One of the biggest pushbacks I hear against the hybrid workforce is around communication. Many people — perhaps you are one of them — believe their workplace culture depends on everyone being in the same location at the same time so they can have face-to-face conversations. They saw remote work as a necessary evil during the pandemic. But now they’re ready to get “back to normal” and bring everyone back to the office for standard workdays.
That viewpoint, however, has a fatal flaw: We’re not going “back to normal.” As I’ve written before, the hybrid workforce is here to stay. Any business that doesn’t give employees at least some autonomy over where and when they work is going to lose out on top talent. Given that reality, how does your organization need to update its culture and communication practices to survive and thrive in the world of hybrid work?
Synchronous Communication vs. Asynchronous Communication
The shift from co-located teams to a hybrid workforce also means a shift in the way we communicate.
Before the pandemic, many workplaces relied mainly on synchronous communication. Synchronous communication requires the sender and receiver of a message to be at a set place at the same time for the message to be sent, received and understood. Examples of synchronous communication include:
- Face-to-face conversations
- Telephone calls
- In-person or virtual meetings
- In-person or virtual presentations
During the pandemic, organizations started to use more asynchronous communication. Asynchronous communication allows the sender and a receiver of a message to be anywhere, at any time, and still be able to send, receive and understand the message.
Examples of asynchronous communication include:
- Text messaging
- Intranet messaging
- Recorded messages and presentations
The Benefits of Asynchronous Communication
Of course, asynchronous communication was around even before the pandemic. But with formerly co-located employees now scattered, and even setting their own hours, asynchronous communication came of age. We turned to it out of necessity, but soon began to notice its advantages. You may remember a widely shared New Yorker cartoon from early in the pandemic. In it, a man sits at his computer desk at home, hand to heart. The caption reads: “My God . . . those meetings really could all have been e-mails.
That cartoon hit on a truth. Asynchronous communication can save both time and money. A one-hour meeting with 10 people represents 10 hours of company time. Yet some organizations have such meetings many times per week.
Asynchronous communication frees up people’s time to be more efficient. It allows information to be communicated, completely and thoroughly, without the need for a synchronous meeting with multiple people.
Adapting to Asynchronous Communication
The rise of asynchronous communication doesn’t mean that everyone likes it. In a way, that’s understandable. Our bias toward synchronous communication has been engrained over many years. However, as we’ve discussed before, the shift toward a hybrid workforce requires us to exercise cognitive flexibility. We must figure out how to continue to meet our goals in an ever-changing environment. That means quickly recognizing when our existing approach is no longer working and being open to trying new approaches.
While many of us are coming from cultures that have a bias for synchronous communication, adapting to the hybrid workforce means developing a bias for and becoming more comfortable with asynchronous communication. To be clear, I am not suggesting that asynchronous communication will entirely replace synchronous communication. Future-ready organizations will instead learn to make the best use of both kinds of communication.
To do this, start small. Radical change is temporary. Incremental change becomes permanent. A good first step is considering which synchronous communications can become asynchronous at your organization. Perhaps it’s all those “meetings that could have been emails” for purposes such as information sharing, status updates, FYIs and process documentation.
Beginning at the leadership level, ensure that everyone is onboard and practicing asynchronous communication in the agreed upon areas. Then spread the new communications practices with the people who report directly to the leadership team, and then the next level below them.
Keep in mind that with any change such as this, you will get resistance. As you do, remember that even though it might feel like people are resisting change, they’re actually resisting loss. Those that resist may fear loss of comfort or competence as you shift away from the communication methods they know best. Speak directly to their fear of loss and you will make this transition easier for everyone.
As I continue this series of articles about succeeding in the hybrid workforce, I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note. In my next article, we will discuss collaboration in a hybrid work environment.
Until then, let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!