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Meeting vs. email vs. async: how to know if that meeting could have actually been an email
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Meeting vs. email vs. async: how to know if that meeting could have actually been an email

Discover when to move work forward in a meeting vs email vs async—and get more productive and engaged teams.

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Since the invention of short message service (SMS) texting in the '80s, it's not common to see people hopping on a phone call for quick exchanges and simple information sharing. Why waste time dialing a number and waiting for an answer when you can quickly and conveniently get your message across async? 

Similarly, why hold a 15-minute meeting when it could've been an email? And how do you actually know the difference? If you always default to meetings, you could be affecting your team’s ability to get work done. Leaders of highly collaborative teams need to understand when you really need to meet, when you can cancel meetings in favor of async communication—and how to do it while still keeping everyone on the same page.

In this article, you'll learn when it makes sense to move work forward with a meeting vs. email (vs. async). You'll also discover how async-first collaboration platforms like Switchboard make teamwork the best part of work, regardless of your preferred collaboration style. 

Want to do more in and between meetings? 
Switchboard unifies all your people, projects, and tools in persistent rooms that save your work—so you can build faster.
Learn more

Synchronous communication vs. asynchronous communication 

Synchronous work involves being online at the same time as your team. It's useful anytime you need an immediate reply: brainstorming, decision-making, addressing sensitive issues, etc. But it's not ideal for acting on the day-to-day tasks involved in project work. 

Async communication is when people work individually, often on their own schedule, contributing to shared goals without being online simultaneously with their team. It's an approach that prioritizes output over time spent talking about doing work—or busywork.

Check out our blog post on synchronous vs asynchronous collaboration for specific use cases, and their pros and cons. Or keep scrolling for how to determine when to use asynchronous communication

5 signs your meeting could be an email or async 

Working on your own time gives you more time for focus work, so you can get more done—and feel better about it. Research by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi affirms that people who can enter a flow state are generally happier and more productive. 

Therefore, canceling meetings won't ruin your company's culture—it can actually mean a significant productivity and engagement boost for your team. It's all about understanding "the urgency of the topic combined with the complexity of the topic," says Brian Border, VP of Consumer Marketing Strategy, Internet Brands

Here are some other markers you can use to determine when to ditch that meeting. 

1. No meeting agenda 

A well-defined agenda helps people prepare, stay focused, and understand the purpose of the meeting. Without it, it's easier to get sidetracked and fail to move work forward meaningfully. If there's no clear agenda outlined for the meeting, it's a sign that the gathering might be better suited for asynchronous comms like email or pre-recorded videos. 

Pro tip: Train employees to decline meetings without a clear meeting agenda. This helps leadership foster a culture of efficiency and respect for everyone's time—so that when you do decide to meet, they're more productive. 

2. It’s a status update 

According to Border, "A lot of people have a very real struggle in terms of having the time to get more focused work done during business hours." This means meetings that involve sharing routine status updates, like project management meetings, can be more efficiently handled through asynchronous channels. 

Communicate quick updates on progress or individual tasks via Slack, email, or project management tools like Asana, so everyone can absorb information at their own pace. 

Or, you can add memos, your task management tool, and project specs directly into your Switchboard room, and keep everything organized by project—in one place. This lets your team get all the updates they need and "focus on more critical questions without being in reaction mode, running from one meeting to the next," says Border.

Sticky notes and a project proposal in a Switchboard room
Switchboard's persistent rooms let you move faster with fewer meetings. Source: Switchboard

3. Providing feedback

Synchronous meetings aren't necessarily the best way to give feedback, especially if you're using traditional collaboration tools like Google Meet. One-sided video conferencing tools let you talk about work but you can’t actually work side-by-side on the same file. This means you're wasting time context-switching between apps and notifications, which can distract you from the meeting–and feedback–itself. 

Sometimes, you need to let people process information on their own time so they can offer more thoughtful and meaningful input, without the stress of responding right away. 

For example, during a code review, programmers can open GitHub in their persistent Switchboard room. They review code async and leave feedback in the room via memos, sticky notes, or comment threads. This way, when they do need to meet, which they can also do in Switchboard, everyone’s up to speed and ready to work.

Developer and product manager working on multiple browsers in Switchboard
Switchboard lets you share ideas, give feedback, and get more done async and in real time. Source: Switchboard

4. Routine or recurring meeting

Allocating time for a meeting that covers familiar topics and doesn't involve making critical decisions means you could be wasting serious time and money. According to Spotify's meeting cost calculator, a typical 30-minute meeting with three employees can cost anywhere from $700-$1600

Instead of having a daily standup meeting, you could create a dedicated Switchboard room where you poll team members on their workload and stress levels. This lets everyone know where people stand, so it's easier to lend a helping hand or delegate work—without being put on the spot. 

Pro tip: Try scheduling a "meeting doomsday" where you cancel all the recurring meetings on your calendar. After 48 hours, start repopulating your schedule with truly productive meetings that are worth every penny. 

