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Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Communication: What to Use When

Trying to choose between synchronous vs. asynchronous communication? Read for a full look at their pros, cons and which is best for what.
Abel Grunfeld
Head of Marketing
Last Updated:
March 11, 2024
Reviewed by
Ortal Hadad

We’ve come a long way from a time when talking to your co-worker meant visiting their office or calling them on the phone. In 2024, we almost have more types of communication than we know what to do with—which is both a blessing and a curse.

Synchronous forms of communication are best for cultivating team creativity and getting answers quickly. Asynchronous communication methods reduce wasted time, improve productivity, and give your team greater flexibility. But it’s important to know the benefits and drawbacks of both so you can more effectively choose when to use each communication type.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about synchronous vs. asynchronous communication, including the most common examples of each and how to implement both in your workplace.

What is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication?

The word “synchronous” comes from the Greek word synchronos, which combines syn (“together” or “along with”) and chronos (“time”). This root is also where we get the word “synchronize,” as in “Synchronize your watches!” or “They’re really in sync!”

So synchronous communication is happening at the same time. You and your conversation partner are in sync with each other—there are no delays or wait times. All participants are conversing in real-time, whether it be in person or over a video call, phone, or chat app.

Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, is communication that doesn’t happen in real time. One person might send you an email, which you see and read a few hours later. You can each write a reply on your own schedule.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at each communication type, its advantages and disadvantages, and when it should be used.

Synchronous communication explained

Synchronous communication most often happens in person, but it can take place even when the conversation participants aren’t in the same place. Any communication method where all participants are receiving and responding to messages in real time qualifies.

For example, a few common types of synchronous communication include:

  • Phone calls
  • Video calls
  • In-person meetings
  • Watercooler chats
  • Real-time conversations in Slack

Advantages of synchronous communication

The benefits of using synchronous communication include:

  • Immediate interaction:Because synchronous communication happens without delay, it’s a great method for solving problems that need immediate attention.
  • Team rapport: In-person meetings and voice calls can help develop team rapport and generate more creativity since everyone builds on each other’s ideas in real time.
  • Increased efficiency:  By interacting in real-time you can get information you need from co-workers without having to wait on responses. This can get you to finish tasks faster and with more efficiency.
  • Feels more natural: If you’re after authentically human conversations like an interview then talking in real-time will feel a lot more natural. You can directly see communicative cues and respond to them genuinely.

Disadvantages of synchronous communication

However, synchronous communication has its downsides:

  • Schedules need to match: Every conversation participant needs to be in the same place (or at least on the same schedule for remote calls).
  • Less time to prepare responses: And since the conversation is happening in real time, there’s no chance to do research or find answers before responding to a question.
  • Voices may get cut out: If a lot of people are on the same call, it might be harder for everyone to have the time and space to contribute to the conversation.

When should you use synchronous communication?

It’s best to use synchronous methods of communication when you need an immediate response. For example, you might call a team meeting about time-sensitive projects or call a co-worker with a question about a report due the same day.

It’s also a good idea to use synchronous communication to develop team relationships and cohesion. If your team works remotely, you might decide to schedule regular synchronous meetings for ideation or co-working.

This also applies to more human-focused interactions. For example if you’re recording an interview video you’ll likely want the conversation to flow more naturally.

Asynchronous communication explained

Asynchronous communication is the opposite of synchronous communication. Two or more people are communicating without needing to be present at the exact same time. No matter how the messages are relayed—via phone, chat, email, video, or cloud collaboration platform—the sender doesn’t expect an immediate response.

There are many ways to communicate asynchronously. Some of the most common types of asynchronous communication include:

  • Text message
  • Slack or other IM
  • Comments on a Google Doc
  • Email thread
  • Comments in a project management tool
  • Video message using an online video recorder
  • Online forums
  • Social media posts and comments

Advantages of asynchronous communication

While there are many advantages to communicating synchronously, asynchronous communication provides more flexibility. Some of the main advantages of asynchronous communication include:

  • Flexibility: There’s no expectation of responding immediately or having an answer off the top of your head—instead, when you receive an email or comment, you can reply when it’s convenient for you.
  • Boosts productivity: Team members aren’t constantly being interrupted with questions or comments, which helps improve focus. Then when you’re ready to take a break from deep work, you can check your Slack or email messages and respond accordingly.
  • Fosters international communication: Asynchronous communication lets each participant work at their own pace wherever they are in the world. It enables team members to communicate effectively across time zones.

