With the possible exception of a bomb threat, no work email requires your immediate attention. Not in the literal, dictionary-defined sense of the word “immediate”, anyway. Almost everything can wait minutes, hours, even days before you engage with and respond to it, if you even need to respond to it at all. There are hardly any instances where a worker really needs to leap into action at the sound of an incoming email, rushing to reply within thirty or so seconds. Doing so is rarely addressing a real business need and is almost always performative, a nod to some perceived professional dynamic or redundant immediacy fetish. As such, it’s a colossal waste of time.
In fact, the average office worker is estimated to spend around four hours every week playing notification ping-pong, replying to incoming messages that could and should be addressed later. For decades, office communication was based on the immediacy of face-to-face interactions - meetings, formal and informal - but that hasn’t translated particularly well into the information age, where workers communicate predominantly (and increasingly) by digital means.
‘Asynchronous’ as a solution
But there’s a solution. Asynchronous communication is a way of sharing information without interrupting the critical path, and without relying on two or more individuals to synchronise either chronologically or geographically. Rebecca can transmit information on Tuesday afternoon from her flat in Hong Kong, and it can be received by Pranav in the office near Old Street on Friday morning - when he needs it, and not before. It’s not a radical principle, but its implementation can be, with many enterprises keen to cling on to outmoded, synchronous ways of working.
That said, you’ve probably already experienced glimmers of asynchronicity in the workplace. Remember those hour-long “town hall” meetings that were recorded and made available to watch later? That was a tacit acknowledgement that forcing large numbers of people together at a set time and place was wasteful. And you know those shared spreadsheets, which several people or teams contribute to? Used correctly, that can be a powerful form of asynchronous communication too.
But while asynchronous communication can enhance efficiency when introduced to a slow-moving conventional workplace, there’s a new and growing segment of industry built almost entirely on the concept. Many millions of self-employed freelancers or contractors around the world exist in the asynchronous business environment, potentially in a different time zone or on a different continent to their clients. And as organisations of all sizes begin to adapt to new ways of working, it is asynchronous communication that will drive the most exciting changes.