5 Effective Ways To Tell if a Meeting Should Be an Email

Tired of wasting time in unproductive meetings? Here's when to send an email instead.

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When you hear the word meeting, what adjectives come to mind? Productive, informative, and efficient? Or wasteful and inconvenient?

If it's the latter, you're not alone. Many organizations, especially professional services, rely on meetings to bring together and align teams. But while they have a place in the business world, they aren't the be-all, end-all for collaboration. You probably agree that a lot of meetings could easily be an email instead. (In fact, that's exactly how 32% of workers feel after a team meeting).

Here's how to tell if a meeting is worth holding—or if it's better suited as an email instead.

Why meetings shouldn't be the default

More teams are working remotely than ever before. As a direct result, half of teams working in agencies are holding more meetings than ever.

Despite the rise in meetings, they're not helping teams perform any better. Two-thirds of teams are working overtime, while another 59% can barely work two hours without interruption.

Goodbye, deep work and productivity. 👋

This reality is due to poor workplace culture, where last-minute meetings and so-called "URGENT" emails from the boss are the norm. This eats away at your team's time, leading to tight deadlines, lower quality work, and poor communication.

The key is finding better ways to communicate with your team asynchronously. This can include email, Slack, and other tools designed for remote team communication. Async communication tools help improve efficiency and can:

  • Act as a reference point for the future, which prevents misunderstandings and overlooked details.
  • Allow teams to gather their thoughts before replying or asking follow-up questions, which improves your team's written communication skills.
  • Reduce time spent in meetings, leaving more time for deep work.
  • Include all co-workers who need the information without engagement, which is like having a summary of the outcomes without wasting time.

5 signs a meeting could be an email instead

Fewer meetings mean more time to work on other things. But how do you know when a meeting should be held or when it's better off as an email? Let's look at five ways to tell that a meeting is not worth the time.

1. There's no agenda

A staff meeting without an agenda is a disaster waiting to happen. The quickest way to write off a meeting is to determine if one exists. “If you can’t define an agenda beforehand, then the meeting shouldn’t happen,” says Jeremy Mack, the former Head of Engineering at Postlight. In fact, the entire Postlight agency backs this mindset. It hosts a meeting about meetings to reduce them. “All in favor of canceling this meeting, say ‘aye.’” Pretty clever.

But let's rewind a bit. Why should agendas indicate whether a meeting sees the light of day? Because meetings with a plan are usually outcome-driven and, therefore, more productive. Winging meetings and hoping attendees offer great ideas isn't logical. You need a strategy to guide the focus and move discussions toward a targeted outcome.

Since meeting agendas are shared, it helps your team prepare questions and ideas in advance. And it prevents your team from becoming one of the 44% who walks away from meetings feeling unclear about action items. No wonder U.S. professionals rated meetings as the #1 office productivity killer.

2. You're giving a status update

Keeping everyone in the loop is excellent leadership. But does it require everyone to sync up to hear your status update? Or is it possible to share the same update with everyone via email or Slack? Often, status updates fall into the latter category.

If you're soliciting your team for status updates, do it asynchronously. Send an email blast to your team asking for an update and watch the replies trickle in. Then, send follow-up questions or details about outstanding action items. Not only will you have a permanent, always referenceable log for status updates on a project, but you will get the answers you need without a 15-minute meeting that pulls you away from actually making progress.

With a resource management tool like Float, your team can set a status to let everyone know when they are out of the office, working remotely, traveling, and more. It's a great way for team members to keep everyone in the loop without disrupting anyone's workflow. Your team can also sync their status in Float with Slack (using the notifications app) for even greater visibility across applications.

3. You're providing feedback

Many teams love getting feedback from management. It shows you care about their progression in the organization. And it empowers them to improve in their roles. But why save this moment for a meeting (even if it's one-on-one)? Feedback meetings are often unnecessarily disruptive. You're stealing 30 minutes of a person's day to communicate information that could easily be shared in an email.

Instead, include enough constructive details in the email, so there's no need for back and forth. For instance, if a project needs revisions, detail what improvements to make and why. Offer examples if it helps communicate your requests.

4. It's a routine meeting

Monday meetings are common in the corporate world. The idea is to start the week off with everyone caught up and aligned on the week's tasks. Unfortunately, it's just another time suck eating away at productivity for many teams. Conducting a meeting to keep a routine is like forcing a round peg into a square hole.

The alternative? Move regular meetings to asynchronous methods like email, Slack, or another shared channel. This isn't to rule out regular meetings entirely. When used correctly, meetings can be a great way to build trust and rapport with your team. Here's how to schedule them without hurting productivity:

⏰ Schedule a one-time one-on-one call with each team member for 30 minutes
☎️ Offer the choice to either do a bi-weekly 30-minute or monthly 60-minute call
🙌 Book meetings at the start or end of someone's day
📞 Provide time options, so it's convenient for the team

One thing to note, though, is that regular meetings are a means to better collaboration. They’re not the goal themselves. This is why teams need to constantly re-evaluate the benefit of a meeting — and there’s no shame in canceling it when appropriate. For example, during Float’s Remote Roadshow week, our marketing team canceled the regular weekly 1:1s to focus on company updates. Our Director of Marketing Siobhan Hayes explains:

"Our quarterly Remote Roadshow is an opportunity for our team to connect across departments, however, it's also a total of 3 hours of async presentations to stream. If I can give my team half an hour back by canceling a meet that week, then I should!"

