A guide to running productive asynchronous meetings

/ 10 min read
Kat Boogaard

You start your morning with a team meeting. When that meeting’s done, you have 15 minutes before your next one. You frantically answer a couple of emails, refill your coffee, and hit the bathroom before sitting back down for your next hour-long discussion. You get a half-hour break before you attend a two-hour training…

You see where this is going, don’t you? And unfortunately, it probably sounds like a typical workday.

Yep, we’re all buried under seemingly endless meetings, and it’s having a pretty major and negative impact on our productivity and our stress levels.

That’s led to a growing movement toward a different type of collaborative conversation: asynchronous meetings.

10-second summary

  • An asynchronous (or "async") meeting is a type of meeting that takes place without all participants being present in real-time. Unlike synchronous meetings, which happen in real-time and require all attendees to be present and participate simultaneously, asynchronous meetings allow participants to contribute to the discussion at different times, as per their convenience.
  • Asynchronous meetings occur by posting comments, questions, or feedback on a shared platform such as email, messaging apps, project management tools, or collaborative documents.
  • This allows for more flexibility and ensures that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the discussion and provide their input, without having to be present at the same time.
  • Asynchronous meetings aren't the right format for every type of meeting, but project status updates, goal progress reports, company announcements, or process changes are all topics that can quickly and easily go async.
  • The right tools make all the difference for the success of asynchronous meetings. Project management tools (e.g. Trello), knowledge management apps (e.g. Notion) and form builders (e.g. Paperform) can all help you move from in-person to async.

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What exactly is an asynchronous meeting?

Asynchronous meetings (which you’ll often see abbreviated as async meetings) are meetings that don’t require people to communicate in real-time. Team members don’t need to be signed on simultaneously and can instead contribute when it works for them.

How? There are tons of different asynchronous communication tools that enable this type of back-and-forth. Asynchronous meetings can happen via:

  • Shared Google Docs
  • Collaborative digital whiteboards
  • Email threads
  • Instant message channels
  • Recorded video messages
  • Project management platforms

…or any combination of the above. There’s an ever-growing list of collaboration tools and platforms that can streamline work and communication on remote teams.

In contrast, synchronous meetings are the more “traditional” meetings that likely come to mind. In these meetings, people are actively participating in the conversation all at the same time.

Labels can easily get confused, so remember that asynchronous and synchronous communication refers only to the timing and not the location. Synchronous meetings can still be virtual, with remote employees signing on for Zoom meetings at agreed-upon times.

We’re all overloaded with (broken) meetings

Asynchronous meetings are a departure from the “let’s all come together and discuss this!” real-time meetings many organizations and employees have grown accustomed to. However, it’s a change that’s born out of a real need: We’re all saddled with way, way, way too many meetings.

Recent research indicates that the majority of professionals spend about a third of their entire workweek in meetings. And that time? It’s not even all that productive. Bartleby’s Law states that meetings waste 80% of the time of 80% of the people in attendance.

But these meetings don’t just consume time—they actively take time away from more important tasks and responsibilities. In another study, 65% of senior managers said meetings keep them from completing their actual work. 64% said that meetings come at the expense of deep thinking.

What’s worse is that our meeting overload hasn’t improved, even when teams were abruptly sent home to work remotely at the start of the pandemic. In fact, meetings only ballooned. Research from Microsoft found that the number of meetings had doubled by the end of 2020. It’s only continued to grow since then.

So alas, meetings are more present than ever and we hate them with increasing ferocity. Most of us admit that we’d rather go to the doctor. Or sit in traffic. Or attend jury duty. And honestly, we have plenty of good reasons to feel that way.

The asynchronous meeting has entered the chat

Yes, the complaints about meetings abound—and that makes the humble asynchronous meeting feel like a long-overdue, glimmering flicker of hope.

For companies who aren’t ready to go the Shopify route and wipe meetings off the calendar entirely, the asynchronous meeting feels like a happy medium—a way to support collaboration without sacrificing productivity.

Here are a few of the many benefits of asynchronous meetings that have leaders raising their eyebrows with interest.

Fully embrace flexible work

Employees crave flexibility. Research from McKinsey states that when people have the chance to work flexibly, a whopping 87% of them take advantage of the opportunity.

People want to build work into their lives, not build their lives around their work. But it’s almost impossible to tout flexibility as a benefit if peoples’ calendars are packed to the gills with scheduled commitments and obligations.

More asynchronous work and meetings gives them the breathing room to chip in and participate when it works best for them, their schedule, and their workload.

Accommodate numerous time zones

Similarly to the above, async communication is particularly important for remote and distributed teams. When people work across the globe, it’s increasingly tough to coordinate schedules and pull everybody together for real-time meetings.

Asynchronous meetings avoid those schedule headaches and give the entire team the opportunity to contribute, without having to mesh numerous (and often incompatible) time zones.

Boost productivity and efficiency

Less time in meetings means more time spent doing real, meaningful work. One meta-analysis found that when meetings were reduced by 40%, employee productivity increased by a whopping 70%.

Asynchronous meetings prevent relentless and oftentimes ineffective meetings from monopolizing your employees’ calendars, so they can focus on their more pertinent and pressing responsibilities.

Combat meeting burnout

You don’t need to look far to find common complaints about meetings (“That could’ve easily been an email!” or “That was a colossal waste of time!”).

Most of us are in a constant battle with meeting fatigue, even if meetings are virtual. In 2021, nearly half of workers said they experienced a high degree of exhaustion as a result of numerous video calls every single day. Asynchronous meetings alleviate some of that burden.

