If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I have so much work to do, but I have so many meetings this week that I’m not going to get anything done,” you aren’t alone. According to Inc. Magazine, the average employee spends 12 hours each week preparing for and attending meetings. For various reasons, many meetings may be more effective if sent out as a mass email instead. With this in mind, not all meetings are bad. Collaboration can often help foster creativity, boost employee morale, and even increase productivity under the right circumstances. Striking the right balance between in-person meetings and sharing information via email or direct messaging leads to more effective communication.

So, when is it better to send an email versus sitting down for an in-person or virtual get-together with your co-workers? Here is a brief guide to help you and your team decide when to opt for emails and ensure employees engage in more efficient and effective communication.

Ask yourself, what’s the purpose?

We’ve all attended a meeting or two that seemed more like a monologue than a collaborative discussion between teammates. 

Many organizations continue to hold meetings to inform people of new policies and procedures or provide simple project updates. The problem is, we end up wasting a lot of time and resources just “getting everyone on the same page.” 

Shockingly, studies show that ineffective meetings cost companies up to $283 billion per year. So unless you're requesting feedback or solving a problem, emails are more suitable for straightforward, one-way conversations. 

Emails also give employees access to physical checklists that they can refer to throughout the week to ensure no crucial tasks slip through the cracks, as opposed to scrambling to write notes during morning meetings. So before you schedule your next meeting, be sure to ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” By unpacking this question, you’re taking the first step towards establishing more efficient and effective communication in the workplace.

Consider asynchronous versus synchronous communication 

Two types of communication take place in the workplace: synchronous and asynchronous

Synchronous communication occurs when two or more people exchange information in real-time. If a co-worker comes into your office to ask you a question, it’s likely because they think it’s easier to talk with you directly. While this sounds productive in theory, it isn’t always the most effective way to communicate. For example, imagine working on a time-sensitive project when your co-worker comes into your office or requests an impromptu virtual meeting, but before they get down to business, they dive into a 30-minute conversation about their weekend plans. During this time, you lose focus and momentum on the project you had been working on and then either work late to meet your deadline or miss the deadline entirely.

On the other hand, your co-worker could have reached out to ask their question over Slack, Teams, or Skype, allowing you to respond to their inquiry at a time more convenient to you. 

Asynchronous communication, like direct messaging and email, allows teams to focus on their work without facing constant interruptions.

Messaging provides a record of communication that you can refer back to, enables you to communicate with remote teams in different time zones, and gives you enough time to think about your answer to ensure information gets disseminated accurately. 

If questions don’t require immediate responses, organizations should encourage asynchronous forms of communication over in-person meetings. By prioritizing asynchronous communication, employees will get that time back that they would otherwise be spending in meetings. They can use that time more productively to complete their individual projects. Not to mention that because they will no longer be busy with meeting-after-meeting, any meetings they do have will get their full attention and energy. 

Important voices are missing

While this may seem obvious, you shouldn’t hold a meeting if important players are absent or unable to contribute. With people working remotely and schedules getting busier, arranging meetings between team members is becoming increasingly difficult. If critical players are absent, this could result in less than optimal decision-making. Email chains or other collaborative tools can ensure that everyone’s voice gets heard.

By the same token, if only one or two individuals dominate the discussion portion of meetings, there’s usually a problem. Harvard Business Review reports that some people remain silent during conferences due to fears of being ostracized, embarrassing themselves, wanting to avoid negative remarks, or they feel like speaking up is inappropriate. 

To help reduce some of the pressure of submitting ideas, you can ask employees to email their opinions to you or post them to an online board anonymously. Also, employees may be less inclined to answer questions when asked point-blank in front of their teammates. Instead, giving them time to mull the question over means they are more likely to produce well-thought-out solutions. 

Make meetings more productive

Statistics show that executives consider 67% of meetings to be unproductive, so how do we improve this number? We first need to consider why meetings can be such catastrophic time wasters when they are supposed to help us discuss issues and drive positive outcomes. 

In general, meetings can be ineffective because they occur too frequently, are poorly timed, or badly run—or a combination of the three—leading to frustration amongst group members. However, meetings are still an essential part of running a business and there are things you can do to make your next meeting successful.

There are a few reasons why some departments have so many meetings—they invite too many people, don’t set a clear purpose, and/or underutilize technology. Make sure you are ready to lead and moderate your meetings, or you may need to keep rescheduling the same meeting over and over without producing any real results. 

Come to meetings prepared with a clear agenda, a simple slideshow with easy-to-understand facts and figures, and always leave questions until the end of the presentation to avoid interruptions and conversations from deviating off-topic. Additionally, in general, gatherings shouldn’t run over an hour or information may get repetitive and attendees will start to mentally “check out” of the meeting. 

You can also leverage technology to help make meetings more worthwhile. For instance, a designated note-taker can post meeting notes in a Google Doc to be shared with the rest of the team so that individuals can focus on listening during the presentation instead of scrambling to take notes. In addition, our various automated Wrk Actions can make scheduling meetings a breeze. Instead of manually finding an appropriate time slot that works for everyone and sending the invite, automation can do these tasks for you.

Less meetings, more effective communication

Now that you know when to avoid unnecessary meetings, you can make a conscious effort to compile information in an email or DM your co-workers to save time and preserve valuable resources. 

If you notice that a colleague has invited you to a meeting that could easily be answered in a few sentences, feel free to politely ask them if you could send them an email update instead for more efficient and effective communication. By setting an example, your colleagues will follow. And with that, you and your team will never have to sit through those time-wasting meetings again. 

Need more information about how to make your days more productive? Check out tactics we use at Wrk in our own remote work environments and learn how we are redefining work with simply powerful process automation.