How TRIGO uses async(hronous) channels for better productivity

David Wippel

David Wippel

remote

digital business

What makes a productive day? It's likely one where you can focus on your most important tasks without getting distracted by notifications here, emails there, an overflowing inbox, and constant demands for your attention. While communication is vital to all relationships, we could all benefit from the flexibility of being able to respond to messages at our convenience.

With an increasing shift towards remote work, your productivity is going to suffer with only synchronous forms of communication which require immediate responses and everyone participating in real-time. Rather, asynchronous (or async) communication might just be the answer to improved productivity and focus: it's when you're not communicating in real time but rather responding when you have a free slot in your busy calendar.

At TRIGO, we use a combination of async, and synced communication channels to keep project information transparent and prevent it from getting lost. But here's the catch: this only works if you're using the right tools in your tech stack and have established ground rules to keep discussions professional and efficient. Here's how.

Async and synced communication: differences and benefits

Here's an illustration of TRIGO's communications pyramid and how we use a whole stack of comms channels:

TRIGO's communications pyramid

At the bottom of our pyramid are some async comms channels, which we use the most:

  • Discourse: for when we want to discuss topics over a forum, ask questions, and brainstorm.
  • Slack: for when we want to have quick chats, share updates and announcements.
  • Notion: for documenting our projects and decisions.
  • Google Docs: for creating long form content, leaving in-context comments and feedback.
  • Loom: for giving extensive feedback, updates, and sales pitches for clients via video recording.

Working your way upward, you also get an idea of how we use sync comms channels, such as:

  • Discord: for casual coworking and team discussions.
  • Google meets: for 1:1 meetings, standups or discussions on complex topics.
  • In-person meetings: although we're a fully remote company — yup these do still exist such as our quarterly company retreat.

Async communication: respond when you get a chance

Async comms is when organizational communication tools allow people to respond and catch up on their schedule, in their own time, and from anywhere in the world. These channels also help connect people who might not otherwise meet or work together, which keeps operations efficient and smooth in organizations with distributed teams.

We've seen firsthand how async comms channels help teams feel like they don't have to be on call 24/7. This helps your employees enjoy better work/life balance and feel more productive when they do get back on task. Async comms can help you truly relax and enjoy that well deserved vacation or when off-site, because you don't feel the need to check your phone for constant updates from coworkers.

Synced communication: chat or talk at the same time

Synced comms channels require everyone involved to be participating at the same time. You're likely most familiar with this form of communication, such as emails, or meetings over Google Meet. They also come with several benefits:

  • They can help team members feel more connected from the interaction with others or even a wider group — especially if team meetings are well-organized and don't drag on longer than necessary.

  • It's more sensible to use synced channels for sharing information or asking questions that need immediate responses to keep things running smoothly.

Along with synced comms channels, we aim to facilitate and enable async communication within TRIGO. This keeps our processes efficient, our information transparent, and our employees productive and motivated.

Below we'll dive even deeper into how both these channels, async and synced, help us get this done.

TRIGO's async channels

In TRIGO's case, our main async channels of communication are:

When you use these tools in conjunction with each other, you can both keep an eye on what everyone is working on while still allowing yourself time away from the computer. Here are what tasks you can get done with these async channels.

Sharing feedback, status updates, and communicating

At TRIGO, Shortcut helps us project manage, assign and work on our coding tasks, organize internal tasks, and more. But for helping our teams coordinate and communicate with clients even better, Loom is our async communication tool of choice.

Loom is a video-sharing platform that allows teams to easily create and share videos and record video responses with minimal steps. While recording a Loom, you can share screens, give feedback on different tasks and generate a shareable link for others to view the video and record a video response to it or drop some comments.

Here are some ways Loom helps you keep things efficient:

  • It's a great way to share comments on code while maintaining context so that programmers can understand feedback precisely and take action.

  • Loom also helps share company-wide updates and information in a way that employees can view on their own time.

  • It makes it easy to share tailor-made offers as well as project updates for clients so that they know what they're signing up for and what to expect as deliverables and project milestones.

At TRIGO, the chat tool Slack is another great form of communication. You might be wondering how this works — surely this must be a prime example of real-time conversations and updates? True, but whether it's async or sync simply depends on how you use the tool. To keep comms async on Slack, it's just a matter of keeping your notifications off while you're focusing on a task.

Staying coordinated and documenting information

With so many of us working remotely, it's even more important that we centralize project documentation and ensure that the necessary information is available without anyone having to look or ask for it.

At TRIGO, Notion is our project documentation tool of choice to keep clients in the loop. Its features are perfect for keeping track of tasks, projects, deliverables, their status and who's responsible for each. It's also where we use it to plan content and organize a system of content production with our partner agency, Say it right.

You can use Notion to:

  • Keep tasks and statuses visible, which prevents you from having to send a hundred emails per day about status updates.

  • Get an overview of projects and your schedule of deliverables with just a few clicks.

  • Update your colleagues about feedback or changes to tasks.

  • Record meeting minutes and final decisionsof any meeting so that this information is both transparent and accessible.

Discussing, debating, and ideating

Put enough experts in the same room and they're going to discuss — a lot. At TRIGO, we love to discuss deep, complex topics that aren't covered in our tickets or reviews. Here's where Discourse comes in handy for our async communication.

