What is this “Asynch comm” we always talk about?

Post by Diane Müller, Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) and
Ashley Argüello, Digital Marketing Manager at Railnova
June 22, 2022

I’m sure you’ve heard of asynchronous communication, or as we call it, async comm! Ever since Covid hit, it seems like “async comm” keeps coming up one way or another. For Railnova, it’s a key differentiator. Async comm has helped define what we like to call “the Railnova way”.

But first, what is async comm?

What defines asynchronous communication is that it happens “out of synchronisation”. It’s the opposite of “real-time” communication. But to understand asynchronicity, let’s first look at its opposite: synchronicity.

Synchronous communication happens, for example, in a face-to-face conversation. In an office, this would look like a phone call or a meeting. In essence, it happens every time we get an immediate answer.

What is the most exciting thing about asynchronous communication, you might ask?  Well, it makes sure everyone is on the same page for one.

No one is waiting for an immediate answer that will not come. It also helps shorten those long, boring meetings. (But don’t tell anyone we said their meetings were boring!)

During the lockdown, more and more people started working from home. This is when async communication came into the limelight! New, efficient, and reliable communication processes became necessary to continue functioning.

At Railnova, we had already moved to async in 2016. When the pandemic hit, we already had tools and processes in place. We also had a structure for information flow in place too. This made the transition much smoother!

Why does async comm work?

In the wise words of Paul Watzlawick, “one cannot not communicate”. So we might as well make sure that we communicate in the most efficient way possible. Efficiency is key for the Railnova way!

Knowing whether you can expect an answer right away is very helpful. This can help you plan according to your needs and your teammates’ availability.

In short, organisation is more effortless and thus, productivity increases while stress decreases. No more running around after information!

Everyone has the opportunity to catch up on their correspondence in their own time and at their own pace.

Asynchronous communication comes in many forms, and you might already be using most!  Email exchanges, forum comments, and corporate intranet networks are some examples. There exist also collaborative tools such as Basecamp, Atlassian, Friday, Slack or Twist. You can read this article to see what different types of tools are out there and what is best for you: https://nohq.co/blog/a-look-at-async-communication-tools/.

How does async comm work?

Once the appropriate and most helpful tools are chosen, transparent processes must be set up.  

Among the many tools available to enable async comm, Railnova chose Basecamp. You can take a closer look at the tool here: link.

The tool allows us to keep track of everything in a centralised and organised place.

A screenshot of Basecamp, the asynch comm tool that we use at Railnova

At Railnova, written communication is at the base of every workflow.  The Railnova way is to make decisions in writing and not in meetings.

This allows everyone to take part in the process. So it will be more than just those who are present or speak the loudest that will be heard.  In turn, this allows us to encourage working remotely.

All information needs to be written down so that everyone can have access to it. People sitting next to each other, or the guy sitting in his home office on the other side of Europe!

Finally, what is async comm’s most important sine qua non? Trust. Trust goes both ways and needs to be ever-present between sender and receiver. Managers and Team Leads trust their team to give them the necessary information. The team also trust their managers. We understand that clarity and an active information flux are essential.   

This also leads to transparency. All critical information is available and presented upfront, there is no secrecy. All exchanges are traceable. The Decision-making process and dynamics can be read and understood in 6, 12 or 24 months.

Yes, this requires more preparation. But you save time and energy on the presentation aspect. 

We also need to understand that there is a time and place for synchronous communication. It all depends on what you need, how urgent it is, and what the desired outcome is.  

Real-time communication

Asynchronous communication

  • Communication requires all team members to be present simultaneously in meetings and video calls or to respond quickly to work chats or emails.
  • Everyone is tied to more or less the same work schedule.
  • Prioritises speed of collaboration.
  • Communication happens in writing or prerecorded video, with team members catching up and responding on their schedules.
  • Everyone can work when it works best for them.
  • Prioritises focus and flexibility.

Benefits of async comm

Asynchronous communication has so many benefits! We have seen and experienced them first-hand at Railnova. 

Cédric Menassa, long-time Railnovian explains the benefits of asynch comm and why it was necessary for Railnova to make the switch. His quote: What is async comm’s most obvious benefit? Why flexibility, of course! Instead of being stuck in endless meetings, you chose when to answer. Team members can find a balance between all different aspects of their lives.

This also means more autonomy and agency in the workplace. But it also makes communication more thoughtful. You chose how to answer. A bonus is having more time to reflect and respond.

Communication is more honest, thorough, and insightful. Mainly because there is more time to think about your answers. As a direct result, documentation is usually better, and processes are more transparent!  

Async comm also allows for uninterrupted focus time whenever we need it. That is why written answers in our selection process are so important for us! Without this skill, integrating Railnova is nearly impossible.

But wait, there’s more! We have also seen an increase in productivity. Async comm allows us to focus on more meaningful and important work. Our mind is free from immediately answering an email or chat. We can focus on using our energy more creatively.   

Async comm is one of the many reasons why Railnovians are so satisfied and happy! 

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