The future is asynchronous

Accounting

My two previous articles discussed the power of brief video summaries that you can send to clients after finalizing their tax returns. Clients love the summary videos and they’re not hard to produce. While producing video sounds cool, we’re really talking about “asynchronous communication.” That’s when two or more people communicate with each other without having to be present at the exact same moment in time.

Asynchronous communication is very helpful in a remote workforce, especially for important messages that don’t require an immediate response. More often than not, you need to give the recipient sufficient time to think, ponder or just plain read what you sent them before they respond.

The majority of knowledge workers are in an asynchronous environment today. They’re doing their job when and where they decide to work, not on a 9-to-5 office schedule. It’s less likely that they are anticipating a live two-way (synchronous) communication with co-workers. Tools like email, Slack and Microsoft Teams have greatly improved our asynchronous communication capabilities. But even with those advances, you can run into bottlenecks and misunderstandings.

Your clients and team members are busy. When they send you a question via email or voicemail, they expect you to respond in a reasonable amount of time — not instantaneously, but promptly. By using video, you can communicate an awful lot with your face (i.e., building trust), a screen (showing clients something) and your voiceover walking them through a concept or an issue. That’s why video is one of the most effective forms of asynchronous communication.

In today’s remote work environment, you can’t expect to pop into someone’s office unannounced and ask them a question. We all miss that spontaneous form of “synchronous” (real-time) conversation, but it’s just not an option right now. That’s why you must be very clear about things that require an immediate response and things that can allow for some careful thought and consideration.

Research from Toister Performance Solutions found more than 70 percent of people expected a response from coworkers within four hours. The same is true with clients. A client may send you an email (i.e., asynchronous communication). That doesn’t mean you can take a leisurely four days to respond. But by the same token, you don’t have to drop everything and respond instantaneously. So, what’s appropriate?

Here’s a rule of thumb that may work for you:

  • Respond by noon if you received the email (or other asynchronous communication) in the morning.
  • Respond by the end of the day if you received the email in the afternoon.

You need to establish expectations from day one. If you don’t, then clients or team members can get impatient waiting for you to respond ASAP to a message you thought you’d have time to review on your own timeframe. Without time boundaries in an asynchronous world, it can start to feel like people are pinging you all day long and there’s no time left to get your real billable work done.

To avoid this situation, set up carefully defined windows during the day when you’re committed to responding to email and other asynchronous communication — anddon’t respond at any other times of day.

By “time boxing” your asynchronous communication, you can be very deliberate about going through your inbox at the appropriate times of day — but not being a slave to it. You’ll find you can address each and every communication in your queue with one of two options:

1. Dealing with it; or
2. Delegating it.

You’ll find this approach very empowering.

When can asynchronous communication fail?

The challenge comes when people try to turn asynchronous communication into synchronous communication — i.e., an endless chain of emails and follow-up calls — or the dreaded phone message: “Did you get my email?” Ughhh!

Make it clear to clients and your team that you will respond to morning messages by noon, to afternoon messages by the end of the day, and to evening messages by the following morning. That way no one’s impatiently waiting and no one is feeling snubbed.

Being intentional about your asynchronous communication is not just for your own sanity — it’s for the sanity of the senders. It allows them to send you a question or message without worrying about it going into a black hole. They can get on with their day and have the peace of mind knowing that you will be responding to their inquiry within a few hours. This allows you to “batch process” emails at the given time of day and to focus your efforts on your most important work.

Some wear multitasking as a badge of honor, but smart CPAs know mono-tasking makes you better and more efficient. See my recent article, “Take control of your calendar this busy season.”

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