Get tips for ensuring participation, collaboration, and successful outcomes
Over the past couple of years, hybrid work has surged in popularity among the workforce—and for obvious reasons. During the pandemic, technology allowed us to quickly adapt to working remotely from home. We soon found that it offered new flexibility and options for getting things done. But, many of us missed the collaboration and camaraderie of the office, with its easy connection to others.
Enter hybrid work—the solution of choice for people wanting to make the most out of working remotely while still enjoying the benefits of an in-office setting. In fact, a recent Leesman study shows that 60% of office employees now work in a hybrid manner.
Understanding this new reality, companies are encouraging employees to return to the office and offering the flexibility to work from home or a third place part of the time. However, this often means varied schedules among team members—not everyone may be in the office at the same time. For this reason, hybrid meetings have become essential for businesses.
According to an Allwork article, research from Barco found that 29% of work meetings in the future will be hybrid—meaning that attendees can join either in-person or virtually—and that number continues to grow. There are many arguments for having more hybrid meetings: saving time by reducing the commute for some participants, making work from anywhere a reality, offering greater flexibility, and enabling interaction with colleagues around the globe. While hybrid meetings can be challenging, it is possible to achieve a smooth experience for both on-site and remote participants.
Planning is the Key
Hybrid or not, successful meetings require planning. Depending on the goal and type of meeting, the right choice between an in-person or hybrid experience is important. Some hybrid meetings work better than others.
For example, status updates, decision-making meetings, and problem-solving meetings are usually short sessions with a lower level of collaboration required, so hybrid meetings work very well in these situations.
Workshops, brainstorming sessions, informal social interactions, and team building exercises, on the other hand, are often highly experiential, longer in duration, and/or require a higher amount of collaboration—better lending themselves to in-person meetings.
That doesn’t mean that some highly collaborative meetings should not be hybrid; they just require more planning to ensure everyone can participate in an easy, equitable manner to attain the goal of the meeting.
Successful Hybrid Meetings: The Basics
The Haworth International Ideation team suggests using the following REST (Resources, Engagement, Sound, Technology) framework for planning and conducting hybrid meetings. This not only involves prep work for the meeting organizer—but also rules and guidelines that should be followed by all participants—to be successful.
All necessary materials should be ready and distributed to participants well in advance of the meeting, so they can participate and contribute easily.
- Have an agenda and ensure it is sent to everyone participating.
- Supply detailed instructions for logging into the meeting, sharing screens, and how to access the virtual whiteboard for those who are remote, even if you think everyone already knows how to do it.
- Make sure everyone has easy access to legible handouts, visuals, and tools in a manner that works best for them.
- Take notes and document all actions, discussions, and collaborative outcomes from the session; share with everyone post-meeting.
Getting people to interact and participate is critical to conducting a successful and productive hybrid meeting. Being intentional in creating an inclusive environment for all attendees to participate is important.
- Consider starting off with an ice breaker that involves all participants in a way that they feel comfortable joining the conversation.
- Respect the range of cultural diversity of global meeting participants. Find out ahead of time what type of environment attendees from different cultures will need to feel comfortable and encouraged to participate. If you’re unsure, just ask them.
- Invite participation from remote attendees by asking for their input and comments throughout the meeting.
- Set up and monitor a text chat for all to access during the meeting.
- Make use of virtual collaboration tools, such as Bluescape, for a real-time, equitable team experience.
- Encourage use of special meeting software features, such as the virtual applause, live reactions, and hand raising available in Microsoft Teams.
- Use cameras when possible to build connections between participants. This can also help many participants better understand the speaker and pick up on any non-verbal cues.
The goals here are to, 1) help remote participants feel as if they are in the room with on-site participants, and 2) allow on-site participants to hear the important contributions of the remote participants.
- Before the meeting, ensure all sound and microphones in the on-site room are working, and there is no background noise that will distract remote meeting participants.
- During a presentation meeting with audience participation, have a mobile microphone available for those asking questions and making comments. In addition, or alternatively, the speaker should repeat the audience question or comment into a microphone.
- Especially for more collaborative meetings, create and follow a speaking order to prevent people from speaking over each other.
- On-site participants should refrain from side conversations, as they are often louder and more distracting for remote participants than they seem in the room.
- Remote participants should mute their microphones when not speaking.
The right technology and a functioning video conferencing system is critical to the success of all meetings—but especially hybrid meetings.
- Set up equipment and digital technology in advance and hold a rehearsal to help meetings go smoothly.
- Always run system checks on your audio and video before meetings. Can everyone see and hear no matter where they are? Think of people at the back of the room, as well as people who are remote.
- If possible, remote participants should have access to two screens—one for video and one for digital materials and presentation content.
- For remote users, a good audio headset helps reduce distractions in the home, office locations outside the meeting room, or third place locations.
- Choose an on-site meeting room with acoustic technology. Acoustic elements like curtains, fabric poufs, or screens are also helpful and can be added to office meeting spaces, as well as home spaces where people log in remotely.
- If anything goes wrong or technology fails, have a backup plan. If your backup fails, know when to say when. It’s not beneficial to continue a meeting that is experiencing overwhelming challenges. You may have to reschedule for another time—or your meeting may simply be one that must be held in-person, on-site. The important thing is to learn from experience!
Today, hybrid has become the preferred way of working and a permanent part of how organizations function. It allows people to perform job activities in off-site environments that help them to do their best work and provides an office destination that serves as a hub for organizational culture, social connection, face-to-face discussions, and team building. Because people can be in different locations on any given day, hybrid meetings are essential for working efficiently. They bring people together—from the office, home, even across the globe—to collaborate and share ideas for innovation. Thorough planning, leveraging technology and tools, and strong facilitation will help you create successful hybrid meetings where all attendees can participate and feel comfortable, engaged, and equal.