5. Sharing information

Meetings should be reserved for situations where discussion and collaboration are essential for decision-making or problem-solving. If you're simply sharing a new document, file, or presentation, it doesn't make sense to waste time scheduling meetings, especially if they're between different time zones and departments

Border offers a simple but effective method: "leverage memos in combination with the comment function to essentially give people a chance to review topics of importance at a time that works for them…and allows them to throw their feedback in—giving the creator of the memo time to respond appropriately."

You can also use email to share formal company announcements and updates. But if you're sharing project information async, use these async work best practices in combination with these platforms:

  • Switchboard for visual async-first teamwork 
  • Asana for visual project management 
  • Notion for document collaboration
  • Mural for creative visual collaboration
  • Figma for design and prototyping
  • GitHub for collaborative software development

How to tell when you do need to meet in real time 

Heavy reliance on async communication can lead to potential misinterpretation and limit the richness of communication that comes with verbal or visual cues. Sometimes, you still need to hop on a call to straighten things out. 

Here are some examples of when to use synchronous communication: 

Urgent or time sensitive 

When the matter at hand requires immediate attention, real-time communication is essential to keep everyone on the same page. Imagine a software development team encountering a sudden technical glitch that's affecting the user experience. A real-time meeting allows the team to discuss the issue promptly, share insights, and decide on a coordinated plan of action to address the problem, fast.

Need to get consensus, get input, or make a decision 

When a decision requires input from multiple team members, and consensus is crucial, a live meeting lets everyone contribute and discuss their opinion. Plus, you get clarity on other perspectives  without endless comment threads. 

But, Border cautions against inviting everyone you know to the meeting: "There are definitely times when there's a product team that needs to know what decision was made. But maybe two or three people actually need to make the decision. So instead of using up everyone's time, you can get those two or three people together in a smaller group discussion, make the decision, and then communicate it out either over email or at the next more traditional team meeting."

Planning or strategizing 

Real-time interactions foster dynamic discussions that can contribute to more effective brainstorming and collaborative strategizing. For example, during the product roadmap planning phase, a live meeting lets the team come up with ideas and strategize on feature prioritization, considering live market trends, user feedback, and business objectives. 

Sharing sensitive information 

When dealing with sensitive information that requires careful communication, speaking in real time can offer an opportunity for immediate clarification, questions, and a more nuanced discussion. This also helps foster psychological safety at work, because you can more easily identify non-verbal cues and emotions—and respond to them. 

For instance, if there are updates related to intellectual property or upcoming product launches, a live meeting makes sure the product team can discuss these matters in a secure environment.

Chance of misinterpretation with async 

Meeting in real time lets you get instant clarification and the opportunity to address any potential confusion in situations where there is a higher likelihood of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. For example, during complex or long-running projects. 

When introducing a complicated technical change, meeting synchronously lets developers explain the intricacies, answer questions, and make sure everyone understands the implications and implementation details, before moving on to the next stage. 

Team building or alignment 

When it comes to building team camaraderie or alignment, meeting face-to-face can help get conversations flowing and spark ideas people wouldn't have had on their own. This can increase engagement by getting more people involved—while building a culture of connection and teamwork.

Pro tip: Create a persistent room in Switchboard dedicated to team-building activities and form closer relationships. This makes it easier to build the team trust you need for strong collaboration—async and in real time. 
Switchboard room with "paste link" box to upload browsers
Switchboard lets you pull any website or web-based app into your room, so you can play the games you love—without integrations. Source: Switchboard

Meeting vs. email vs. async: The way forward for collaborative teams

You don't need to be Gen Z to know that calling someone when a text is sufficient can be considered an unnecessary intrusion—and quite frankly, a waste of time. You know the line, that meeting could've been an email? Well, it's kind of like just sending a text instead of calling.

If you always default to meetings, you could be affecting your team’s ability to get work done. Leaders need to understand when they really need to meet, when you can cancel meetings in favor of async communication—and how to do it while still keeping everyone on the same page. 

Start by recognizing the signs of when your meeting could be an email or async: if there's no meeting agenda, it's a status update, you're providing feedback or sharing information, and if it's routine or recurring. You also need to learn how to tell when you do need to meet in real time: like when it's urgent or time-sensitive, or you need consensus. 

Then, unify all your browser-based apps and files in persistent Switchboard rooms that save everything by project. This lets you come together to collaborate visually in real time or async on your own time.

Want to do more in and between meetings? 
Switchboard unifies all your people, projects, and tools in persistent rooms that save your work—so you can build faster.
Learn more

Frequently asked questions about meetings vs email vs async

What is an asynchronous meeting? 

An asynchronous meeting is when a team shares information they would normally share in a meeting but in a shared virtual project room. This lets people working across time zones, like remote teams, get more deep work done without being online at the same time. 

What’s the difference between async and meetings? 

A synchronous meeting typically consists of video calls and in-person meetings whereas async meetings let you follow up and move projects forward with your team in shared async-first platforms—without the video meetings. 

Does asynchronous mean no meetings? 

Asynchronous doesn't mean "no meetings." Instead, it means being more selective with how you spend your time, so you can make the meetings you do have more productive. For example, you might send video messages to save time communicating with your design team, without interrupting their workflow.

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Want to do more in and between meetings?

Switchboard unifies all your people, projects, and tools in persistent rooms that save your work—so you can build faster.