5. You're information telling

Upcoming events. New policy changes. Plans for building renovations. You can share these details through a personal email—no need for a team Zoom call to hear you discuss company news.

Remember, meetings are most productive when it requires involvement from those on the call. If it resembles a class lecture, record a Loom video and share it on Slack instead.

When does a meeting need to happen?

Throwing a meeting on your team's Google Calendar is wickedly easy. That doesn't mean it's a good idea. Here are some ways to know if it makes sense to schedule a meeting with your colleagues.

You have a focused agenda

We drilled in on the importance of having a meeting agenda. But just because you have a plan doesn't mean it's sufficient to request a meeting.

When creating a meeting agenda, focus on how everyone will collaboratively update and discuss topics. Each item on the agenda should consist of activities that require synchronous communication—for example, discussing a proposed strategy or debating milestones for a project.

When you share the plan with your team, they should know exactly what to expect in the meeting. It keeps everyone on the same page and ensures discussions don't veer off track (bid farewell to unproductive meetings!).

For example, at Float, we use a discussion document in Notion where we add async updates and discussion topics as the agenda for meetings. Our Senior Product Marketer Jess Thompson says:

“The async update section covers all the status stuff that threatens to turn meetings into monologues. That way, discussion topics are reserved for meaningful conversations that drive action or improvement.

Having this agenda ensures focus so every meeting is collaborative and outcome-oriented.”

It's for team camaraderie

If you're a remote team, you probably don't see your co-workers face to face very often. And that's perfectly fine. But remote life can get pretty lonely, so some managers use meetings for team camaraderie.

These gatherings are non-work-related and designed purely to get to know each other and hang out, similar to how office workers meet at the water cooler. Using meetings this way is great for async teams to stay connected and build trust.

You need fast decision making

A deadline is looming, and you need to gather insights from everyone to make it happen. Call a meeting, but clearly state what's being covered inside your agenda. You're already cutting into your team's work time to host the meeting.

With a detailed agenda, you ensure everyone comes prepared, so the meeting runs smoothly.

Bonus tips for hosting fewer meetings (and writing more emails)

Zoom fatigue is a real type of burnout. The last thing you need is to bog your team down with more unnecessary virtual calls. Follow these bonus tips if you're committed to hosting fewer meetings and giving your team some of their precious time back.

Inspire a cancel culture for meetings

Sounds harsh, but inspiring a cancel culture for meetings is necessary if you want everyone on board with minimizing unproductive catch-ups. Get your team and other stakeholders involved in proactively using emails over meetings. Otherwise, it won't work long-term.

One option is to create a policy outlining the criteria for calling a meeting—such as those with a strict agenda. Swap it with asynchronous communication, such as email or Slack, if it doesn't meet the essential meeting checkbox.

We’ve already mentioned how teams should feel free to cancel a meeting when it makes sense (like we did with the Roadshows). Siobhan Hayes suggests going even further than that to re-evaluate the very existence of regular meetings if they’re often canceled:

“If a regular catchup is regularly canceled, then you should reconsider whether you need this recurring meeting after all. Often, it’d be more productive to reduce the frequency or remove it completely and sync ad hoc with intention.”

Advocate for asynchronous tools

To host fewer meetings, you need asynchronous tools. Find platforms that allow your teams to communicate when they get the chance (rather than in real time), such as:

  • Loom: A great replacement for video calls with the team. Share your screen and run through guidelines, slides, or other information.
  • Slack: For real-time communication. Set a precedent for immediate replies that aren't expected. It's perfect for reducing inbox clutter while still allowing your team members to read and answer messages on their own time.
  • Notion: Use it as a hub to share goals, news, and other timeless information. It's where your team can go to find the document needed to complete a project or read a new policy that's coming soon.

Be vigilant with self-service documentation

Speaking of central information hubs, having a dedicated location for project details your team can access is critical. Make sure your process documents are regularly updated. This gives your team access to the information needed without booking time in a colleague’s calendar for explainers.

At Float, we use Notion as a directory of sorts for our remote team—a compass for who’s who and where’s what. Our team resources and documentation are designed to be accessible and delivered in a self-service format by new and old team members alike. That way, there's no need to ask someone for information that we can easily find ourselves.

Have your team decline invites

If you’re serious about cutting down meeting times, make a policy so your team can decline invitations to meetings. It’ll stop them from joining a 30-minute call just to say a few sentences.

Giving your team permission to decline meetings is a good start. But they shouldn’t decline any and every meeting—just those that don’t require their attendance. If their input isn’t needed, there’s no purpose to being there synchronously. Just record important information and share it with the rest of the team afterward.

Become an email-first, meetings-second team

Alas, sometimes a meeting is important. However, unless you work in a company that requires constant synchronous input from your team, there’s no point in dragging your team into another unnecessary catch-up if you can avoid it.

Whether you work in an office or async, taking an email-first approach will reduce stress and free time for everyone. In turn, you’ll see higher productivity and capacity for projects.

Keep an eye out for the five signs a meeting might be better suited as something else, and be vigilant about sending more emails. The more time you can give back to your team to schedule tasks and get things done in whatever way works best for them, the more likely they are to achieve deep work and improve productivity.

Ready to have fewer meetings? Try Float for free today and see how it can improve your team’s productivity and give you back more of your time.




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