December 12, 2023
Title image with "This Meeting Could Have Been an Email: How to Have More Productive Meetings" over photo of a group of employees meeting in a conference room

We’ve all been there—sitting through another session, thinking, This meeting could have been an email. After all, the saying has become a frequent joke about workplace culture, used on countless memes and novelty items. And while we may roll our eyes and laugh about it later, the truth is unproductive meetings cost companies significantly.

One study found that unnecessary meetings waste $25,000 per employee annually. For a business with 100 employees, that’s $2.5 million per year. Ouch!

When assessing the cost of excessive meetings, it’s important to consider both the tangibles, including:

  • Salary and benefits
  • Productivity loss due to interruptions and context switching
  • Less time spent on core, profit-driving tasks
  • Multi-tasking during meetings (70% admit to it)
  • Time spent scheduling and rescheduling meetings

It doesn’t help that professionals are stuck in nearly 70% more meetings since the start of the pandemic. Considering how much time and energy is often wasted on useless meetings, it’s time to make a change! Read on for nine times your meeting could have been an email (or another form of communication), more efficient alternatives, plus bonus tips for running effective meetings.

9 Times This Meeting Could Have Been an Email

Ok, maybe not an email specifically since there are many other forms of communication (more on this a bit later). But you catch our drift! Keep in mind that the way you conduct meetings and treat your employees’ time plays a role in your corporate culture. Managing communication and hosting productive, inclusive meetings is critical to preventing frustration, boredom, and burnout.

1. You have a quick question, announcement, or update

Quick questions or project updates are often directed at a specific person or group. Having a meeting can lead to too many people attending, throwing it off track and wasting time. Instead, send an email, update team members in your project management tool, or give them a call—as long as you can keep it brief!

If you have an announcement, consider its nature. Does it warrant a meeting? Will it spur many questions and take up a lot of time? Is it a positive, light update, or something sensitive in nature, like a reduction in force? Often, announcements can be made via email or the company intranet if they don’t require specific action. If you have an important announcement that calls for a meeting, build in time for questions afterward.

2. You have an information request

Don’t schedule a meeting simply to ask for information. Doing so when the other party hasn’t had time to obtain the information and prepare will turn into another meeting that could’ve been an email.

Start by sending a request outlining your needs, whether via email, chat, or your project management platform. Thanks to the written trail, this results in clearer communication and avoids additional meetings later to follow up. Then, give your staff member or coworker time to conduct the research or perform the task, share their findings with you, and schedule a meeting once there is enough information to make it productive.

3. You want feedback

Sure, sharing visual projects like a sales presentation, video, or white paper with your team is essential for collaboration and feedback. However, asking employees to jump on a meeting right after sending it to them can make for an ineffective (and uncomfortable) meeting. 

Before requesting feedback, give your team members time to review the project at hand so things can sink in. This ensures they have the opportunity to come up with their own input and aren’t solely influenced by one another’s opinions on a live call when everyone is put on the spot.

4. It doesn’t apply to the whole team

You know those “all hands” meetings that really don’t apply to…well…all hands? Nix them! Think hard about those group meetings. How many attendees actually contribute? How many NEED to be there to hear the information and make progress? Instead of inviting every employee, follow these tips:

  • Schedule the meeting with only the essential players 
  • Invite only the most appropriate person from each department
  • Summarize and send the meeting notes or recording to others as needed

This allows you to keep other team members in the loop without taking them away from their core functions.

5. The team members who need to be there can’t attend

If the most important employees can’t attend the meeting, it likely won’t be very productive. You’ll end up needing more follow-up and work, which means more wasted time. 

When this happens, send a message to relevant coworkers with any important updates, ideas, or other notes. Then, reschedule for a time that works for the key contributors. If you’re not already, use a platform like Google or Microsoft 365 to see everyone’s availability and streamline scheduling.

6. You keep having the same meeting…with no progress

Nothing makes for an unproductive meeting like talking in circles. Continuing to discuss the same matters or problems without coming to a resolution or making any progress creates an unproductive cycle. 

Consider what you need to do differently to make progress or implement changes. If there are no updates, don’t have another meeting simply to rehash the same conversation. Send quick updates via email or your project management tool, so people can check in but spend more time on their specialties.

7. Your team is stacked with meetings

If you’re a manager and you notice that your direct reports seem to be in constant meetings, you may have a bigger problem. Excessive meetings cause employees to lose significant time to focus on deep work. Not to mention, if they’re hopping from back-to-back meetings, they could get burnt out, meaning shorter attention spans and being prone to daydreaming. They may even miss parts of meetings as they strive to attend them all.

Consider how you can reduce your team’s meeting load. Check their schedules and assess which meetings could be mitigated with an email. 

8. The meeting would be last-minute

As the meeting host, it’s on you to create a clear meeting agenda and ensure that everyone has the information and resources necessary to perform their duties. If you don’t have time to plan and establish meeting goals, hold off and take the time to do so. 

Hurrying to organize a meeting means you and your colleagues won’t have time to prepare. Instead, make a plan and share the agenda ahead of time to ensure everyone can research, brainstorm, and complete any other tasks beforehand that will help it be more effective.

