“Avoid hybrid meetings at all costs!”
That was the common advice many a meeting consultant and communication expert gave prior to the pandemic. Why? Hybrid meetings can be hard. With attendees being able to join in person, via video or with audio alone, managing all of these communication mediums can be taxing for the meeting leader and frustrating for meeting attendees.
But flexible work arrangements call for flexibility in our thinking. The workforce has voted (think “Great Resignation”), and the hybrid work modality has won out. With the real possibility of team members being in the office and working remotely on any given day, hybrid meetings are inevitable and necessary.
However, what may have been a cause for alarm is now an opportunity to have the most inclusive meeting possible – one that breaks down geographic barriers and emphasizes choice.
In our latest book, “Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting,” we shared data indicating early promise for hybrid meetings.
We measured meeting satisfaction across a variety of mediums, including face-to-face, fully virtual and hybrid. What we found was surprising. Given the inherent challenges of hybrid meetings, we expected the hybrid format to be at the bottom of the meeting effectiveness and satisfaction scale.
What we found was something else entirely: Hybrid meetings, when done well using best practices, can be very effective. In fact, people in hybrid meetings participate more, engage in fewer bad meeting behaviors (like monologuing, faking positivity and complaining) and need less time to recover between meetings than any other way of gathering.
So what are the best practices that you can employ to ensure you enjoy the same level of success with your hybrid meetings? Here are three tips that can move you towards that goal:
1. Be a proactive meeting facilitator
As a meeting leader, you may think you can let a hybrid session be a free-for-all of ideation and loosely moderated discussion. However, this is a recipe for disaster if you want everyone at the meeting to have their voices heard. People in the physical meeting room will have an easier time dominating the conversation, and those joining remotely may find it difficult to even get a word in edgewise.
That’s why it is imperative for leaders to pull out participation from everyone in the meeting regardless of location. Here are a few strategies you can try:
Establish a turn-taking policy for your team
Make it clear how participants can get in the conversation queue. This will vary based upon the organization and team cultures but should be collectively determined and adhered to.
Should people raise their physical hands or emoji hands to weigh in? Should people put in chat that they have something they’d like to add? Figure out what works best for your team, and then as a leader, make sure you call on people by name to bring them into the conversation.
Set a policy where remotes speak first
At the beginning of discussion of an agenda item, call on virtual attendees to offer their insights before the in-person attendees. Not only does it allow remote attendees to weigh in, but it also raises everyone’s awareness that the meeting room is much larger than just the physical conference room.
2. Invest in the technology to create meeting equity
A successful hybrid meeting requires the right technology to support it for both in-person and remote attendees. While innovation has exponentially increased around solutions to the hybrid tech challenge, there are some basic requirements to consider:
Technology musts in the conference room
- A high-quality conference camera that can capture all in-person attendees appropriately.
- A high-fidelity audio system that allows everyone to be heard clearly regardless of where they are seated which may mean multiple microphones.
- Large monitors that allow remote attendees to be visually represented adequately to remind the in-person attendees of their presence.
Technology musts for remote attendees
- If you don’t have a good webcam by now, it’s time to get one. Being seen clearly is critical to establishing your presence in a hybrid meeting.
- Arguably, good audio is even more important than good video quality. External microphones can make a big difference especially if your room is echoey or you have a noisy environment.
- The value of any tool will be greatly diminished by a poor internet connection. Having a strong signal is essential for remote attendees.
Invest in training on the new techniques and technology
The success of a hybrid meeting is the responsibility of everyone in the meeting – the leader and attendees — but they may not know what is required of them. Training will close the skill gap that inevitably will exist.
Rolling out tools and technology won’t guarantee they are used, let alone used well. Train them on the technology. Don’t just expect them to figure it out on their own.
By the same token, hybrid meetings require new “skillware,” as well. Train your managers on how to lead hybrid meetings in a meaningful way, bringing in experts who can help them shape their hybrid meeting strategy and give suggestions on how to skill up their team.
Hybrid meetings require an intentional approach, but it’s not just good business; it’s likely a retention tool. Consider the results of a recent Barco survey, where nearly a third of respondents said they would consider a job offer from another company with a well-defined hybrid policy for meetings.
Look for resources, seek help from experts, and better ensure that your organization becomes a leader and not a laggard in embracing hybrid meetings, the go-to format for the foreseeable future.
Dr. Joseph A. Allen, professor of industrial and organizational psychology and meeting scientist, and Karin Reed, an executive communications specialist and CEO of Speaker Dynamics, are the co-authors of “Suddenly Hybrid: Managing the Modern Meeting” (Wiley, Feb. 2, 2022) and “Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work” (Wiley, 2021).