Make the most of async meetings: 5 tips and tricks
September 21, 2023
Maybe you’ve only just heard about async meetings. Or maybe you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while now and consider yourself something of an async expert. Regardless, no one can deny that async work is having its moment. And no wonder. According to at least one recent study, workers are attending 62 meetings a month — half of which they consider a waste.
Who has the time for that?
Async meetings, on the other hand, promise a more effective way to collaborate and get work done. Since the team isn’t meeting at the same time in a specific location, async meetings work well for remote teams and hybrid work models.
But they can also come with their own particular challenges. So in this post, we’re going to delve into async meetings, both the good and the bad, then look at how to make them work for you.
What is an asynchronous meeting?
Asynchronous meetings (or async meetings) are a way of communicating, sharing information, and collaborating without having to meet in real-time. Instead, participants contribute to the discussion and tasks at their convenience, within a specific timeframe. This makes it possible for them to work across different geographies, time zones, and busy schedules. For those who may not feel comfortable speaking up in a crowded room, asynchronous work can also be more inclusive.
Although it may have a fancy name and a good amount of recent buzz, the concept itself isn't new. Any time you’ve sent an email to someone or made edits to a shared document, you’ve worked asynchronously.
Synchronous vs. asynchronous meetings: What's the difference?
The most notable difference between more traditional, synchronous meetings and their async counterparts is when they take place: Synchronous meetings require everyone to meet at the same time, whereas async meetings don't. But let’s look closer at some other important differences:
Synchronous meetings happen in real-time, requiring all participants to be present simultaneously.
They're typically scheduled at a specific time and require participants to join either in person or via a video conferencing tool like Zoom.
Immediate feedback and responses are expected.
Synchronous meetings can be challenging for globally distributed teams due to time-zone differences.
Async meetings don't require participants to be present at the same time.
Asynchronous communication and collaboration often take place through tools like email, project management software, or shared documents.
Participants can respond and contribute at their convenience.
Async meetings promote flexibility and minimize scheduling conflicts.
Pros and cons of async meetings
Async meetings can be a wonderful alternative to traditional meeting formats (especially in hybrid work arrangements). But they can also come with a few negatives. To give you a full picture of what to expect, here are some common pros and cons of the async format:
Pros of asynchronous meetings
Flexibility: Without a set time to meet, async work allows people to make contributions on their own time. This means you don’t have to worry about accommodating busy schedules or cutting off a productive conversation just so the next meeting can begin.
Inclusivity: With no need for real-time work, anyone can join when they want. That makes it easier to include people, regardless of time zone. Plus, it doesn’t matter if you’re neurodiverse, extroverted, introverted, or maybe just shy — async work gives everyone an equal voice.
Documentation: Because it typically involves participants making edits or comments to a shared document or space, async meetings come built-in with a way to document and track progress. Everyone has a single space where they can check on the work, get updates, and see the decisions that have been made.
More time: Unlike regular meetings, async work can take place over multiple days or even weeks. This gives everyone much more time to consider their responses and how they want to contribute, giving more space for creativity and thoughtful work.
Cons of asynchronous meetings
Takes longer: What you gain in flexibility, you may lose in responsiveness. Due to their very nature, async meetings mean you’ll have to wait longer to get feedback, make decisions, and move work forward. For this reason, they may not be the best solution for rapid problem-solving.
Communication challenges: Misunderstandings can happen anytime, but much more can go wrong when they’re allowed to linger for a longer time. Without the benefit of real-time feedback, this may happen more often than not with async work.
Loss of spontaneity: Whether it’s because of chemistry or just the energy of being in the same room, in-person debates and discussions can lead to some surprising and rewarding ideas. Without this, async meetings may lack some of the same creativity.
More follow up: With longer timeframes and no face-to-face, it can sometimes be harder getting people to carry out the tasks assigned to them during an async session. This will require more work on your end to make sure everyone stays on task.
Which meetings should be asynchronous?
Deciding on whether your team should meet or collaborate asynchronously should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Async meetings have their place, but team leaders should still strive to use in-person meetings for building connection, getting feedback, or interacting face-to-face.
