Async Communication and Work-Life Balance in 2023: Finding Harmony in a Remote World

My guide to async communication

Async Communication and Work-Life Balance in 2023: Finding Harmony in a Remote World
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko / Unsplash

Technology's purpose since the beginning of time has been to increase human productivity, so that we don't need to spend the entire day farming, but have more time to take care of our families, hobbies, etc.

It's been a while since technology has exponentially increased in the world, communication has never been easier, and a lack of useful information is now the result of not being able to filter through information-overloaded channels.

So perhaps it's come a time for us to take a step back and look at where things are headed, and course correct.

Communication is what Differentiates Humans from Other Species

We managed to develop very advanced levels of communication. What really differentiates us from other species is that we were able to develop verbal communication, even if it's not the one we pay the most attention to.

I have read in tons of body language books how only 10% of all human communication is verbal, but I have to confess that I haven't looked at the numbers to see if it's really the case.

In any case, verbal communication has allowed us to talk to philosophers from millennia ago, and read what their thoughts were. It allowed us a first step into translating foreign languages and mass printing religious teachings.

It connects us to the past and to the future, the invention of writing has been the backbone of our civilization.

After writing, images became more common, then with recent innovations, anyone is now able to have an online video/text/image presence with the many social media channels out there (Youtube, Linkedin, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, ...).

But something changed along the way. We used to communicate asynchronously only through books, and probably only with people we had no direct contact with.

Why would you send a text to a coworker that is sitting just beside you?

But then, messenger apps/email was born. Now we had a way to send a bunch of text to someone else and this person was able to read whenever they deemed fit.

From Closed-off Teenagers to Remote Work

We used to look with disdain at those teenagers communicating with each other via text instead of getting off the couch and going to a different room to talk.

But maybe those kids knew something we didn't.

If you have something else going on, but still need to communicate a need/solution to someone else and have them reply to you, async communication manages to sort that out with the least friction. With the least time wasted.

Then we entered the age of remote work, and some companies have worked like this even before the 2020's pandemic.

Where We Got Things Wrong

We have never had this much opportunity to connect with others and chat away. But that comes with a bad side, as with all things in life.

Now we have attention overload and infinite dilemmas of choice. Should you be on this social media? Or maybe that one? Should you open it every day to talk to friends? Some of your close friends are on this social media, and some are on another. What do you do then?

Should work-related issues be discussed 1:1? Or maybe in a slack channel? Or should it be an email?

If it's an email, and all important communications happen in emails, how often should you open the email client(Gmail, Outlook, etc)?

If it's mostly on an instant messaging app, should you leave your notifications on 24/7? Should you set periods of focus on slack? Should you set periods of "unfocus" on slack too?

Should you use Slack/email on your phone or only on your work computer?

A Possible Solution

As per the book Deep Work by Cal Newport, we should have very strict definitions of when it's "deep work, no interruptions whatsoever" time(when you absolutely need 3 to 4 hours completely to yourself with no external input whatsoever) and when it's "shallow work" time (when you answer emails, talk to colleagues about roadblocks on tasks you have to do, etc.).

For those who think they should "be everywhere" on all social media channels/platforms due to FOMO(fear of missing out), I have something that may calm your fears.

Anti-FOMO Social Media Cheat Sheet

For content Creators

The book Content Inc by Joe Pulizzi goes in-depth on how someone can create their own content marketing business (fancy word for being an influencer with followers that pay for your content either directly or indirectly via books, ads, etc).

During the course of the book, he talks about how great content creators (the ones you follow) all became good at ONE channel, and whenever they had to repurpose their content, they paid people to do it for them.

That way they can focus on being the best at what they do instead of being mediocre at a bunch of different social media channels. They leverage the power of other people (either individually or by hiring agencies to handle their content).

For content Consumers

For content consumers(I believe we all are), there is another book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport(yes, him again), where he goes in-depth about how we can have a minimal presence online, only on things that really bring value to our lives.

He poses a challenge where one would cut off all digital communication for 30 days, resist any urges to connect online, and only after the 30 days you can reintroduce the technologies you deem useful (one by one).

Because I know not everyone has the privilege of being offline for the full 30 days (some of us gotta work am I right?), I have two alternatives.

Smaller Digital Detox: You can start with a weekend without your phone, two days for the most addicted is surely a good enough challenge. And you'll see the benefits on Monday morning (calmer mind, less anxiety, etc).

Meditation Retreats: For those that can't stay away from their phone when inside their house with nothing else to do, meditation retreats offer you a structure to follow during the day that keeps you busy and away from your phone.

You can pick shorter retreats (1, 2, 3 days), medium ones (10 days, 15 days), or if you are really into it you can go full on 60 days +. I went to a Vipassana Retreat that lasted 10 days and I feel the effects to this day.

Going Back to Async Communications and Remote Work

Remote work has allowed people to remain productive, following their own "deep work" schedule and keeping other hours free to communicate with others. If you work in a full-on Asynchronous company, that means fewer meetings, more time to get stuff done, and communication occurs on a need basis.

That means you can answer colleagues' questions in the time you are mostly done with your deep work. This means you are leveraging async communication to get the most done without interruptions in your day.

We all know some stuff just gets in the way, so finding a truly asynchronous company is key, that way you can clearly communicate with your boss/tech lead/peers/etc about when you can attend meetings, and when you will not be looking at the company's slack channels, etc.

If you're looking for such a position in a company that respects you and your time, feel free to hit this link and see if there's an opening for a position you want 😉 .

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