Meetings are the fuel that powers organizations. They're crucial for high performance in teams, they're a great way to disseminate information, exchange ideas, and solve problems, and they help keep teams aligned.
The problem is, with the average employee attending 62 meetings a month—32% of which are a complete waste of time—they're not always necessary.
Especially when you factor in the financial and human cost.
Now while we're not saying you need to do away with meetings altogether, perhaps you do need to do away with ineffective meetings.
By replacing them with something else.
Something like asynchronous meetings.
In this article, we'll explain what asynchronous meetings are, provide some examples of meetings that can be replaced with asynchronous communications, and share practical tips on how you can make them work for you.
What are asynchronous meetings?
We should start by saying that the term asynchronous meetings is actually a misnomer, because async meetings aren't meetings at all.
They don't happen in real time, and they don't require an immediate response. They're really just communications.
Here's the thing—asynchronous communications need to be taken just as seriously as regular, synchronous meetings.
They still need the organizer to limit the number of participants. They still need a goal, a purpose, and an agenda. The only thing they don't need is for the participants to be present at the same time.
Benefits of asynchronous meetings
Let's look at the advantages of replacing synchronous meetings with asynchronous communications.
- Supports distributed and remote teams
The upside of having a distributed team is that you have access to global talent. The downside, however, is having to coordinate meetings or calls at a time that suits all team members. Something that becomes all the more challenging when the team is dispersed across different time zones.
One of the biggest advantages of using async communication is that it doesn't require participants to be present at the same time.
- Encourages greater flexibility
Async meetings support flexible working for the simple reason that they don't require participants to be present on a set day, or at a set time. By using an alternative to meetings, your team members can fit their work schedule around their lives, rather than the other way round.
- Reduces ineffective meetings
In addition to being a huge drain on the productivity and wellbeing of your employees, ineffective meetings cost organizations millions in wasted hours and revenue annually. In fact, you can use this meeting cost calculator to see just how much these meetings are costing your organization.
- Keeps all parties informed
Async communications give all participants access to a record of what has been said, by who, and the decisions that have been made. This is particularly beneficial for remote teams that might miss something during a video call.
- Encourages equal contribution
Async meetings naturally play to the strengths of the less vocal team members. They don’t have to compete to have their voices heard, nor do they have to wait their turn to be called upon to speak. They can respond without being interrupted.
- Ensures better responses
Another benefit of using asynchronous meetings is that they don't require participants to respond immediately. Meaning that attendees can mull over the agenda and contents, and provide a better, more insightful response than they may otherwise deliver when required to respond straight away.
- Ensures better decision making
When team members are afforded more time for critical thinking, it encourages employees to be thoughtful. Participants can take time to structure their ideas, rather than making snap decisions.
- Supports deep work
Deep work requires focus for an extended period of time. One of the caveats of getting into the flow of deep work is no interruptions. Async meetings respect this by allowing employees to focus on their work, while communicating with team mates at a time that suits them.
Maciek Kubiak, Head of People at PhotoAiD, talked to us about the benefits they've experienced since using a combination of both sync and async meetings.
"Replacing some team meetings (but not all) with other forms of asynchronous communications can lead to multiple advantages. Why only some? Because, in my opinion, a positive and productive work environment must include both synchronous and asynchronous communication—a balance between the two forms.
Slack is a valuable resource for communicating and collaborating, especially when you create specific channels where individuals can discuss projects or tasks. It enables teams to be more productive, instead of hopping from one meeting to the next.
Another tool we use is Airtable, and I can't imagine working without it. This project management tool ensures that every team member is on the same page. You can assign tasks, track progress, add links to other documents such as Google Docs, and leave comments. Regardless of what time you're working, you can easily collaborate, even asynchronously".
Sync vs Async
Replacing certain synchronous meetings with asynchronous communications can be a game changer for many organizations.
The question, however, is when should you be using sync meetings and when should you be using async meetings?
The honest answer is that it depends on multiple factors, such as the personalities of the people in your teams, and the type of work they're doing. That said, we have found that different types of meetings do naturally lend themselves better to one or the other.
