The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed how companies around the globe operate their businesses. As a result, many large and small organizations are working to find a balance somewhere between in-office and at-home models, known as hybrid models. Meetings are a key component of the workday, yet hybrid meetings have not proven to be the equivalent of traditional face-to-face meetings in terms of productivity, creativity, and communication.
Hybrid meetings are much more complex than in-person or completely virtual meetings. They are easy to do poorly and hard to do well. However, just as executives learned how to run great virtual meetings at the beginning of the pandemic, now they need to recalibrate to manage great hybrid meetings as well. Like hybrid working, hybrid meetings offer benefits and challenges.
Often hybrid meetings are advantageous because they remove the importance of physical location, yet can work as well for those in a room together as for those working remotely. In addition, they allow for an increased audience reach, make meetings easier to schedule, provide a safer experience, avoid carbon emissions produced by travel, and are lower-cost than in-person gatherings.
However, hybrid meetings also present some challenges. One of the main challenges of hybrid meetings is finding a way to offer a truly equal experience for both audiences. Often people who are working virtually feel that they don’t have the opportunity to speak during hybrid meetings. Hybrid meetings also interfere with the participants’ ability to see others’ body language. In-room participants tend to have more opportunities to experience the “buzz” of a meeting and the social components than virtual participants.
Because of these challenges, managers need to make adjustments to create an inclusive, equal, and engaging hybrid meeting. Since meetings are where many important decisions are made, and critical plans developed, producing a successful hybrid meeting is key to overall success.
Here are ways to conduct successful hybrid meetings:
- Set goals and objectives.
Setting goals and objectives for meetings, a longtime best meeting practice, is probably twice as important in a hybrid setting. Share goals ahead of the meeting so that everyone can come prepared to contribute. Participants should also know in advance who has called the meeting, its purpose, and how all involved will know when the objective has been met.
- Equalize participants’ experiences.
So that everyone feels that they are equally valued, it is crucial to ensure that your video conferencing platform allows every virtual meeting participant’s face to be displayed clearly on the meeting room display, and that the audio support can make their opinions and insights clearly heard by all participants.
- Partner participants.
Assign each virtual participant an “in-room avatar”— an employee (or fellow participant) — who acts as their physical presence in the meeting room as required. Whether via text, chat, or phone, they will have a private line of communication constantly available throughout the meeting.
- Establish ground rules.
It is also helpful to establish ground rules at the beginning of the meeting, and then conduct an icebreaker that everyone contributes to.
- Use technology tools, like chat.
A great way to have all participants feel like they are part of the same team is to involve everyone with live word clouds. By enabling participants to submit their one-word answers or ideas on a live broadcast, they can see what other employees are thinking and collaborate to create a strong sense of community, regardless of location. In addition, word cloud polls are great for inclusive icebreakers that get everyone involved from the start of a meeting.
- Translate messages.
It is hard enough in an all-in-room or an all-virtual environment to communicate effectively and efficiently. However, in a hybrid environment, communication is even more challenging. Facilitators risk wasting time, causing confusion, and being inefficient with time and meeting outputs. Specific examples of this in real life are doubling back over earlier conversations, asking clarifying questions, not meeting the goals of the team, disengaged meeting participants, side-meetings after the meeting, recurring meetings without progress, and so forth. A solution to this problem is learning communication preferences of each team member and translating those messages. You can view this a simple profile to help your team members understand their different archetypes and communication preferences at innergeniusnow.com. Despite all of your efforts to integrate virtual participants, it remains easy for those in the room to dominate the discussion. At times, the facilitator may need to call on participants to ensure that all voices are heard.
Remember, the very purpose of almost any meeting is to get valuable insights from team members. Therefore, marginalizing virtual participants in any way will be a disadvantage to the meeting itself.
Once you’ve had your meeting, follow up clearly, digitally, and comprehensively. Send your follow-up by email and give all participants the chance to review the keynotes. In a simple meeting recap, thank participants for joining and for their contributions. Attach any documents shared during the meeting and clearly outline any next steps with an accompanying timeline. Request feedback on how the meeting was run and seek out any suggestions for changes to improve the experience of both virtual and in-room participants next time. With honest feedback, positive adjustments can be made for more productive hybrid meetings going forward.
Digital transformation has drastically changed the workplace, providing new opportunities for how we work and meet. With the technology available today, hybrid meetings can be just as fluid as their in-room counterparts.
Written by Catherine Mattiske.
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