7 questions to ask to determine if you should have a meeting or send an email

A friend was recently groaning to me about how her work has an excessive amount of meetings. Instead of sending a brief email that could be written and read in 10 minutes, they’ll hold a 45-minute meeting that goes in loops and tangents.

This is an all-too-common problem. And it’s perhaps particularly noticeable this year, with every meeting needing to be scheduled over Zoom, instead of the sometimes organic “meetings” that can happen in an office.

But, while having an unnecessary amount of meetings can be a problem and a timesuck, sending an email when a video chat would be more appropriate can also cause issues in the workplace.

So, how do we know which to choose? How can we decide when to have a meeting — and when a quick email would be the better, more efficient approach?

Here are a few things to consider when making that decision.

1. What is the goal of the conversation?

If it’s a simple individual or staff-wide update, then the best protocol is likely an email. You’ll save yourself and your coworkers a good amount of time by avoiding an unnecessary meeting that could easily get off track.

2. Is the topic particularly complex?

If the subject at hand is more complex than could be efficiently and effectively communicated in an email, go with a meeting. Fewer things will get lost in translation, and it may actually end up wasting less time than an email would.

On the flip side, less complexity means it’s more likely an email will do.

3. Is it one-sided or two-sided?

If the topic is a one-sided communication (i.e., you informing a coworker or employee of something), then it’s often best to send an email. If the topic is two-sided (i.e., requires some kind of discussion), a meeting might work better.

However, this isn’t always the case: sometimes a simple discussion can happen easily and quickly over email. Use your judgment, but always consider whether it’s a one or two-sided conversation.

4. Does the conversation involve emotions?

If the conversation is likely to be charged or emotional, it’s almost always best to have a meeting. Emotions and interpersonal nuances are too often misinterpreted over email, and a face-to-face conversation can help avoid any communication pitfalls when difficult topics come up.

One of the best examples of this is criticism. If the discussion involves criticism or a critique, it’s almost never a good idea to send it in an email. Do it in person—or rather, in 2020, over video.

5. Is it an HR issue?

Much like a conversation involving emotion or a charged topic, if the issue at hand involves Human Resources, a meeting is definitely the way to go.

HR issues are often delicate, sensitive, and complex. Nuance can be of the utmost importance, as can making those involved feel heard and respected. Unaware bosses or HR managers can misstep by handling challenging HR issues over email, leaving everyone feeling worse off.

The easiest way to avoid this big workplace faux pas? Remembering that meetings are the way to go in these cases.

6. How recently did the people involved last meet? And has anything changed?

If you and the other people involved met in the very recent past, and the project or topic has evolved little or not at all since then, a meeting will be redundant and unnecessary. Meetings for the sake of meetings are rarely useful. Only have a meeting when it will give the parties involved new and useful information.

7. Are visuals or graphics involved?

If there are important visual aspects of the discussion, then an email might make this a little challenging. When graphics are an essential component, it might be best to have a meeting.

The takeaway

Holding a meeting when an email would have been more efficient can lead to disgruntled employees. But sending an email when a meeting would be more appropriate can lead to miscommunications. Making the right choice can make a big difference for the topic at hand—and also for the long-term dynamics and morale of the company.

Always consider the intent, content, and complexity of any discussion before deciding whether to send an email or have a meeting. When you choose right, your coworkers, employees, and clients will thank you.