9. You haven’t set a clear agenda or goals

On that note, every meeting should have an agenda and objectives! Without a plan, it’s way too easy for a meeting to get derailed with tangents and side conversations, rendering the meeting a waste of time. 

Even more creative purposes, like brainstorming sessions, should stick to an agenda. It can be helpful to: 

  • Dedicate a certain portion of the meeting to work on certain pieces
  • Designate a moderator to watch time and keep it moving
  • Establish objectives for each part/meeting

When it comes to creation and development, it’s best to schedule these types of meetings only when necessary to avoid wasting time. 

SHOULD This Meeting Be an Email—or Something Else?

Now that we’ve considered the factors above, you likely have a better idea of if this meeting could’ve been an email! Of course, there are more methods than email, especially with the rise of hybrid and remote work. Consider the following forms of communication based on the nature of the information, update, or announcement you’re making.


Let’s look at actual instances where this meeting should’ve been an email. Keep in mind email is great when you need to share something with a group, whether one department or the entire company. Use email to: 

  • Ask brief questions, share simple updates, or make announcements
  • Provide instructions or guidelines, like a project brief
  • Request feedback on a project, document, process, or other item in development

Email is great for communication that doesn’t render urgent action or discussion, as well as sharing information that employees may need more time to process and act on. Plus, it leaves a written trail rather than leaving it up to everyone’s memories or interpretation via meeting notes.


At this point, if your team isn’t using a chat app like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Chat, it’s time to jump on it! Chat is a must-have for quick and easy communication and fostering collaboration. Chat is best for:

  • Questions that would’ve been a quick office chat or call
  • Sharing to-dos or information requests
  • Brainstorming and ideation
  • Quick problem-solving
  • Project updates and check-ins
  • Gathering feedback without putting team members on the spot
  • Fun “water cooler” talk—BlueLion even has a channel for socializing!

A chat platform empowers your team with another fast mode of communication. They can also indicate whether they’re actively online, away, or busy in a meeting so coworkers have an idea of when to expect a response. 

Project Management Platform

Project management tools like Asana, Notion, or Monday are another powerful way to encourage organized collaboration. They allow you to create teams, projects, tasks, deadlines, and more so everyone can easily stay on top of their responsibilities. This software is ideal for:

  • Requesting and providing feedback on a task
  • Tracking progress and sharing updates
  • Asking questions
  • Sharing and organizing many files

While updates from project management apps can be sent to your email, they don’t necessarily have to clog up your inbox, as everything is saved in the project.


Do you have something visual to share that would be more clearly communicated via video? You can save yourself and your colleagues time by recording a video with an app like Loom. Video recordings are perfect for: 

  • Providing visual instructions or ideas
  • Sharing or receiving feedback
  • Presenting a draft or project with your thought process behind it

Sometimes, written or verbal communication alone doesn’t do the trick. Video is a happy medium between those methods and unnecessary meetings since it is easy and efficient to record, people can save and watch it infinitely, and it allows them time for processing and thoughtful responses.

Bonus Tips for Hosting More Productive Meetings

In addition to the meeting productivity tips mentioned above, such as setting an agenda and inviting only the key contributors, follow these tips to ensure you run an engaging, effective meeting. 

  • Share significant information and ideas ahead of time. This way, people have time to consider, respond, and ask questions. You can then address these during the meeting and won’t be catching anyone off-guard.
  • Recognize employee skills. Involve them in the meeting in ways that leverage their strengths, whether by presenting or recording notes. This is also a great way to identify those who demonstrate promising leadership skills.
  • Take notes and record virtual meetings. Assign a secretary to take minutes on topics discussed, decisions made, concerns voiced, and next steps. Most importantly, they should be clear! Recording virtual meetings can also help avoid misunderstandings. Then, share notes and the recording with all attendees and other applicable team members.
  • Wrap up with action items. After the meeting, list the action items and ensure they are clearly assigned. Establish deadlines and a follow-up schedule to keep the project moving forward.
  • Manage those who tend to monopolize meetings. Every company has a long-winded team member or two. To keep the meeting on track and ensure everyone has a chance to participate, interject as necessary, and redirect topics and questions to others.
  • Engage quiet participants. On the other hand, you may notice some attendees stay quiet. If you sense this is because they’re shy or hesitant to voice their ideas and opinions, open the floor to them and let them know you’re genuinely interested in their thoughts.
  • Invite discussion, debate, and suggestions. Brainstorming and ideating are crucial to business growth and coming up with creative solutions! Just be sure to mediate and guide the conversation.
  • Involve junior employees first. This will make them more comfortable sharing their contributions before they are influenced by upper management and feel they shouldn’t share their thoughts.

Ask Yourself if This Meeting Could Have Been an Email

If so, it’s time to think differently about the way you conduct meetings. One survey found that 83% of employees spend up to a third of their workweek in meetings. Imagine how you could boost their productivity on their core competencies by freeing up some of that time!

So, how will you avoid another meeting that could have been an email and host more productive meetings? Let us know in the comments!

Need help improving your company’s culture and processes? Contact BlueLion at 603-818-4131 or to learn how we can help!

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.