When should meetings just be an email

Organizational meetings are becoming the smoking of today. Like a bad habit, they are impacting the health of an organization as a productivity killer. Something needs to be done about it and that something could be as simple as sending an email.

The cost of office distractions

Employees face a wide range of productivity killers at work, and meetings are consistently rated as one of the biggest time-sucks in the workplace. Along with texting at work, gossiping, surfing the web and social media usage, productivity losses from workplace run in the billions of dollars annually. Meetings alone are cited by almost one-quarter of all employers as a major source of productivity losses.

Here are a few figures to put meetings into perspective:

  • The average employee attends 62 meetings per month.
  • 50 percent of these meetings are considered to be a waste of time.
  • 91 percent of meeting-goers daydream during meetings.
  • Over 95 percent of employees miss meetings.
  • Almost 40 percent of people sleep during meetings.
  • Almost 75 percent of people do other work in meetings.

When to replace meetings with email

Can we do better? Of course! Here are four simple ways you can replace costly meetings with something as simple as an email.

1. You have questions: If you have a number of questions that require specific data or answers, use email instead of a meeting so that your respondents can come up with the appropriate response and answer your questions at their own convenience. However, for questions that might require a lot of back-and-forth before they get answered, having a meeting would actually be the better thing to do.

2. You need some feedback: If you want some feedback on a plan or proposal, don't schedule a meeting to discuss things. Instead, send your proposal or plan document to your intended recipients in an email and ask them to review it. Doing things this way gives each person the opportunity to review your content when they want or are able to and they will also be able to give it their full attention to it without having you watch them.

3. You need to share information: If you need to share some information, especially intricate or detailed information, send it via email. The rule of thumb here is that if no action needs to be taken immediately by anyone, any potential meeting can usually be replaced by email. Remember: Not all information has to be shared in person. Many people actually prefer the brutal efficiency and simplicity of email over other modes of communication even if those are more personal or direct.

4. Not everyone can make it: This one is sort of obvious, but if not all team members are able to attend, an email will give people with conflicting schedules access to all relevant information at the right time. It will also give them the chance to contribute to the conversation as soon as their schedules allow. Remember: You can't achieve your meeting goals if key players are not included in the loop, and if they can't be included in person, they should be included via email.

Other ways to gain efficiency

Now that you know when to replace meetings with email, here are a few more ways to improve efficiency levels in your office.

  • Keep meetings short, and only include participants who are absolutely necessary.
  • Unless a matter is urgent, meetings should be infrequent by default.
  • As soon as it is obvious that you are not adding value to a meeting, leave.
  • Avoid overwhelming people with confusing or technical jargon. Keep everything simple.
  • Take the shortest path possible to get things done, and if you need to get in touch with someone, contact them directly.

What would Elon Musk do?

Meetings are meant for debating, discussing plans and making decisions. They are not meant for basic announcements, sharing large amounts of data getting feedback or status updates.

According to Elon Musk, meetings should occur when there is an extremely urgent matter that needs to be discussed - and only as long as there will be measurable benefit from actually having a meeting. That way, employees can increase their productivity and focus on things that matter and add value.

Because email allows time shifting of communication, it allows team members to go over messages on their own schedule, and it prevents meetings that interrupt everyone's work. Look for the signs and symptoms above to identify when and where you may be holding unnecessary meetings. You can then take whichever of the remedial steps suggested above is easiest for you to implement and you'll soon see improvements in workplace efficiency and office communication across the board.