How to avoid meetings and replace them with emails

3 minute read

Regardless whether you are starting out or a seasoned veteran in your field of work, one thing is constant: Customers will want to hop on calls with you to get you to solve their issues.

My first real job was half systems administration, half support and half data entry. The hours were long but at least the salary was low :) I had to deal with the onslaught of calls from store tellers whose computers I was also maintaining. Sometimes I’d be able to dial in with ISDN, sometimes I’d have to hop into the car and drive for a couple of hours each way to find that the network cable was unplugged. I fear that this is the bane of support life and it can’t be changed much. You can train customers to submit video recordings of their problems via some screen recording service like Loom, but this only helps the engineering department, since the support person is the one that has to train customers into doing this.

There are multiple types of meetings. Some planning/alignment/strategy meetings are good and worthwhile having, but you should always strive to have as few people as necessary on those, since there is no sense pulling half of the department into the call if they won’t contribute to it or benefit from it in any sense. Most meetings can be replaced with emails (or threads) and in my opinion, it’s better to have a written trail of the things that were agreed. Some people don’t like the written trail because they are doing their best to avoid all responsibility and are experts in shifting blame to others.

Your life as a non-support person in any company is riddled with meetings and calls, whether internal or external. Most of these meetings are pointless and a waste of money. The bigger the company, the bigger the meetings and more money is wasted having X people sitting in a call while 2 people could resolve the issue asynchronously over email. Meetings are also synchronous, so you have to clear out time in your calendar and other people’s calendars to have a meeting. This calendar tetris is quite annoying and there are modern tools (Calendly, TidyCal, even Outlook) to resolve it. When you work in a big company, you can expect new calls to pop up in your calendar without any warnings. One cool trick to avoid these situations from happening is scheduling busy time on your calendar, but this might not work every time. What works better is having a pool of a few colleagues and scheduling “meetings” with them where you would be allowed to work uninterrupted at least for the duration of the call. Sometimes we can’t avoid them to save our lives, so here’s how to deal with them.

Your first strategy when someone schedules a call would be to get to the bottom of why they are scheduling the call. Everyone will be willing to share as many details as possible so you can prepare for the call. You can use the email thread to pry as much info as possible, and solve their problem in that same thread (and most importantly be able to skip the meeting altogether). This approach works most of the time, but there are companies that have people paid just to organize and sit on calls with their suppliers and you will only be able to trick them once or twice into doing this. After solving three issues over email (and replying: “Now that the issues are resolved, I don’t see the reason to waste time on the meeting”), I got one of those meeting sitters so pissed that they switched to only sharing the most basic details before the call. Your mileage may vary with this approach but if you can avoid 80% of the calls this way, you will be a happier person.

I’m writing this from the perspective of a person that doesn’t have enough time for pointless meetings, and I’d much rather stare at a dot on the wall than attend one of those alignment meetings. I know and have worked with people that don’t really care about those, and if they can spend the better part of their day half asleep on a meeting, they will take every chance to do that (thanks covid for that possibility).