be in a productive brainstorming or solution space. 

Synchronous communication enables you to work collaboratively to solve the problem… now. 

Getting your remote team together can help you delegate issues and get the solution in motion. Async communication might lead to a prolonged crisis.

One-to-one sessions

Imagine having a one-on-one through email. Not very effective. Check-ins between two teammates give them the chance to connect and walk through work together.

You get the chance to speak more frankly, answer questions and talk about strengths and weaknesses. 

Discussions like that require having a personal, face-to-face interaction. It would be rude and detached to try and discuss those things through an email or in passing through a message.

Remote onboarding

There’s a lot of stress that can come with getting hired. A lot of new information, forms to sign and new faces. It can be scary and intimidating, which is why proper communication is crucial.

It is, after all, the first true interaction that you will have as a new employee, and how you begin your new job is a sign of how it will go in the long run. 

To begin a person’s journey in your team in a detached and impersonal way sets the stage for a fragile and weak working foundation.

Synchronous & asynchronous communication

Where synchronous communication is planned and face-to-face, asynchronous communication is the opposite. 

Both of these obviously have their advantages, in fact, asynchronous communication can benefit a team as well. Any kind of spontaneous conversation can have its benefits, especially in creating stress-free interactions.

Asynchronous communication can occur over time. It tends to be more drawn out and can span over a longer time period. It’s not contained within the hour or pinned to an agenda. 

Examples of synchronous communication

  • In-person meetings - The clearest example of synchronous communication is an in-person meeting. These meetings are planned and happen with all participants in the room. Meeting tools like live polling and Q&A platforms can help create an inclusive meeting wherever attendees may be.
  • Phone calls - A phone call is generally a one-on-one interaction and can be planned. This is an opportunity to discuss something quickly without the need for a particular venue, but it’s still beneficial. 
  • Video conferencing - Video conferencing is the new in-person — usually done in applications like Skype or Zoom. You can also have a meeting with some team members in one room and remote team members on a video call.
  • Live webinars or classes - In order to keep your team up to date and stay fresh on certain topics, live webinars and classes are very beneficial. Choosing the best webinar software to host your webinars will help you to better engage with your team and meet your objectives.
  • Instant messaging - Instant messaging is a great communication tool for quick and immediately needed information. As a planned communication, it can also be beneficial for a quick chat. Most of the time, this method of communication is asynchronous, allowing people time to think and respond.
  • Voice over internet protocol - A VoIP phone service is essentially a phone call but through an internet server.
  • Water-cooler chats - These conversations take place during a break or random stop during the day. This type of communication is great for team building. It’s spontaneous and allows team members to chat about their feelings or ideas surrounding a certain work topic. It also allows them an opportunity to engage in a more personal conversation to help form relationships. 

Best practices of synchronous communication for remote teams

Synchronous communication might sound like it’s only an in-person game, but there are so many ways to create a social and collaborative atmosphere for your remote team. 

Plan ahead

With remote work and remote teams, everyone operates on their own schedule. People are potentially sharing a space with family or roommates. It can be difficult to organize meetings or one-on-one sessions with no warning.

In order to ensure a productive meeting or conversation, you have to plan ahead. Make sure that everyone is on the same page with when you’re meeting and what you’ll discuss. 

It’s also important to remain organized so you can stay on track during the meeting and give everyone the information and material they need.

Make meetings efficient

Don’t you just love crossing items off of your list? A good agenda keeps your meetings organized, standardized and efficient. 

It’s very easy to derail a conversation and wind up talking for hours on end. It can be draining and disruptive to the workflow if you don’t properly facilitate your meeting 

Also, there is only so much you can get done in one meeting before people lose focus. The issue with remote work, as we’ve discovered, is that it can wear on individuals. That’s why it’s also important to set and respect boundaries.

Set and respect boundaries

Expecting too much from your employees can break your team — especially when it comes to remote work. Remember that you’re working with different time zones and circumstances. 

Plan and organize your communications so that you don’t overload your team members. This way they get the information they need in a concise and manageable way. 

Information overload and boundary crossing are quick ways to wear down your employee, sending them on a direct path to burnout. Establish your expectations clearly and give your employees the training materials to support whatever needs to be done. And then… let them be! 

Remember to ask yourself, what do I expect from my team? What do they expect from me? How much time is reasonable to expect from them when it comes to meetings? 

Don’t be afraid to ask for honest feedback. Anonymous surveys are an excellent way to get to the heart of any issues and make decisions for the better. 

Choose the right tools

When it comes to ensuring the best kind of synchronous communication for your team, you need the right tools. This is true for video calls, voice-over-internet protocols, phone calls, instant messenger… you name it. 

It can be really easy to overload your team with different tools to download, overburdening their computers and making it very confusing.

Do your best to keep all communication tools simple, concise and limited. Use a tool that the majority are familiar with or is easy to learn and operate for remote work. Make sure your tools easily integrate with one another and give you the chance to work flexibly across apps. 

Tools like Scribe make it easier than ever to train across a remote landscape. Have you ever shared your screen to walk someone through a process or answered a quick question via Slack? Scribe is a step-by-step guide generator that documents any process for you. Turn your workflows into visual SOPs that you can edit and share in seconds. 

Here’s a Scribe that took less than a minute to make.

Keep different time zones in mind

Your remote team may be spread out throughout the country — or even the world. One person’s end-of-day might very well be another’s early morning. 

Remote work means no one is limited to the tri-state area. Not everyone is working in the same time zone you’re in, so it’s crucial to respect that.

Ask yourself:

  • Are meetings the best/only way to communicate?
  • Is there a way to meet in the middle on some days? 
  • Can you schedule quarterly on-site sessions where you fly in members of the team?  
  • How else can we maintain synchronous communications? 

These are factors to consider when planning meetings or discussions.

Engage your team in activities

Team morale keeps everyone connected, even when they’re working on separate projects. 

Engage your team in some fun activities. You can open up communication and play between your team members to raise their spirits. Relationships can be built a lot easier when you allow the team to interact without the stress or struggle of work expectations. 

This is especially helpful in a remote work situation since it gives team members get many opportunities to see or interact with each other. 

Build rapport

One great practice for synchronous communication is building rapport. Create real relationships and a common language between team members.

The common language is really important, especially in a work setting. You want everyone to be able to communicate their deas in a way that others understand. 

Building this kind of rapport allows for a more comfortable environment for ideas and brainstorming to occur. 

FAQs

Waiting for a “TLDR”? Here are some quick answers to the most important questions on synchronous communication. 

What are the features of synchronous communication?

This is communication between at least two people in real time.

What are the disadvantages of synchronous communication?

The main disadvantage is that you have to find and delegate time for this type of communication, which can interrupt workflow or delay certain jobs.

What is the future of remote communication?

Since remote work has become more common technology is beginning to meet up with the demands, and we will see the emergence of more reliable and user-friendly tools and ensure better remote communication. Take advantage of tools like Scribe to document and share processes in a matter of seconds — strengthening your virtual team members, anywhere. 

Conclusion: Synchronous communication is the key to virtual success

When it comes to synchronous versus asynchronous communication, both have their benefits, but synchronous communication is a crucial piece that may be slipping through the cracks of the modern workplace. 

Take advantage of these best practices and tools like Scribe to strengthen your real-time communication and build a stronger, happier team.