August 22, 2023
Author: Kathryn Boudreau. Based in Bogotá, Colombia, Kathryn is the operations and project manager for Spread Great Ideas and CallerSmart, two completely remote companies with team members located in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Kathryn loves that she has the opportunity to lead a diverse global team and the ability to work on a wide range of projects!
Kathryn has a wide range of experience in telecommunications, teaching, recruiting, software development, project management, remote team management, and architecting cloud-based workplaces. She loves traveling, sci-fi novels, and hiking with her two dogs. She’s been featured on USA Today, Build Remote, and the Advertising Specialty Institute, among others.
It’s 9 am on a Monday. Half your team is just finishing breakfast while the other half are about to eat dinner. Maybe someday we’ll all work on Mars time, but for now, this is the struggle of leading a remote team scattered across time zones.
Sometimes it can feel nearly impossible to connect. Having worked remotely for the last eight years and managing distributed teams, I know the struggle a little too well. I work as a remote operations manager for two digital companies, Spread Great Ideas and CallerSmart. Both have teams in extremely different time zones, some with an 11-hour time difference. Communication is something that we’ve had to work on and rework to fit our team dynamics.
If only there was a magical form of communication that was instant, personal, flexible, thoughtful, and easy to access from anywhere. Unfortunately, there isn’t. The truth is, perfect communication is a myth. But by getting intentional about balancing synchronous and asynchronous communication, your remote team can thrive.
Let’s talk more about these buzzwords. Synchronous communication is when we communicate in real-time, together. A video conference call where you read facial expressions and hear voices is synchronous. On the other hand, asynchronous communication doesn’t require us to be present at the same time. Email is the classic example, but even chat apps allow asynchronous back-and-forth on our own schedule.
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Hopping on a Zoom call can lead to quick collaboration, decisive problem-solving, and forming human connections. But scheduling synchronous communication with a distributed team can be a pain. There’s also less space for deep work.
Asynchronous channels give us the gift of flexibility. Team members can post questions when it’s convenient for them and respond thoughtfully when they have time. No more playing timezone Tetris. However, asynchronous communication tends to be lower bandwidth. Nuance gets lost in translation without the tone of voice and body language.
The sweet spot is finding a hybrid mix.Building in some regular synchronous points of interaction while also utilizing asynchronous channels. I know, because I’ve made the mistake of only relying on asynchronous communication in the past and things slowly begin to fall apart.You need to have regular face-to-face interaction with your team in order to make sure that initiatives continue to progress and most importantly to make sure your team is happy.
Here are three ways to find the right cadence:
What tools should you equip your team with to make this work? At minimum, have a simple video conferencing platform like Zoom or Google Meet. Add on instant messaging like Slack for quick questions. Email and cloud-based docs enable asynchronous editing and feedback. More visual tools like Miro or Mural allow whiteboarding when remote.
With the rise of hybrid and remote work, asynchronous communication should be your default. But thoughtfully sprinkling in synchronous time together yields the best of both worlds. The next time you’re struggling to connect with a remote teammate, take a step back. Are you leaning too heavily on one mode? What’s the right ratio for your team? Get that right, and you’ll be on your way to remote work bliss.