What is the best way to run hybrid meetings
Hybrid remote work has long been called the "work of the future" and as pandemic restrictions ease around the world, there seems to be little doubt that it will stay. A recent McKinsey study found that as we move away from Covid restrictions and return to "normal", 90% of organizations will use some combination of telecommuting and working in the office.
The most important problem that arises from this combination is communication between colleagues who are in the office and at home, and hybrid meetings are at the center of this problem. Just as over the past year and a half, teams have had to learn how to run decent virtual meetings, now they need to figure out how to run a hybrid meeting that works with both office and remote participants.
What is a hybrid meeting?
What is a hybrid meeting?
A hybrid meeting is a meeting that involves a group of people both in the company's office and remotely outside it, in any ratio of the number of those and others. The composition of the participants can be different: either the majority of remote participants, when only one or two people participate in the office, and the rest - remotely, or the majority in the office, when there are fewer remote participants than employees in the office.
The difficulty also increases depending on who is leading or calling the meeting. A colleague who works remotely can lead a meeting where most of the participants are in the office, just as a colleague who is in the office can facilitate a meeting where the majority of the participants are working remotely. While these situations are obvious, the dynamics and atmosphere of a hybrid meeting can be dramatically different.
Problems with hybrid meetings
By trying to combine two different interaction models into one equal experience, hybrid meetings present important challenges for teams. They are mainly related to the following problems:
Feeling of involvement
Feeling left out or invisible during meetings is a common complaint of remote workers, especially in office meetings where they can see colleagues chatting with each other at ease. In this case, it can be difficult to achieve a natural, democratic flow of conversation so that everyone gets a chance to speak and no one monopolizes the airwaves. The nature of the video conferencing software itself also plays a role, as many remote workers don't feel comfortable pushing forward to dominate audio and mute others' microphones.
Participation and involvement
It can be difficult for a remote worker to get time to speak, so many meeting participants simply watch the meeting as silent bystanders. Colleagues in the office who join the meeting through the same shared computer may also feel less motivated to participate if they don't have their own individual video and can't control their microphone. The lack of video, in turn, can make it difficult for remote participants to understand, as important facial cues are missing, and it can be hard to know exactly who is speaking in the office.
The quality of the discussion
We all know how annoying virtual calls can be. Technical issues such as a poor connection or software issues can easily affect the quality and smoothness of meetings, and if you don't speak boldly and immediately and insist on your offer, your microphone may be muffled by the other participant's microphone. Unnatural latency when talking through services such as Zoom also results in conversations often being sluggish, making people too easy to interrupt and talk over. These issues can make it too easy for colleagues in the office to dominate a meeting.
Best Practices for Hybrid Meetings
These issues can be effectively addressed by using certain hybrid meeting practices. Make sure your team is up to date and understands their importance so they become used on a regular basis:
All team communication must be remote.
Before calling a hybrid meeting, first ask yourself if a synchronous meeting is really the best way to solve your problem. If the issue can be more efficiently resolved through an asynchronous channel available to everyone, such as Slack, then resolve it there.
Meeting times are for everyone
Hybrid meetings that take place outside of regular business hours, or at times when students are normally driven to/collected from school, become less accessible to those with children. Likewise, meetings that are regularly scheduled very early in the morning can be challenging for employees who work across time zones. In a broader sense, the complexity of meetings can negatively affect productivity. Consider defining "hybrid meeting hours" when all team members are available, and set aside a "meeting day" to minimize interruptions during the rest of the week.
Everyone joins the meeting through their laptop
Even if there are several employees in the office, it is better if everyone joins the meeting through their laptop. This will make it easier for remote colleagues to see who is speaking, and it will reduce cross-talk and distracting conversations. When people sit next to each other, they may use phrases that only those in the room can understand. Therefore, the best option is for each meeting participant to use their own computer.
Humor remains inclusive
Jokes and situational humor are a big problem for meeting inclusivity—if everyone in the office breaks out in laughter, remote attendees will quickly feel like outsiders. Always try to explain exactly what was funny so that everyone is on the same wavelength. If space permits, ask colleagues from the office to join the meeting from different rooms to even out the impression.
All remote colleagues turn on video
It may not be fair, but when a remote employee comes to a meeting and doesn't turn on the video, there can be an unspoken feeling that they don't want to participate. If their microphone is also muted, it may seem like they are not even there at all. If possible, remote colleagues should keep video on so that everyone can see that they are in the meeting. Reading facial signals becomes especially important when they are silent. If there are foreign participants in the meeting or the event uses different languages, use the services of video translators and remote translation platforms.
Everyone needs to participate
There's no point in attending a meeting if you're not contributing anything, so make sure everyone knows that if they've been invited to a meeting, they have something to add. The easiest way to do this is to give people time to prepare for the meeting - send out all the points for discussion or action in advance. Provide context, list questions you want answered by the end of the meeting, and let people know that you want ideas from them.
At least one person facilitates the meeting
Managing a hybrid meeting is tricky, so make sure you have one person (usually the person with the hybrid meeting plan or the person in charge) who will facilitate and oversee the meeting. It can also maintain a balance between remote and office members, making them more equal and making sure everyone, especially quiet colleagues, has an opportunity to contribute. If you see someone unmute, it usually means they want to talk, so be on the lookout for such signals.
When it comes to hybrid meetings, there are still people who believe that the golden mean is impossible to achieve and believe that meetings should be either completely remote or completely face-to-face. But such an inflexible mindset is unlikely to survive in today's increasingly flexible and inclusive workplace, where few people want to drive to the office just for a meeting. As long as everyone follows the hybrid meeting best practices, is not afraid to speak their mind, and strives to provide an equal opportunity for every participant, no one will have an advantage over the others.
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