When and How to Decline Virtual Meetings

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Too many virtual meetings can lead to overwork and burnout. Not to mention that work doesn’t always get done in meetings, so attending them is not necessarily a productive use of time for you or your team.

When helping a team to develop an async-first work culture, we encourage members to decline virtual meetings. Easier said than done. Here are some suggestions for putting that advice into practice. Important note: though the guidelines below were developed specifically for virtual meetings, they could easily apply to in-person meetings as well.

Why is it important to know how to decline virtual meetings?

Meetings have previously been seen as the default option for getting work done. Not all work objectives are best achieved through meetings, however, and too many meetings can be counterproductive for teams. Learning how to effectively decline virtual meetings can help you:

Consequently, declining meetings can lead to more successful remote and hybrid teams.

How do you know when to turn down a virtual meeting?

Before you start turning down every meeting you’re invited to, it’s important to know if it makes sense for you to skip a particular virtual meeting. 

For each meeting or meeting type, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the meeting have a clear objective and agenda?
  • Can this objective be effectively achieved asynchronously?
  • Will my input or ideas during the meeting influence the outcome?
  • Am I a decision maker for the objective of this meeting?
  • Does this meeting time conflict with any boundaries I’ve established?
  • Could I just be updated on the outcome or decisions made within the meeting?

Building the habit of recognizing the meeting types that you do or do not need to attend can help you to use your time and energy more efficiently.

Meeting Planner Tip: Think through these same questions as you plan and invite attendees to your meetings.

How do you effectively decline a virtual meeting?

Be respectful and firm as you approach declining different meeting scenarios. If your team hasn’t yet fully bought into a placeless mindset or async-first practices, it might seem like you’re just trying to get out of the work—which is the opposite of the point. Find a balance of the right language in order to demonstrate your commitment to the team while maintaining your boundaries, and that focus on what will be gained instead of what is lost. 

Your ability to push back on your meeting attendance is likely correlated to your power within your organization. Our goal is to provide advice that offers a range of options depending upon your power dynamic.

When you need to decline a virtual meeting, try out some of these scripts:

  • “The objective of this meeting is so important. However, I know we are all pressed for sync time. Would you be open to a blended meeting approach? We could do some prework asynchronously and then shorten the amount of sync time we need for the meeting.”
  • “This looks like an important update. Would you be open to sharing the update in a video or shared document to save time instead of having a meeting?” 
  • “Based on the objective and agenda you’ve set for this meeting, it seems as though my active participation is not required. I would welcome receiving a recap afterwards of the discussion highlights and decisions made during the meeting.”
  • “Thank you for including me, but I am unable to attend the meeting. However, if you can provide the structure or brainstorm document in advance, I’d be happy to contribute my thoughts asynchronously.”
  • “This meeting time conflicts with the boundaries I’ve set and shared with the team. Please let me know if the time or length can be adjusted. Otherwise, I will need to decline.”
  • “I am not available for this meeting, but here are my quick thoughts on the topic…”
  • “Can you please share an objective or agenda for this meeting? This way I can confirm if my presence is needed, and if not, will dedicate my time to deep work.”
  • “My calendar is overwhelmed with meetings, and I am feeling burnt out. I will not be taking on any additional meetings this week so I can focus on the goals I need to accomplish.”
  • “I have a limit on the number of meetings I accept per week to avoid burnout. I’ve exceeded this limit, so I’ll need to decline.”

The above scripts are intended as examples for how to effectively decline a meeting without harming professional relationships. Feel free to mix and match or adjust the language so that it works for you or your situation.

Manager Tip: If you’re hearing these scripts played back to you, it’s a sign that 1) you need to improve your virtual meeting practices, and 2) your team may need support to build effective async communication and collaboration practices to ensure that fewer meetings are scheduled in the future.

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Jacqueline Zeller

Jacqueline Zeller

Motivated by her own career path working on flexible, hybrid, and fully remote teams since 2011, Zeller advocates for effective remote work that creates opportunities. She advances the Workplaceless mission by creating content and fostering connections that help professionals and companies make remote work productive, healthy, and sustainable. Follow her on LinkedIn.
Motivated by her own career path working on flexible, hybrid, and fully remote teams since 2011, Zeller advocates for effective remote work that creates opportunities. She advances the Workplaceless mission by creating content and fostering connections that help professionals and companies make remote work productive, healthy, and sustainable. Follow her on LinkedIn.
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