Should Your Meeting Be an Email? 7 Questions to Answer Before You Add It to Your Calendar

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May 24, 2024 at 10:39PM UTC

Unfortunately, we’ve all probably logged off a Zoom meeting or left a meeting room and thought, I really wish that could have been an email. Even if it was only a quick sync, meetings that could have been an email can easily throw off your workday. They can mess with your flow, distract you from more important tasks at hand or even cost your team precious time and money.

Whether we’re fighting Zoom fatigue or just trying to clear up our calendars for more flexibility and productivity, taking a second, critical look at our meetings is a good place to start. 

If we’ve had the same meetings forever, or if we’re worried about trying to appear active and engaged at work, or we feel a need to connect, it can be hard to understand what meetings actually need to go. Here are seven questions to ask yourself so you can truly discern what meetings should stay — and what should be in your inbox instead.

1. What’s actually happening during this meeting?

Is this a recurring meeting to discuss progress on a project? Is this a daily check-in? Is this a team brainstorm? Understand what actually gets (or is supposed to get) accomplished during the meeting, then consider whether this could be accomplished both asynchronously and via another platform. The goal isn’t to decide whether it’s easier to get this done in a meeting, but rather if it’s possible to get done without one.

For example, if the goal is to disseminate information, consider whether this could be done by sending the deck or documentation via email. Is the meeting crucial to understanding the information? Is there clarification or context you can provide without a meeting?

2. What kind of answers do I need?

If you’re looking for a one-off answer that doesn’t require much of a conversation or back-and-forth, a meeting probably isn’t the way to go. If you’re looking for an answer to a more complex question, it may be worth syncing via a meeting.

If you’re looking for feedback, consider what stage of the process you’re in and whether a meeting will be helpful to both parties. If the person you’re looking for feedback from hasn’t already seen your work, you both may benefit from reviewing things individually and asynchronously first. If you’re looking for feedback from a group, consider whether bringing everyone together at once will be helpful for generating ideas, or if smaller meetings or no meetings at all can give you the best, most direct feedback. 

3. What kind of updates am I looking for?

Meetings are a great way to get new information, whether it’s for a project you’re working on or a mission-critical update on your team. Yet many meeting updates can be done via email,  especially if they don’t require a specific or immediate action.

If you’re looking for status updates, try reaching out to your colleagues first to get a sense of where they’re at. Only schedule a meeting after the fact if you need to discuss something they’re working on more in-depth to solve a problem or brainstorm.

4. What decision needs to be made?

Hopefully, meetings will end with decisions that change outcomes for stakeholders and lead to next steps — yet not all of those decisions need to be made while you’re on Zoom. Do you need approval? If so, sending via email might be a more efficient way to get things done. Do you need new ideas? If so, what would happen if you asked everyone to share their thoughts right to your inbox? Do you need to check in with a coworker who you think might be dealing with a tight bandwidth or outside stress? If so, are they open and receptive to seeing your face to face, or is sending a quick message more their style?

5. What would happen if you canceled the meeting?

Sometimes, we’re so used to showing up for meetings that we don’t really question what would happen if we just canceled the meeting altogether. Consider what other work, updates or synchronization might need to happen if the meeting was canceled — or, try canceling it for a day/week/month and see how you and your coworkers progress without getting together formally.

6. Does it need to happen right now?

If you’re concerned about the answer to question five, consider if you didn’t cancel the meeting, but instead rescheduled it to a later date. While planning ahead can be helpful, sometimes putting something on the calendar too early or without any urgency can disrupt people’s workflows and means you’ll need to do a lot of catching up later.

7. Am I prepared for this meeting?

Maybe your meeting is nearly perfect: you know you need to get this group of people together, right now, to do X work or make Y decision. Yet if you don’t come prepared for the meeting — meaning there’s no agenda or structure — the meeting won’t be worth it. Every stakeholder should know the meeting expectations and desired outcome before they join the Zoom or walk into the room. This way, your meeting can get done what it needs to get done — and everyone is prepared to do what they need to do once it ends.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for deciding whether a meeting should be an email? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.

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