alternatives to remote meetings

Ah, the wittiness of the internet. How many memes, pictures and snarky comments have you seen from people complaining that the latest assault on their precious time was “a meeting that could have been an email”? Especially when we work remotely, it’s easy to complain about the time spent in unproductive meetings. I feel your pain but here’s a question for you:

Exactly what SHOULD have happened instead? Why do well-meaning people have meetings that could ( or maybe should be) handled another way?

What could happen instead of a meeting #1:

The information is sent in advance and people send in their initial responses by email, Slack, or some file-sharing site. It is then processed, compiled, and either announced in a subsequent communication, or there is a shorter, more focused and productive meeting to close the matter out.

Why it doesn’t happen: The manager fell for this before: S/He sent out the information and one or two people responded. There is a shortage of feedback followed by a combative meeting about why the manager made such a silly decision. Without accountability on the part of the team, you’re going to wind up with a meeting anyway, and this way you will at least know who has done the assignment and who hasn’t.

What could happen instead of a meeting #2:

You craft a masterpiece of an email with a clear, concise, unmistakable call to action to the team. You extend a heartfelt offer to answer any questions by either email or private conversation to address concerns or clear up anything that isn’t obvious (in your well written, clear concise email.)

Why it doesn’t happen: It’s possible your communication wasn’t the magnum opus you thought it was, and instead of driving the work forward, there is now a flurry of gossip, rumor and unproductive conversations among the team members that you don’t hear about until it has reached crisis proportions. All of which assumes that people read the email in the first place. Then you have to hold (are you seeing a pattern yet?) another meeting!

What could happen instead of a meeting #3:

Embracing the new collaboration tools your company has invested in, you create specific discussion rooms, question and answer forums, and colorful dashboards where you can track progress on tasks without spending time on the dreaded “status update” that is just a round robin of people telling you things you probably already know.

Why it doesn’t happen: It did! But after the first week you had most of the team not bothering to use the tools or defaulting to more familiar tools like email instead of the tool you chose. The few people who were contributing to the discussions got discouraged because they were the only ones who took the time to follow the rules and they gave up. Eventually, there is so much complaining about the “redundancy” in the system or the “red tape” involved, or how complicated the solution is that it ends up in…. I can’t even finish that sentence, it’s too depressing.

If you really want to avoid wasting time in meetings, it’s important that you and the entire team understand what’s going on:

  • Identify the part of the meeting that is “a waste of time.”
  • As a team, brainstorm alternatives. If they suggest the solution, odds are buy-in will increase.
  • Communicate those alternatives, including what their role is in making this a success.
  • Continually coach people to use the tools and processes. Don’t expect them to get it or follow it the first time. You might want to consider peer coaching and recognizing those who are early and successful adopters.
  • When you send out email or group chat communication, build accountability into the process. Have people acknowledge receipt or set firm deadlines for responses.
  • Remind them why this new process exists. You can always suggest a meeting to address the issue. See how that goes over.

Here’s the thing. If people complain about meetings, but don’t embrace alternatives, maybe the meeting isn’t the problem.

These kinds of communication issues are a big part of being a great remote teammate. Check out our new learning program, 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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