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Missed a meeting? Learn how to handle it (and don't sweat it)

Missed a meeting? Learn how to handle it (and don-t sweat it) - featured image

A new week is about to start, and you’re reviewing your Google calendar. That’s when you see a conflict and you’re hit with dread — you won’t be able to make it to a scheduled meeting on Friday. 

Now you’re scrambling to think of an excuse, one that won’t leave a negative impression or bring on guilt trips during the next meeting. 

Stop. There’s a better way to deal.  

In this guide, we’ll tell you what to do when you can’t make it to a meeting, including how to apologize, how to stay accountable, and how to leave a good impression after all.

Why do employees miss meetings?

In a perfect world, we’d make it to all our meetings. We’d never have to reschedule or have an uncomfortable phone call about canceling. 

But before you feel too guilty, know that, according to an Atlassian study, 96% of employees have missed a meeting.  

Why is that? 

  • Unexpected events: Sometimes it’s just bad luck – someone’s laptop breaks down or their internet cuts out. Classic remote work challenges! Other times, life gets in the way – people get sick or their kids get sick or there’s a family emergency or ... the list goes on.

  • Poor organization: Sometimes people miss meetings because they’re not clear on what the meeting is about, so they focus on other work instead. To avoid this, meeting organizers should send a thoughtful meeting agenda that explains the purpose of the meeting and what it's set out to accomplish.

  • Tight deadlines: A common reason for missing meetings is a heavy workload with tight deadlines. An employee may be too invested in finishing a project or task on time, so they forget to attend or decide that it’s worth the cost to make a deadline. 

  • Lack of focus: Some people aren’t diligent about checking their schedules. They may not have checked their agendas, calendars, or email notifications, and that’s why they missed that last video meeting. 

  • Double-booked: Life is busy and people often get double-booked (a common occurrence in companies that have too many meetings). To avoid this problem, managers should let employees know which meetings can be skipped with good cause and which are mandatory. For example, it could be okay to skip a daily standup for a pressing deadline, but skipping a project kickoff is unacceptable.

What to do if you have to miss a meeting

What do you do if you need to miss a meeting? Regardless of whether or not it’s your fault, it’s standard practice to send a no-show email or message. The no-show email is meant to express that you’re sorry, take responsibility for the mistake, and will make every effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again. 

Follow some of these steps to preserve your relationships with coworkers:

1. Let the organizer know as soon as you need to miss the meeting

“Okay, team, so we’re all here … Oh, where’s Danai?”

“I don’t know, let me send her a Slack message, maybe she didn’t get the meeting invitation.” 

[Five minutes later]

“Still no Danai? I wonder what happened, I hope she’s all right.”

You don’t want to be Danai in this scenario. Not only did she cause a waste of time and a drop in meeting productivity, but she also made her coworkers worry. 

Avoid this by letting the meeting organizer know that you’ll be a no-show before the meeting begins. Unless you’re facing a “sky is falling” emergency, you have time to send a quick Slack message or email (skip to the end for a template).

2. Ask how you can contribute to the meeting anyway

Ask your manager if there’s a way to contribute to the meeting, even though you’ll need to miss it. This will show accountability on your part, which says more about your work ethic than an apology. 

Ask if it would be helpful to:

  • Send reports for discussion

  • Share the slides you’d otherwise be presenting

  • Prepare key research or metrics to help inform the meeting

  • Answer any clarifying questions

Even if there’s realistically nothing you can do, offering to make up for lost time shows your commitment to your team. For the next meeting, make sure you come caught up on what was discussed (more on that below).

3. Ask for the meeting notes or recording 

Companies often have recurring team meetings: these can be daily standups, check-ins, or quarterly project updates. 

Whatever type of discussion it is, it’s always a good idea to record your meetings. If your company is using virtual meeting software that supports recording or transcripts, make sure to ask for both if you miss a meeting.

Post-meeting view with transcript

Vowel generates transcripts automatically and in real time. Transcripts are time-stamped for search, so any absentees can look for key takeaways or specific topics, then watch the associated recording for any additional context.  

Creating meeting clips on Vowel

For longer meetings with many topics, there’s an option to break the meeting up into clips so no one needs to watch the whole recording to get the information they need. Instead the meeting organizer can clip what’s relevant, maintain the text transcript, and share both with everyone who missed a meeting.

4. Follow up on action items

Productive meetings end with action items and clear next steps. Even though you weren’t present at the scheduled time, make sure to follow up on any action items you own and finish them on time. 

Don’t wait for your manager or meeting organizer to remind you; be proactive and check for yourself. Depending on what kind of project management software your team uses, to-do lists could be in the follow-up meeting email or a tool like Asana. 

A screenshot that shows how Vowel groups all meeting action items

Meeting organizers can use Vowel to assign action items at any time – in the meeting agenda or the collaborative meeting notes. No more trawling through email or Slack threads for what you need to do!

Sample email to use if you have to miss a meeting

As it turns out, there’s a science to writing a compelling apology message. A study by professor Roy Lewicki found that apologies with multiple components are generally more effective in repairing damaged trust. 

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to write an essay every time you miss a meeting. It just means that you should be more thoughtful about what to write. 

However you send the apology message (email, Slack, etc.), here’s what it should contain:

  • A simple apology 

  • An explanation for why you couldn’t attend the meeting 

  • An indication that you accept responsibility for the mistake

  • A promise not to repeat the mistake

  • A solution, like a meeting reschedule or a make up plan 

Now, let’s see how all these elements work together, in a no-show email template you can use and adapt for your own scenario.

Dear {Recipient Name}, 

Apologies, but I’ll have to miss our meeting on Friday. 

I messed up and double-booked! A month ago I agreed to attend another meeting at the same time on Friday. This is my fault, as I forgot to check my Calendly before I accepted your meeting invitation.

Do you think we could reschedule the meeting for Friday afternoon or perhaps Monday? Let me know what suits you best, and I’ll make it work.   

{Optional if appropriate:} Thanks for understanding — as a token of appreciation, please accept the attached Starbucks gift card and enjoy a nice drink on me. 

Best wishes, 

{Your Name}

Why it’s okay to miss meetings 

Missing a meeting here and there is okay. To err is human, after all. 

When you need to miss a meeting, don’t ruminate or beat yourself up. It happens to the best of us! Knowing how to handle it is what matters, and process for doing so is part of a good meeting culture

With the proper tools, missing a meeting doesn’t have to be a big deal. Vowel lets you record and transcribe meetings so anyone who misses a meeting can catch up. All the meetings you record are fully searchable, so people don’t have to watch the whole thing or even take their own notes later. 

A screenshot of Vowel where users can view meetings from their dashboard

To learn more about how Vowel makes it easier to skip meetings and promote inclusivity, take a look at this case study!