If you’ve blinked in the last three years, you’ve probably missed a host of start-up companies releasing the latest edition of their ‘collaborative software’ to the synchronicity-craving enterprise market. The internet is saturated with synchronous collaboration tools – ones that allow for communication in ‘real-time’, like Instant Messengers or shared whiteboards. And yet email solutions are still on the stronger footing – the majority of formal communication – and informal communication, I’ll warrant – still takes place through the trusty text editor.
So do all these new methods of communicating mean that time is up on the faithful email? I don’t think so. There are good bits and bad bits to asynchronous communication – the ‘send it and pick it up later’ approach – and they work best when carefully partnered with their new, shiny brother. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the good, and some of the bad, of asynchronous communication.
You can get it anywhere, anytime. I don’t have to be connected to the internet to collaborate with people. I can read their carefully-crafted emails and rip them apart or enshrine them from the darkest corner of my own personal concrete bunker, should I wish. That’s because the communication doesn’t have to happen there and then. That’s a big drawback for synchronous communication, and it’s a big plus for asynchronicity – going synchronous forces everyone in on the collaboration to go synchronous at the same time. Piping in after the event just doesn’t have the desired effect.
It’s well-established. Your boss is not going to catch the nearest flight to Ludditeville if you send him your design ideas in a nicely-worded email. But he might get the tremors if you suggest you ‘blue-sky something real-time over MindMeister’. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to buzz every word, but there is a real tech disparity between many denizens of the elder generation and the current start-up types. And real-time collaboration is new, scary and not entirely worked out just yet. So it requires a bit of gumption to get in on.
It works on pretty much every web-connected thing. I think my fridge can receive e-mail. Honestly. There’s very little in this world that can’t. And that’s a jewel in asynchronous communication’s crown – right now, it’s just so darn ubiquitous.
Things that need to happen fast can take ages. Worse still, there’s not usually an indication of when you might expect to receive a reply to that urgent red-hot burning email you sent last July. If you need to get things done fast, asynchronous communication is going to stand in your way.
Information overload. I don’t even want to go near my inbox on a Monday morning. From RFPs to ads and back via bills, social messaging and news pieces, it’s a pain to manage. Of course I have a million smart mailboxes that sift through the incoming tide and park it in to different MPV-sized slots. Of course I scrupulously manage my email junk filter. But that just doesn’t stop it getting very busy. And because everything – everything – in email requires one-on-one attention, a lot of my time goes in to clearing a communications backlog that might as well have taken place by the water cooler.
So, not everything about asynchronous communication is great. But it is, for all its shortcomings, tried-and-tested, and guaranteed to work. Eventually. If you put enough exclamation marks in the subject bar.