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  • Writer's pictureShan Rammah, PE

“This Meeting Could Have Been a (video) Email”

How to have less meetings with asynchronous communication.

The scope of airport projects today is so much more than many of us could have imagined even a decade ago. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, airports across the nation were facing capacity challenges due to unprecedented growth. Now as passenger air travel is returning to pre-pandemic levels, there is still an estimated $43.6 billion backlog of airport modernization and safety projects in the United States.

Developing effective airport infrastructure solutions is a difficult undertaking. As a result, successful project delivery requires teams to partner with specialists across state lines and time zones. In my previous role as a project manager at a large firm, I was responsible not just for project delivery, but also for forming and managing teams. A common challenge I frequently ran into was that collaborating with outside organizations isn’t easy.

This Meeting Couldn’t Have Been an Email

In the last 3 years, the landscape of airport development has rapidly changed. Adoption of virtual collaboration tools, cloud storage, and video conferencing have permanently altered the capabilities of remote workers and solidified the presence of geographically dispersed teams. As a result, companies are collaborating more than ever.

In most cases, the perennial office joke ‘this meeting could have been an email’ just doesn’t hold anymore.

Visual and graphic representations speed understanding which allows for online meetings to better communicate pertinent details better than lengthy emails can. Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings are becoming the new standard because they help answer questions that text based communication just can’t.

Tired of Teams™

The problem, which most of us have experienced, is that we’re being scheduled in back-to-back meetings, and ‘putting half an hour on someone’s calendar’ is being normalized. Zoom-fatigue develops from excessive amounts of eye gaze at a close distance, consciously monitoring nonverbal behavior, and constraints on physical mobility. Additionally, teams are experiencing a time suck from many angles:

  • Multiple emails are sometimes necessary to coordinate schedules

  • We lose time waiting days or weeks for questions to get answered in meetings

  • Social niceties take a lot of time – even though I truly do hope you had a good morning/ enjoyed your weekend/ took advantage of the lovely weather

Is there a Techy Buzzword that Can Help?

When I started my own firm, effective collaboration with outside organizations was one of the core issues I wanted to tackle in developing my company’s workflow. From researching how other industries tackle remote collaboration, I learned about the adoption of “asynchronous-first” communication by the tech industry. But what is asynchronous communication?

Asynchronous communication is when people can communicate without the requirement that they be “present” at the same time; people can consume, process, and respond on their own time, like an old-fashioned letter. It doesn’t require scheduling or coordinating.
Synchronous communication, in contrast, is real-time communication when people are talking or exchanging messages at the same time. It requires that people ‘synch’ up for a set period of time. People’s schedules have to align and overlap for synchronous communication to work.

In airport projects most communication is real-time, synchronous communication, which is ideal for developing solutions that require large stakeholder groups to collaborate. But there's a disadvantage to synchronous communication: too much of it and your calendar is a wall of meetings with no bandwidth to get ‘deep work’ done. Since February 2020, the average Teams user saw a 252% increase in their weekly meeting time.

Finally, The Future (For Now)

The asynchronous-first communication approach involves defaulting to asynchronous communication, but also finding the right balance with synchronous communication. Here at Rammah Design, we use asynchronous video messaging as our primary form of communication instead of sending long emails or scheduling meetings just to have a complicated question answered. By defaulting to asynchronous video messages as our primary form of communication we are able to:

  • Say “Here’s all of the context you need to know to answer my question. Get back to me in your own time.”

  • Collaborate with partners in a different time zone

  • Explain a complex concept in a way that people can go back and reference later

  • Mitigates the challenges of scheduling and coordinating meetings

  • Give you 30 minutes back in your day because we don’t’ need to jump on a call

Asynchronous video messages allow us to communicate more clearly and avoid unnecessary back-and-forths. Below is an example of how we use this at Rammah Design.

Safe Travels

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