Leadership Insights

Could this meeting be an email?

Published on December 21, 2020.

Technology seems to somehow both simplify life and make it far more complicated, and working from home has shown a spotlight on this. One of the biggest adjustments to the way we work is how we meet now. Video meetings are a valuable way to connect with colleagues, but high volumes of virtual meetings can contribute to overstimulation, burnout, and lack of work time for important projects. Being mindful when scheduling and conducting meetings with your colleagues and direct reports is a key component of managing and engaging virtual teams

Feature Insight

Technology seems to somehow both simplify life and make it far more complicated, and working from home has shown a spotlight on this. One of the biggest adjustments to the way we work is how we meet now. Video meetings are a valuable way to connect with colleagues, but high volumes of virtual meetings can contribute to overstimulation, burnout, and lack of work time for important projects. Being mindful when scheduling and conducting meetings with your colleagues and direct reports is a key component of managing and engaging virtual teams

Answering the age-old question: Could this meeting be an email? 

This is the year of virtual meetings. In April, Zoom reported that its daily meeting participants had gone from 10 million per day to 200 million per day within four months. If you hadn’t heard about Zoom before the pandemic, you have now. It’s become a household name. 

Virtual meetings have kept us connected and have had a major role in our ability to carry on our work remotely. While some feel more comfortable meeting virtually, others find the limited non-verbal communication exasperating.

Regardless of how you feel, be mindful when scheduling and conducting meetings.

Could your meeting be an email? 

Before scheduling your next virtual meeting, ask yourself, “Is a meeting the best method for the purpose of this work?” 

  • Update and Inform—if the purpose is to update and share information with colleagues or stakeholders, could email or other messaging tools such as Slack suffice? 
  • Gather Input—When gathering input, consider collecting information and ideas with a Google form or a Qualtrics survey. Jam boards are also great for mapping and organizing ideas. When brainstorming, written suggestions are effective in avoiding “groupthink” and gathering more original ideas. Shared documents where team members can add comments and offer suggestions is a great way to facilitate collaboration and collect feedback.  
  • Make Plans or Decisions—Shared documents can be helpful for making plans, clarifying courses of action, as well as defining roles and responsibilities. Texting and instant messaging also work well for simple messages and simple questions.
  • Make Interpersonal Connections—Interpersonal connections should not be taken for granted in today’s world.  If visual cues are unimportant, a phone call could work. For example, one-on-one check-ins can be equally as effective when done by phone and could be a refreshing break from a computer.

 The bottom line is to avoid defaulting to a meeting and instead take advantage of other tools and resources when possible. 

When meetings can't be emails

There are times when virtual meetings are the most appropriate mode of communication. Emails (or any written communications) are notorious for being misinterpreted because of tone, context, or complexity. Instead meetings allow for open dialogue, clarification or explanation, visual cues, and emotional connection. 

Plus, these days we are deluged with emails every day and reading, let alone responding to, each email could take more hours than there are in a day—or at least feel that way. If a response to your message is vital to making progress, scheduling a short meeting might be appropriate. You could also try sending a text or instant message to alert the person that you sent them an email that needs their attention. 

Best practices for virtual meetings

Allow for breaks. Limit virtual meetings to 25 or 50 minutes to allow for preparation and break time between meetings.

Identify a clear purpose. Clearly define the purpose of the meeting and send an agenda ahead of time so everyone knows what to expect. This will also help keep the meeting focused and efficient. End the meeting by discussing next steps and action items.

Assign roles and responsibilities. Make sure everyone knows the purpose of their presence in the meeting and who is leading the meeting. When meeting attendees are unclear about their roles and responsibilities they may be hesitant to engage and participate. Assigning roles and responsibilities will also help to narrow the group to only the essential people. 

Designate a meeting facilitator. It can be difficult to manage a virtual discussion and a designated facilitator can help to monitor chat and be sure that all voices are heard as well as resolve technical issues and questions.

Take advantage of tools. For larger meetings, consider using breakout rooms, chats, and polls to gather quick input and reactions, and to facilitate discussions. When appropriate, use screen share to add visuals to the conversation. Also make it a habit of turning on captioning or live transcripts. 

Following these best practices can require extra time to prepare for the meeting, especially if you’re not already in the habit of implementing them. With time being in short supply these days, all the more reason to be thoughtful about the purpose and alternatives to virtual meetings.