this meeting could have been an email

This Meeting Could Have Been An Email: Not The First Time?

You might be reading this article for two completely different reasons. 

Reason one: you started a meeting that could’ve been an email. Ouch. Someone might’ve linked you to this article in hopes of helping you make these meetings more efficient.

In that case, please, don’t take it personally. First, you’ve probably been in meetings like that yourself. Instead of patiently suffering through and building up discontent, your team wants to improve together. If anything, that’s commendable. This article will help you understand why your team thinks some of the company meetings could’ve been an email, and most importantly, turn this whole situation to your advantage. 

Reason two: you participate in a meeting that could’ve been an email, and you have a lot of questions. How do I prevent these? Can I prevent these meetings if they are initiated from management? Am I right that these meetings could’ve been an email, or am I just the grumpy one and taking things too far?

Trust us, we’ve been there. But the issue is, there are many types of “bad meetings” and not all of them can be replaced with an email. This article will help you properly diagnose if your meeting could’ve been an email and provide recommendations of how to avoid these in the future without straining relationships with your colleagues and superiors.

Let’s get into this.

5 Undeniable Signs of “This Could’ve Been an Email” Meeting

You can’t overstress it: not all bad meetings should be replaced with an email.

Sometimes even necessary meetings suffer from lack of engagement or transparency, low collaboration, and even toxic work culture. Address these issues separately, and you’ll greatly improve your team productivity.

Yet many meetings should never happen. Here’s how to quickly define whether your meeting should’ve been an email. 

1. One Directional (Update, Announcement, Presentation)

Main giveaway: Information flows in one direction only, from the meeting leader to the attendees, with no feedback or discussion.

Probably the most common form of a useless meeting is when there’s simply an announcement, a narrative or an update shared with participants. There might be a small chat after, but it never serves any real purpose.

Solution

Sometimes managers like to use meetings to share updates as a way to ensure it was “heard” by everyone. But this practice has multiple negative repercussions when abused that we’ll cover in the next section. If you want to make sure your message was received, ask for an active feedback (ask for  Slack/MS reactions to the announcement, create an after poll) or make the announcement part of another, bigger meeting. 

Recommended reading: How Top-Performing Teams Share Updates

2. Not All Invited Participants Speak

Main giveaway: only some participants talked during the meeting

The same meeting can be useful for some participants, but a waste of time for others. A common scenario is when some participants are engaged in a meeting, and others are invited as spectators. The problem is that these spectators’ could be doing something more useful rather than sitting and trying to understand the conversation they are not a part of.

Solution

Invite only people who you will be asking questions directly. If you need to share the results of a meeting with a wider circle of colleagues, take automated meeting notes or use transcription and AI summarization software that we’ll cover later.

3. Quick Consensus

Main giveaway: There’s quick consensus without need for discussion, indicating that the meeting content wasn’t complex enough to require a meeting.

Quick consensus means there was nothing to discuss in the first place. If you simply gathered people to agree with something, a much better alternative would be to conduct a poll. 

Solution

Conduct a quick poll in Slack or MS Teams and schedule a follow up meeting if opinions are divided. 

4. No Agenda

Main giveaway: the meeting had no clear agenda and it was established even after the meeting started. 

This one is tricky, as lack of agenda is a common issue in modern meeting culture. The approach “Let’s just schedule a meeting and figure something out” is the main source of useless meetings, many of which could be replaced with an email or a message. 

Solution

As soon as you try to establish a meeting agenda, “could be email” meetings will lose their appeal by default.

Recommended reading: Best Meeting Agenda Template And How to Use It

5. Short Duration

Main giveaway: the productive part of a meeting is shorter than 5 minutes

Short meetings are not always bad. In fact, great meetings are short, for example daily standups should last no longer than 15 minutes. But if your entire meeting could be packed in a 5 minute discussion, chances are high it could’ve been replaced with an email or asynchronous standup

Why “This Could’ve Been an Email” Meetings Are Really Hurtful

You might be thinking – hey, it’s just a short meeting. We briefly talked, and went on with our day. 

Even a 5-minute meeting that could be replaced with an email can have a lasting negative impact on your team productivity and business bottom line.

