It’s time to upgrade your meetings: Meet asynchronous communication

The socially distanced year of 2020 has unveiled workplace truths and obstacles in endless ways. We’ve ditched the office, discovered new meanings of “work/life balance,” and adjusted business in the time of great uncertainty.
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Even as teams adjust to remote collaboration in The Year of Zoom, we’re quickly tiring from video call fatigue. It’s clear that face-to-face communication has its strengths over long email chains or Slack conversations—yet we lose steam after a couple hours of video conferencing. In search of a better way, we looked at the research. 

Enter: asynchronous meetings.

What are asynchronous meetings?

A favorite of Uplevel advisor and world meeting expert Steven Rogelberg, PhD, “asynchronous meetings” balance collaborative teamwork with intervals of individual working time. This alternating cycle of shared and solo productivity empowers teams to get the most out of brainstorming and deep focus.

In a typical meeting, everyone is working together at once, or synchronously. This requires everyone to be in the same place at the same time, and we typically hit a productivity limit at about two hours. At a certain point, people start daydreaming, multitasking, or (ideally) become ready to move from theory to action. 

Conversely, asynchronous meetings allow for collaboration without requiring everyone to be together at the same time. They begin by stating a shared goal or outcome—say, to create a solution to a specific problem—and spark a group discussion. At a set time—say, after 30 minutes—the team breaks for individual working time. After another set amount of time, the team comes back together to discuss ideas and progress. Repeat the cycle as many times as needed.


What are the benefits of asynchronous meetings?

Creating opportunities for group discussion and quiet time allows people to contribute however they feel comfortable, and allows time to ruminate on potential pros and cons. Some team members might feel overshadowed in big meetings, but empowered during Deep Work. Others might have a lot to say on Zoom, but dive deeper into the details on their own. This achieves the best of both worlds, as they say, leading the team to smarter solutions.

Technically, we already rely on other examples of asynchronous communication, like Slack messages, JIRA ticket comments, and emails. We’re used to digital conversations that are interspersed with meetings, lunch breaks, and (these days) time with the kids. Asynchronous meetings, however, harness that stop-and-start for a purpose.


Which tasks or meetings work best with asynchronous communication? 

Some meetings require real-time collaboration, like weekly one-on-ones. Others are prime candidates for an innovative format like asynchronous communication. We find that this works best for projects with multiple stakeholders, teams working on comprehensive documents, and brainstorming new ideas.


Scenario 1: Collaboration on a shared document. 

Whether you’re creating a style guide or a master campaign doc, it can be complicated for multiple people to update simultaneously. Cloud-based drives make it possible, of course, but that doesn’t mean that we love sitting around a (virtual) conference table while watching each other type.

Try blocking three hours to focus on that document. Kick off the meeting by discussing the purpose of the doc and what you hope to achieve by the end of the day. Clarify roles, responsibilities, and the timeline. Then let everybody split off, whether in small groups or individually, to work in a more focused setting. At a predetermined time, have everyone sign back onto video and share updates. Divide and reconnect one more time, wrapping up with a team conclusion (and a more robust document).


Scenario 2: New feature and product brainstorming.

In the old days, we’d order lunch and set up in front of a whiteboard for a brainstorming free-for-all. Today, we work asynchronously to amplify each other’s ideas and meditate on our own. 

At Uplevel, we gather the team for a Zoom meeting, setting the stage for whatever we’re creating. What is the goal we’re trying to achieve with new features? Who is the audience? Then, we divide into smaller groups, leveraging the Zoom breakout rooms. Each small group leverages digital brainstorming tools, like Miro, for sticky note exercises and instant votes. After an hour or two, we come back together to share each group’s progress.


Scenario 3: Starting from scratch.

Kicking off a new assignment can feel ambiguous. With a project brief in hand, the goal may seem straightforward, but once we return to our desks, we often uncover questions and information gaps.

Next time, try staggering the kickoff meeting. Gather the working team together to discuss the basic premise, then encourage people to take 30 minutes to read the materials, take notes, and write down questions. When the team reconnects, everyone has a fresh perspective that can drive more productive conversations. You could even provide a JotForm or Slack channel to collect those questions, giving moderators time to write or source thoughtful answers before getting back on-camera.


How can remote teams get the most out of asynchronous communication?

Meetings aside, asynchronous communication can help teams share information without the pressure of real-time responses. 

We find that it’s an especially effective way to encourage honest feedback. Even the most respectful group session can raise awkwardness in sharing “areas of improvement,” while a private message can support honesty. Post a question or online form with relevant prompts, allowing the answers to come in when team members are ready to share.

For a post-mortem of your biggest launch, try a multi-part approach: host a group meeting, share a follow-up form based on the themes raised in the meeting, and then come back together for a session geared toward smoother sailing in the future. This broadens the scope of reflection and might better cement the takeaways for next time.

To actively live by this principle, we’ve officially incorporated an asynchronous window into our Uplevel calendars. Every day, we have a block from 12-1:30pm—no meetings, no deadlines, no pressure to respond to messages. This gives everyone time for Deep Work or a midday break, after which we reconnect in collaborative settings.

However you find balance between synchronous and asynchronous work, you’ll quickly discover the power of this working style. We’d love to hear your trials, errors, and success stories: tag us on social media @uplevelteam.