Whether scorned as organizational clutter or treated as the punchline to many a workplace joke, meetings possess an unenviable reputation. And disdain for them isn’t limited to on-site workers—telecommuters likewise complain about meetings being pointless or a waste of time. Plus, dealing with different schedules and time zones can make getting remote workers together for a group call or video conference even more frustrating.

Meetings wouldn’t have survived this long, however, if they didn’t have some merit. The key is figuring out when they are warranted and when other communication methods would work just as well (or better).

Consider these issues when deciding if a full meeting of a remote team is an efficient use of time in remote workplaces:

Purpose

“Before bringing people together on a call, ask yourself if the purpose is to share information or to do work together. If it is simply for information sharing, consider communicating in a different way rather than through a meeting,” says Tom Rideout, partner at Blue Rocket.

Email works well for updates and material unlikely to generate significant discussion. Short matters often can be handled through back-and-forth between appropriate parties over a chat platform. To gather bulk input or feedback, online surveys may be the ticket.

When strategizing or brainstorming, however, group discussions allow people to bounce ideas off of one another and feed on each other’s energy. Likewise, if a new company policy or similar issue seems destined to require clarification, gathering the troops for a Q&A may be most effective.

Participants

“If you’re a business owner with a remote team, organize an unofficial meeting agenda for yourself and see if all the various departments/employees need to attend.There’s nothing worse for an employee than attending a meeting that they don’t need to be at,” says Jack Anzarouthabout, founder and president of Digital Ink Marketing.

A good litmus test is debating whether the attendee’s presence contributes to reaching the objective of the meeting. In situations where certain remote workers should be included to discuss a particular issue but aren’t needed for other topics, structure the meeting accordingly. Deal with their business first so that they can leave.

Personal Touch

Finally, recognize that certain circumstances demand choosing communication methods that are as close to face-to-face as possible. A video conference or group call conveys emotion in ways that an email doesn’t.

Examples of when a meeting is likely the best choice include:

  • when you’re trying to build relationships with new clients and want them to grasp the faces and personalities behind the names;
  • when the team is experiencing discord, so that body language and tone can be read;
  • when a topic is likely to stir strong feelings, such as sadness at losing a major account or happiness for reaching a major milestone.

And don’t underestimate the value of meetings to build rapport among the staff.

“Although ‘team culture’ can sound like a nebulous term without any real business value, the more people know, trust, and respect each other, the better they’ll work together as a team,” says Fiona Adler, founder of Actioned.com. “Some of this culture-building can be done through chat tools, but having a regular meeting can accelerate and improve the relationships between team members immensely.”