Best meeting types for sync meetings
- One to ones
- Team kick off or planning
- Performance reviews
- All-hands meetings
- Strategic planning
- Team building
- Team review
Best meeting types for async meetings
- Team stand ups
- One to ones: asking for feedback, stop/start/carry on
- Goal setting sessions
- Project kickoffs
- Goal progress review
Asynchronous communication examples
Asynchronous communication can often allow for better, more productive communications. But what does it look like in practice?
Below, have we listed several examples of asynchronous meetings:
One of the most familiar forms of async communications you might recognise is email. After all, when you send an email you don’t expect the recipient to reply immediately, like you would in an in-person meeting, or on a phone call.
In fact, how many times have you actually sat in a meeting and though "this could've been shared in an email"?
- Communication platforms
Communication platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams can also be used as alternatives to meetings.
While both are often used to communicate in real-time, employees don't necessarily need to respond straight away. Just as with email, they can take the time to craft an appropriate response.
But that's not the only reason they support async communications.
With integrations with apps such as Geekbot, you can even automate standups, enabling teams to stay informed with what everyone is working on, without the need for an actual meeting.
- Project management tools
Project management platforms, such as Asana, Trello and Notion, also support asynchronous communications by enabling team members to document processes, transfer ownership of projects, and collaborate.
- Google docs
Google Docs are also great for collaboration, with teams able to share documents and make comments, without needing a meeting to discuss.
- Async video messaging
Video messaging software, such as Loom, is becoming increasingly used as a way to replace synchronous meetings.
In fact, it's even being used as a way to replace long emails or messages, with users able to record themselves or their screen, and quickly send the video to their colleagues.
What's more, some managers are even recording meetings for their teams to watch at their own convenience. This was the case for Matt Marshall, from Coffee Witness.
"I recently decided to replace synchronous team meetings with asynchronous communications. I decided on this for the particular reason that it enables my employees to have more freedom with their time.
Asynchronous meetings can be recorded and replayed, making it easy for everyone to understand and grasp the topics being discussed in the meeting. So far, shifting from synchronous to asynchronous meetings has done wonders for my employees' mental health and productivity".
How to make asynchronous communication work for you
It's all well and good talking about the benefits of asynchronous meetings, but how can your managers make it work for their teams?
1. Decide which meetings are fit for purpose
Before anything else, it's important that your managers are working with their teams to decide which meetings are making the best use of everyone's time.
Those that aren't?
They should consider replacing them with async meetings, or scrapping them altogether.
Question is, how should they go about assessing the effectiveness of their current meetings? In short, with this meeting optimization exercise.
2. Determine a meeting cadence
Once your managers have decided which meetings should be synchronous and which should be asynchronous, they will then need to choose the right meeting cadence for their team.
In other words, the frequency in which they get together for recurring meetings.
This could be either daily (although we'd advise against this), weekly, monthly, or even quarterly.
3. Request feedback from specific people
Teams shouldn't wait until they've finished a task before asking for feedback from their peers.
Instead, they should be making use of asynchronous communications tools to gain it at the moments they need it most. This may be part way through a project or task.
4. Make time to read the comments
Async meetings are about improving meeting ineffectiveness, but if teams don’t take them seriously, they will become a nuisance and another drain on everyone’s time.
If teams haven’t got time to hold in-person sync meetings, team members need to set time aside to read the comments from the async meeting.
It might take an hour to get through all the comments, but it will take less time to review all the comments than it would to set up and hold synchronous meetings.
5. Make it easy
If you want people to communicate asynchronously, make it easy for them. Managers need to know which channels people prefer to communicate through, rather than forcing them to use a medium they aren’t comfortable with.
How Saberr can help with both synchronous and asynchronous meetings
Meetings play an important role in many organizations, but they can also make or break a culture.
At Saberr, we've developed a combination of experiences that help teams—and the managers that lead these teams—reduce the time being spent in ineffective meetings, while improving the quality of those they deem necessary.
In fact, we not only help teams optimize their meeting cadence, but we also help them establish meeting ground rules—supporting improvements in psychological safety—while further helping managers bring structure to these meetings and have meaningful conversations.
Finally, we use nudges to prompt all parties to contribute to the digital agenda ahead of time, which ensures that the meetings are fully inclusive and that all team members have a voice.
To learn more about how we can support your managers in running better meetings, get in touch with us here.