Disadvantages of asynchronous communication

However, there are also downsides to communicating asynchronously:

  • Slower communication: By definition, conversations move at a slower pace. You may have to wait for responses, delaying you from completing certain tasks or projects.
  • Less natural communication: You also lose the natural team creativity and bonding of an in-person brainstorming session. People tend to feel less connected, which is why it’s not a good idea to only use asynchronous methods in your workplace.

When should you use asynchronous communication?

It’s a good idea to use asynchronous communication for matters that aren’t time-sensitive. Anything that doesn’t require an urgent response can probably be communicated over email or Slack instead of scheduling a meeting.

You can also use asynchronous messaging to collaborate across time zones, coordinate busy schedules, or when it’s important to document a conversation in writing for later reference.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous communication: How to choose which is best

The best teams function with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication. You shouldn’t only use one or the other.

But when do you know which type of communication is best? Let’s look at six factors to help you decide.

1. Who are you talking to—and where are they?

First, think about the recipient of your message. You’ll want to tailor your choice of synchronous vs. asynchronous message based on what would be most convenient to them.

Check their calendar. Are they busy right now? You don’t want to interrupt someone in the middle of a deep work session, a meeting, or their time off.

Also, what time zone are they in? If there’s a six-hour time difference between you, it might be best to shoot them an email or Slack message that they can answer during their work hours, not yours.

2. Is it urgent?

Next, consider how quickly you need a response to your question or request. If it’s a time-sensitive matter, you should probably go for a synchronous method of communication like a phone call, video conference, or in-person meeting.

But if your question or comment can wait, it’s probably best to send it asynchronously so the recipient can answer it when it’s convenient for them.

3. How much creativity is required?

Is this something that could benefit from a synchronous brainstorming session? Are you hoping to bounce ideas off of each other in real-time? In that case, go for a meeting or video call.

4. Could this meeting be an email?

“This meeting could’ve been an email” is a clichéd phrase for a reason. The average employee spends 33% of their week in meetings—which wastes valuable focus time.

Before scheduling a call or in-person meeting to discuss a request, project, or policy change, ask yourself: could I put this content into an asynchronous format instead? In many cases, the answer is probably yes.

5. Do you need a paper trail?

Sometimes, it’s essential to keep clear records of conversations. You may want to document who took responsibility for which task, or you just may want to reference a written record of important decisions and plans. If the communication in question would benefit from being written down, you might want to use asynchronous methods like email or team chat.

6. Would it be easier for everyone to contribute on their own time?

If your team creates audio or video content, it used to be true that you must all be present—synchronously—to record that content together.

But these days, there are many async recording tools that let you contribute your portion whenever it’s most convenient for you. For instance, Riverside’s async recording feature lets you invite guests to record answers to your interview questions—or their portion of your planned content—on their own time. That way, you won’t waste time waiting for everyone to join your studio. Everyone can record in high quality, with clear instructions and an integrated teleprompter at their own convenience. Riverside makes it possible to record customer testimonials, guest interviews, and webinar presentations asynchronously.

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FAQs on Synchronous vs Asynchronous communication

Is text messaging synchronous or asynchronous?

Text messages can be read and replied to minutes or hours (or for some of us, days) after the fact. That means that for the most part, text messaging is an asynchronous form of communication. The exception would be when holding a text conversation in real-time, meaning each participant reads and responds immediately.

Which is an example of synchronous communication?

The most common types of synchronous communication include in-person conversations, phone calls, or video chats. Any communication that takes place in real-time—without any delays between responses—is considered synchronous.

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