Here’s why you really need to reduce these types of meetings in your company.

Distraction

Our average workday is full of distractions, but meetings take the whole concept of workplace distractions to a new level. 

On average, it takes about 22 to 25 minutes to recover your focus after a meeting. In other words, meeting participants are not doing anything for about quarter an hour after every meeting. Even the shortest one. The reason is simple: deep concentration on a task and taking part in a conversation require two different brain modes of operation. 

But that’s just the start. Employees need to take an additional 25 minutes to prepare for a meeting, sometimes even longer. Would you commit to a difficult task if you expect a meeting next hour that you can’t miss?

And if such a meeting happens during the most productive hours (e.g. in the morning), these productive hours are wasted forever. 

Cost Money

If you use any meeting cost calculator, you’ll see that even a 15-minute meeting with 5 participants will cost you at least $50-100. And if you add the time for meeting preparation and period of unproductivity after the meeting, the cost will easily get to $300.

That’s how you can save by replacing one meeting with an email or an asynchronous standup. 

Their Number Quickly Grows

The issue with “could be an email” meetings is that once they become a part of work culture, their number quickly grows. Instead of actively working on reducing the number of meetings, people just start scheduling short sessions in any unfamiliar situation. 

Need to clarify something? Schedule a meeting. Have a new idea? Schedule a meeting.

Surely enough, if everyone schedules short unproductive meetings, it becomes a norm that is hard to fix. 

Low Trust and Disengagement In Other Meetings

Common issue within teams that have many unproductive meetings is an emerging lack of trust towards meetings in general. 

Even when meeting is necessary and productive, people are already so tired of unproductive meetings they just zone out.

How to Avoid “This Could’ve Been An Email” Meetings

Ironically, replacing unproductive meetings with emails is not that effective. 

For starters, by the time you feel like the meeting should’ve been an email, it already happened. Worse yet, nothing will change, and nothing will stand in the way of the next one.

So the best way to reduce the number of “this meetings could’ve been an email” meetings is to be proactive. Tips below will help you dramatically reduce the number of said meetings and make them entirely unnecessary. 

Run Asynchronous Meetings

If your team uses MS Teams or Slack, you can replace the majority of your meetings with asynchronous standups run directly in your team messengers.

Asynchronous meetings solve all the issues with bad meetings such as lack of agenda, long duration, and low engagement.

Here’s an example of an asynchronous meeting in Slack:

Slack report reaction
Conduct asynchronous meetings directly in Slack or MS Teams using Geekbot.

The bot (Geekbot) sends meeting questions to all designated participants. They will answer questions directly in Slack or MS Teams when they have time, without having to wait for others. The tool aggregates all the responses in a separate channel where you can follow up on a discussion or quickly scan input from other participants. 

No distractions. No scheduling conflicts. Quick and to the point. 

Take Meeting Notes

Taking meeting notes will help you drastically reduce the number of meeting participants and invite only people who are directly involved in a discussion.

You can share meeting notes with key points and summary with a wider circle of colleagues or anyone who would benefit from the information. 

Fortunately, in the age of AI, taking meeting notes is as easy as ever. Tools such as Zoom and Loom offer automatic transcription and summarization of your meeting transcripts, so let them do it for you and then simply review and edit final notes.

Recommended reading: How to Take Meeting Notes Faster and Better In 2024

Calculate Meeting Cost

Calculating the cost of your meetings can have a major psychological effect on everyone who’s responsible for running too many meetings in the workplace. 

Even a simple announcement turned meeting can cost you up to $200, and you can easily multiply it by two to account for productive time borrowed before and after the meetings. 

Can You Prevent Meetings “That Could’ve Been an Email?”

Short answer: yes, you can avoid having meetings like these in the future. But the issues leading up to “could’ve been an email” meetings are usually hidden below the surface and require substantial changes.

There are many possible reasons: team culture, team dynamics, conflicting schedules, meeting overload, and, surely, communication gaps. 

Sometimes it’s one of the reasons, sometimes several at once.

We were in your place. In fact, partially our product was inspired as a solution to the problem.

Hopefully, this article helped you understand why these types of meetings are so hurtful to your company, but also how to improve things without straining relationships with your colleagues.

Good luck!

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