Discourse encourages ideas through public (TRIGO-wide) discussion threads which make this information accessible to everyone. It gives an overview of forum discussions and topics TRIGO teams are covering in-depth, so they can feel encouraged to share ideas and reach decisions more effectively.

We've developed some rules of engagement for TRIGO forums. Some of the most important are:

  • Always think before you post or address something. Describe as precisely as possible what you need, why and by when.

  • Ask yourself: does it make more sense in writing? (for yourself and others)

  • If you open a thread, you are also responsible for it and must actively take care of it, moderate discussions, and keep the conversation professional.

  • Don't expect immediate responses on discussion treads, but do your best to reply within 24 hours if your input has been specifically requested.

Remember that feeling when you get your best ideas hours later in the shower? With an async channel encouraging forum discussions and ideation like these, you can share them even if inspiration strikes you later.

When do async comms channels work best?

Async channels bring a ton of benefits: they're non-intrusive and adapt to your workflow, function as a single source of truth, and encourage engagement on employees' own time. With all these plus points, there are specific situations where async communications channels work best.

It's better to invest in an async communication channel when you want to:

  • Discuss a topic publicly and deep-dive into it through the feedback and input of multiple experts (e.g. discussing new product features or going through feedback on wireframes.)

  • Store all the points discussed and ensure that this information remains transparent and saved securely.

  • Announce team- or company-wide status updates and announcements.

  • Brainstorm, share ideas, or discuss specific tasks.

  • Give and get feedback from a team of fellow pros.

  • Discuss details of ongoing tasks and projects.

  • Problem solve along with your colleagues.

Async communications channels are great for giving employees a bit of breathing space and fostering a deep focus culture. But you can't solely rely on async channels, you need synced comms to ensure your team doesn't feel isolated, keep each other accountable and answer pressing questions.

TRIGO's synced channels

TRIGO's synced channels fall into two groups: in-person and remote. Our quarterly company-wide retreats and conferences are an example of where we collaborate in person and get everyone to participate. On the other hand, our synced remote channels are primarily:

Let's explore what synced channels get done for us at TRIGO and how they can help employees feel more connected and supported as a whole.

Reconnecting with wider company goals (and each other)

TRIGO's quarterly (and of course, real-time) company retreats are where employees can reconnect with each other, share ideas, and feel part of a wider, supportive network. This can create a deeper sense of trust and commitment to company goals and keep them motivated over time.

In-person gatherings like this are also great places to discuss complex topics that aren't so easily shared over discussion threads and forum posts. They're a way of keeping in touch, discussing your long-term vision and mission steps, and feeling an improved sense of teamwork and belonging.

Holding meetings and complex discussions

Synced communication channels such as Discord and Google Meets are great choices for team meetings, 1:1 meetings, and discussions over complex topics. Employees can clarify doubts and discuss feedback immediately, note down tasks, and share their thoughts with their teams on both a group and individual basis.

At TRIGO, we also host ad hoc meetings to discuss complex topics as and when they arise, especially when they need to be taken care of urgently.

When do synced communications channels work best?

Synced communications channels can help your team feel supported and connected with their teams and team leads. They're also a great way to open communication and interaction across departments and teams in the same company.

With these plus points, it's better to use synced communication channels when you want to:

  • Socialize privately in small groups, or on a one-on-one basis.

  • Check in quickly with your colleagues when in person or during a shared meeting.

  • Discuss sensitive topics that might need critical feedback and where it's more helpful to see and hear it being given to you.

  • Discuss urgent topics that might need to be escalated if there is no response on an async communication channel.

  • Address an issue on an emergency basis.

At TRIGO, we've established some rules of engagement for synced communication: the outcomes of such conversations are only valid if someone's documented them. For both our communications channels, participants need to provide the relevant context in all that they discuss and document all their decisions on Notion.

Using async channels for decision-making

From our years of experience developing custom software solutions, we've seen how trying to find the “perfect” outcome isn't the most useful method, especially when debating over async channels. The first step to overcoming this is streamlining your decision-making process.

TRIGO partners and employees are all subject matter experts with different specializations and degrees of experience — it isn't easy getting everyone to agree on everything. To address these challenges, we've developed some rules for engagement that are meant to help us reach decisions faster and keep discussions professional:

  • Only comment when you believe your input to be necessary for making a decision. Else it's better to trust that your colleagues can make the right decision without your input.

  • Aim for solutions that are “good enough” over perfect, and which get you a rough consensus over an absolute one. At TRIGO, we cover complex technical and professional discussions and these can risk taking far too long if we're waiting for everyone to agree on every single decision.

  • Before objecting to a proposed solution, consider whether it can or can't be implemented. Be prepared to explain your reasoning as precisely as possible if you do raise such an objection.

Whatever your choice of channel, communication is key to keeping your processes efficient, information transparent and your employees productive and happy. We've seen this happen for us with a combination of the right digital tools and established ground rules. With these in place, you'll see a tremendous amount of progress in reaching decisions quickly and efficiently, whether over async or synced communications channels.

If you want to find out more about how you can set up your remote team best and make async channels work for you, our CEO David would be happy to make time for a conversation. Book a free consultation with him to get started.

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