Laptop showing a Zoom screen that's sitting on a coffee table next to a to-go cup of coffee.

Like so many others people on the planet, my husband came home to work during Covid, after having happily been in an office for all of his work life.

Management set up a daily, hour-long, 9a meeting for his team via their internal collaboration platform. The purpose was to keep the team connected and give them a way to, first thing each day, talk through anything that needs to be discussed.

Sounds good, right? Especially with team members who haven’t ever worked remotely from one another?

I think, at the beginning, it served its purpose.

But now, 3+ years later, it’s still happening every dang morning, and, from my office down the hall, I can often hear what’s happening when they meet, which is….silence.

My DH and I were talking about it. I said I’d have to shoot myself in the eyeball to do that every day. He said they do it because sometimes they do share important stuff. I said, “Ok, but then, once that’s done, why do you all sit there in silence for the rest of the hour?” He didn’t have a good answer for that.

Clearly, I think with the mind of a woman who has called all her own business shots for 30 years (and has worked virtually for all that time, to boot), and he thinks with the mind of a senior member of a team where he sadly doesn’t get to call any shots (and is still a relative newbie to the remote-work game).

Chances are if you’ve been a VA for at least a minute, you completely see the issue.

Now, I admit that I am not a meeting person. If given a choice, I’ll sidestep a meeting almost every time.

That’s because, for about as long as I can remember, my take on meetings has been this: most meetings deserve to be memos. It was that way when I was an employee working in an office, and nothing has changed since I walked away from all that 30 years ago.

I also think most books deserve to be blog posts, but that’s a topic for another day.

A “memo” in this case means a written note of some sort that’s sent out to all the people who need to see it, often for comment, but sometimes just to share information. It can be via email, in collaborative workspace environment like Slack, etc.

For me, the key to “memos not meetings” is that what’s shared is available to all the people involved in written form, and as a result, can be processed asynchronously.

In case “asynchronous” and it’s opposite, “synchronous” are not terms you’re used to, let me lay down some definitions:

Asynchronous comes from the Greek asyn-, which means “not with,” and chronos, meaning “time,” so asynchronous, with regard to what we’re discussing, is communication that happens when people aren’t together, and at different times (like receiving/reading/processing a memo)

Synchronous comes through Greek to Late Latin, from syn-, which means “together” and kronos, meaning “time,” so synchronous, with regard to what we’re discussing, is communication that happens when people are together, so they get/process the information at the same time (like in a meeting).

Asynchronous communication has these benefits over synchronous communication:

  • The information is available whenever the people can make the time to review it.
  • The information is available to be reviewed and considered as many times as needed before it’s responded to.
  • No one is ever put on the spot for instant answers or contributions.
  • The original and the conversation that ensues are memorialized in writing.
  • Because it’s usually shorter (than what’s shared in a meeting verbally), the info in a memo is often able to be processed quickly and more accurately.
  • Because there’s no scheduling involved to create a meeting where people can then hear about the topic synchronously, things can move along more quickly. Instead of scheduling a meeting at a mutually convenient time and then waiting for that time to share, I could send something out in a few minutes and, in fairly short order, get responses and move the work along.
  • Because there’s no set time taken from the day for the meeting, asynchronous communication is also more cost effective. Having a person attend even a one-hour meeting where the thing she needed to hear or say lasted four minutes is a complete waste of money.
  • Asynchronous communication allows for processing when it works with a person’s own flow, rather than pulling her out of the flow when it’s time to attend the meeting. This allows for more focus, more productive work, and even deeper work. Spending time in meetings simply means you have less time to get work done.

Asana recently put out a report about collaboration within organizations, which you can get a copy of here, or just peep the insights on the web. One of the things they found is that people waste almost four hours/week in unneeded meetings. If you work 45 weeks/year (the max I think anyone should ever work, btw), that’s 180 hours/year.

What could you do with an extra 180 hours/year?? TONS…especially if you remember that you don’t have to replace it with more work. 😉

I do think there are times when meetings and synchronous communication are the way to go, such as:

  • When there’s a need to brainstorm or collaborate as a group, as a meeting of that sort provides provides an environment where creative energies are charged. This creates an atmosphere that is both productive and stimulating.
  • When people are in a new relationship, as getting together allows for strong relationships to be formed. Through these interactions, trust grows – which is always a very-good thing. (Also, once comfortable, meetings can be memos).
  • When important news needs to be shared that impacts the participants. This is true for good news, but is most important when there’s unhappy news to share. It’s relationally mature to deliver that as “in person” as possible, rather than via email, text, or Slack.
  • When email is the only communication tool in the shed, and the topic to be discussed is confidential. This comes off the list if you have a more confidential collaborative space to discuss things.
  • If a memo, or the ensuing asynchronous conversation, goes off the rails and it needs a meeting to clean up the communication and get people back on track.

Where I am 100% not into meetings is when they are used to feed the need of people who crave interactions with other humans. There are plenty of places to get that in a person’s personal life, and I don’t see the point of it in a business context.

Don’t come for me. Whether you agree with that or not, it’s still true. Work connections are a thing, to be sure, but should be the byproduct of working together. not the driver of anything. Getting needs met appropriately is important in being an adult, in being a business owner, or someone who is part of a dispersed team. People can schedule lunches together or happy hours to get those needs met with colleagues. Or do it outside work with friends.

But scheduling business meetings to get those needs met isn’t ever appropriate, in my view.

I believe this to be true both in team-type meetings, as well as one-on-one meetings with clients.

What I’ve developed over the years as a way of being in my work and in my work relationships with the teams I’m part of or lead is the idea of async first. If we can accomplish what we need to without a meeting, that’s what we’re going to do. It works a charm.

Now, I will tell on myself about one place that’s not what I do. At AssistU, my staff members operate wonderfully independently. There’s not a need for a lot of collaboration, but I do feel it’s important for them to know who else is on the team. So, we have two staff meetings each year. We work at the meetings, we have a straightforward agenda, and we get in and get out as quickly as we can. Whether or not we could do what needs to be done asynchronously we meet. It’s good for us twice a year.

I guess my bottom line is this: meet when it’s necessary. And, if there’s to be a meeting, it’s important to make it as short as it can be, and make it a good, useful, and collaborative meeting that all people walk away from enriched. I’ll also die on the hill that says that if it can’t be like that—regardless of the reason for it—the meeting should probably be…you guessed it…a memo.