Get more diverse perspectives

Not everybody is comfortable jumping into a rapid-fire conversation to offer their two cents. Constantly relying solely on real-time meetings means you could miss out on valuable insights from team members.

Women, as just one example, admit that participating in discussions is their top stressor in meetings. Meeting asynchronously gives people adequate time and space to share their insight and ideas — without the pressure of cutting into an ongoing conversation.

How to run top-notch asynchronous meetings

There’s little doubt that asynchronous meetings can be powerful. But to reap the rewards, you need to run these meetings right. Here are seven steps to host a successful meeting asynchronously.

1. Be selective about your types of meetings

Async communication isn’t necessarily the right approach for every single meeting topic. Things like performance reviews, time-sensitive problems, emotionally-sensitive matters, or any type of conversation that warrants a lot of in-the-moment conversation will be tough to handle correctly asynchronously.

However, project status updates, goal progress reports, company or team announcements, or process changes are all topics that can quickly and easily go async.

Not sure whether you can effectively collaborate on a topic asynchronously? Don’t be afraid to ask for some feedback from your team.

And remember, this doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. Maybe you’ll decide that you’ll keep one of your team meetings every single month as a real-time conversation, but move all the others to an asynchronous meeting format. You have the freedom to create a mix that works well for you.

2. Choose the right tools

From instant messages to shared documents to forms that you can use to quickly gather feedback and opinions, there are so many asynchronous methods you could use. And choosing the right ones will help you plan a much smoother and more intuitive meeting.

There’s no right choice here—and some communication tools might work great for certain types of meetings while other meetings warrant different types of collaboration tools. Stay flexible and experiment to find the right fits. Here are a few async tools that are well worth checking out:

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3. Lay some basic ground rules

Regardless of what methods you use, there are certain norms and expectations that will apply across all of your asynchronous meetings.

For example, does everybody have to participate so you can confirm attendance? Or should they only contribute if they have something to add? Should they use comments or edit directly? Are emojis okay to indicate approval or agreement? Or are you prioritizing text-based meetings?

There are tons of nuances that you and your team will need to work out. You can establish some of these conventions upfront and keep them somewhere accessible so people can refer back to them.

But keep in mind that you’ll learn more about the meeting guidelines that work best for your team as you move through more async meetings together — so your list of ground rules can continue to evolve.

4. Standardize what you can

One of the lofty promises of asynchronous meetings is that they’ll save precious time — so you don’t want to waste minutes or hours starting from scratch.

Particularly for recurring meetings, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Maybe you’ll create a shared template for your weekly team meeting where people fill in assigned sections. Or perhaps you’ll break that meeting into a form with questions that people answer individually.

Keep an eye out for different places where you can set up some resources and starting points that you can use to save time and improve consistency.

5. Be specific with your async requests

Asynchronous meetings feel just as unproductive as “regular” meetings if there’s little to no clarity about what’s supposed to happen.

While you probably have a meeting agenda for all of your real-time conversations, that may or may not be the right fit for your async meetings — that depends on your topic and your channel of communication.

However, agenda or no agenda, people still need to understand what you’re trying to accomplish and how they’re expected to contribute. For any async meeting, make sure you explicitly state:

  • What you need people to do
  • How they need to do it
  • When they need to do it by

Let’s look at a quick example of a non-specific async request compared with a specific one:

"Hey, team! Here’s our collaborative space where you should drop your notes, changes, and other feedback about this first iteration of our blog redesign. Please leave all of your comments directly on the mockup by the end of the day on Friday.""Hey, team! Please share your thoughts on this."

See the difference? When it comes to asynchronous collaboration, clarity and specificity carry a lot of weight.

6. Set up a “parking lot” for topics

Asynchronous meetings are all about boosting flexibility, productivity, and efficiency — they’re not about making people feel like you want to forego a human connection at all costs.

Things will still come up in your async conversations that are better hashed out in a live, real-time discussion. You don’t want to lose track of those.

Create a “parking lot” for you and your team. This is a shared document or space where you can all jot down notes, topics, and tidbits to follow up on in your next live conversation. It helps ensure that nothing slips through the digital cracks and helps you better blend async into your team’s approach.

7. Know when meetings need to end

Much like traditional meetings, your asynchronous meetings need a firm end. Otherwise, you run the risk of making people feel like they’re constantly part of a meeting with relentless Slack pings, endless document notifications, and ever-growing email threads.

Your async meetings need a clear goal and a set deadline. When they’re done? The meeting is over. Wrap up the email thread, close the Slack channel, or do whatever you need to do to officially “cap off” that meeting topic.

Put simply, you don’t want your asynchronous meetings to turn into monsters that refuse to die.

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It’s time to end the meeting whack-a-mole

It feels like we don’t run meetings anymore — they run us. They consume our energy. They sabotage our focus. They eat up space on our calendar like a tirelessly greedy Pac-Man.

While real-time meetings certainly still have a time and place in our workdays, asynchronous meetings are alternatives that can provide some much-needed freedom and flexibility.

Try moving one (or even a few!) of your meetings to an asynchronous format and give yourself and your team more space to focus on what matters most: your actual work.

About the author
Kat Boogaard
Paperform Contributor
Kat is a freelance writer focused on our working world. When she’s not at her computer, you’ll find her spending time with her family—which includes two adorable sons and two rebellious rescue mutts.

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