You might use an async approach for daily stand-ups or quick status updates, while you might schedule a dedicated meeting for a one-on-one or company all-hands meetings.
Now that you’ve decided to move a meeting to async, where do you go from here?
First, make sure everyone who is going to be involved knows how async team meetings work. Start with some ground rules. Tell them they’ll be able to contribute at their own pace, then make your expectations clear for what those contributions should look like. For instance, if you’re doing an async brainstorming session, would you like each person to contribute a certain number of ideas? Or, if you’re editing a document, do they need to focus on a specific section?
Next, figure out the ideal tool for your async meeting. Obviously, this will depend on the kind of work you’re doing. If you’d like something resembling an ongoing conversation, then a chat app like Slack might be a good option. Or, if you need each person to record asynchronous videos, a screen recording app like Loom may be useful. Mural is also a great option for collaborating, brainstorming, and coordinating work efficiently.
Once you’ve got the right tools and have everyone on board, you can pretty much proceed the same way you would any other meeting. Define a meeting agenda with action items; set a deadline for when you’d like everyone to have their contributions submitted; send out any essential reading or preparation; and dive in.
5 tips for making the most of your async meeting
Still feeling a little unsure about where to begin? If you want to make the most of your next async working session, here are five essential tips to keep in mind.
1. Make sure working async will suffice
Nothing will put your async work to a stop like realizing that this should have been knocked out in a 30-minute in-person session. That’s why, before doing anything, you should consider whether async really is the right format. To do that, try asking yourself the following questions:
Do you need an immediate response or have to make a decision soon? Or can you afford to gather input over a long timeframe?
Does a real-time conversation need to take place? Or is this something that can be done through a collaborative platform?
Is it easy to bring everyone together? Or are there different time zones or schedules to accommodate?
How to decide which meetings can be run asynchronously
While async meetings can be a great way to give your teams more time in the day, not all meetings should be asynchronous. Try using Mural’s async meeting calculator template to take stock of team meetings, identify which should stay on the calendar, and which meetings could be async.
2. Provide any necessary context
To make your async meeting as frictionless as possible, make certain everyone has all of the information they need before they do any work. As you invite people, send out relevant documents, background information, and any preliminary ideas or thoughts. This won't only help provide clarity and more effective collaboration, but it'll also help each participant understand the purpose and scope of the discussion so that they come prepared.
3. Define clear objectives and deadlines
Just because you have a longer period to collect ideas doesn’t mean you can afford to waste any time. That’s why you need to be explicit about what you want to accomplish during this async session.
Start by outlining the objectives of the meeting, then setting a specific deadline for everyone to get in their contributions and responses. This way, everyone will know what their responsibilities are and will be sure to get them in on time.
4. Make sure team members understand expectations
Even if everyone knows what you want the meeting to accomplish, they may still not understand what you want them to do. Clear this up by communicating clearly and directly what everyone’s roles and responsibilities are for the meeting.
If possible, it can be helpful to include step-by-step instructions in an email or alongside the whiteboard to guide participants along the way. And, whenever you can, encourage everyone to ask questions as needed.
5. Follow up on any action items from the async meeting
Once everyone’s made their contributions and the deadline has passed, you’ll hopefully have a list of decisions made and action items to follow up on. Keep the momentum going by quickly going through these and ensuring everyone knows what needs to be done. If you’re editing a document or using a tool your team can go back to for reference, consider making notes inside of it to track progress, set reminders, and hold team members accountable for their commitments.
Harness the power of effective asynchronous meetings
Resist the impulse to schedule yet another ordinary meeting. Instead, by considering what you and your team can do asynchronously, you can increase the amount of collaboration at your company while showing everyone the respect of not wasting their time. All it takes to get out of unproductive meetings is a little extra consideration and the right collaboration tools.
David is a contributing writer at Mural, focused on covering collaboration, meetings, and teamwork. He's been working in the hybrid tech space for over 10 years and has been writing about it nearly as long. When he's not doing that, he's probably cooking up a meal.