1. You need information, not a dialogue
Nothing gets your virtual team reaching for a this-could-have-been-an-email meme faster than a meeting that pulls everyone away from what they were doing just to provide some data.
As a general rule, weigh how complicated the subject you have in mind will be to resolve. Can one or two people address your needs in a paragraph or a few bullet points? If so, an email is the way to go. Conversely, if you’re looking to analyze an issue and come to a decision, then you’re looking at dozens of emails and reply-alls, meaning a meeting is a better use of everyone’s time.
Also, consider the benefit of an email versus a meeting for certain personality types on your team. Introverts like to process a request and carefully consider their answer, which means they might give you a better and more meaningful response over email than when they’re put on the spot in a meeting.
2. You just want feedback
Look, there’s nothing wrong with a meeting to present a new idea and collect everyone’s thoughts. But is it truly the best use of everyone’s time? Not always.
One option is to share your idea over email, and then bring people together in the meeting to discuss their thoughts. That way they will have had time to process their reaction and give you more meaningful feedback instead of – introvert alert – putting them on the spot to both consume and respond to something in the same instant.
This approach also avoids groupthink: when the most assertive person in the room shares their opinion and everyone else just nods and smiles.
You could even invite your team to share their thoughts over email, and then call a meeting to summarize everyone’s feedback and collectively decide on the best route forward – combining the benefits of individualized responses with collaborative decision-making.
3. You need to share information
The basic principle here is this: if no action needs to be taken as a result of your meeting, just make it an email. Simple project updates or announcements that don’t require anyone’s input or result in a decision are best delivered in email form.
The exception to this rule is if you expect to receive a lot of questions or if the information is just too complex or in-depth to consume over email. Where the likelihood of confusion or a need for clarification is high, go ahead and schedule that meeting – but consider sharing the material over email ahead of time so your team can review it in advance!
4. Key team members will be absent
Missing the people who really need to be there? Skip the meeting! Share what needs to be shared over email and give everyone a chance to review the material on their own time. That way everyone gets to stay on task without being pulled aside to discuss something that can’t move forward anyway.
If you feel strongly that the meeting should proceed, consider recording it so those key players can catch up and contribute at a time that works for them.
5. You need a status update
Everyone has action items. Why pull them away from their assigned tasks just to go around a table and announce how much progress they’ve made? Do your status checks over email or instant messaging and watch how quickly morale improves.
This also goes for cases where you know that progress has been slow. Unless you intend to use a meeting to problem-solve your roadblocks, give your team more time to focus on their work and get things back on track.
6. You don’t have an agenda
Successful meetings start with a clear objective, a good understanding of who needs to be there, and intended outcomes. If you aren’t there yet, use an email to solicit feedback on the topic at hand to better frame the meeting you want to hold.
Meetings are a powerful tool for keeping your virtual team on the same page, but they’re only one option among many. Email, chat, and even the phone need to be part of your communications arsenal to keep your team happy, motivated and on track to achieve their goals.
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