Hybrid working is set to be the future for many businesses, with a recent McKinsey survey suggesting that 90% of organisations will adopt some combination of remote and on-site work in the future.
This new way of working will change how we conduct meetings, with some of the attendees being present in person and others linking in via a video conference. Having fewer people physically attending will make social distancing easier - and allowing people to join remotely means anyone around the world can participate.
However, conducting a successful hybrid meeting can be more complicated than in-person or virtual conferences. It’s easy for those taking part remotely to become an afterthought when some people are there in the flesh - particularly if technology problems mean they can’t hear or see what is going on. So what needs to be done to run a good hybrid meeting?
“Hybrid meetings – where some people are in the office and others are remote – can be great for inclusivity, and there's a knack to making these meetings successful,” says business coach Helen Jane Campbell.
“We want to maintain the social and interpersonal elements of the meeting for everyone and yet technology can sometimes stifle the natural flow of conversation and it can feel harder to build a rapport. However, with thoughtful planning, hybrid meetings can be successful and help more of us to have flexibility and balance at work.”
Take time to organise the meeting
To host a great hybrid meeting, Campbell suggests thinking about prepping further in advance than you might otherwise. Like all good meetings, there should be clear objectives and an agenda, so people stay on track.
“Make sure everyone has the same information and resources, whether that's the agenda, pre-work or even that lovely slice of cake,” she says. “If everyone in the office is going to be having coffee and cake at the meeting, why not send the remote participants a slice of cake too, if practical.”
Meetings are supposed to boost productivity by allowing people to share ideas, opinions, and collaborate. However, meetings that lack structure or a clear purpose can drag on and waste time - both killing productivity and causing frustration. To avoid this, having someone facilitate the meeting can keep things on track.
“Make sure the meeting has a facilitator and someone taking notes or actions so that nothing gets lost in translation,” Campbell says.
Check in with everyone
Before you launch into the main point of the meeting, make sure everyone is comfortable and can hear or see what’s going on. Give people a chance to speak up or adjust their laptops accordingly.
“Do a check-in at the start of each meeting, going around the room and asking how everyone really is. Not a cursory 'I'm fine', but a proper check-in on everyone's energy and mood before the meeting starts,” says Campbell. “Go around again at the end of the meeting and make sure everyone has had their chance to speak and get to where they need to be.”
Finally, if you are one of the ones in the office and you find yourself chatting about the project after the meeting ends, remember to update and consult the remote people too. “Consider using a project management tool or team messaging app to make sure no-one is missing out,” adds Campbell.
Use online meeting functions
Using online meeting functions such as raising hands, chat and polls can help keep things running smoothly. It’s easy for in-person attendees to talk over virtual participants, so these functions help make sure everyone has a chance to speak.
“It can be harder to 'break in' to the discussion if you're remote, especially for introverts,” says Campbell. “The chat function on video calls can be really handy for sharing documents and thoughts.”
Beware of the ‘halo effect’
It’s important to be wary of the 'halo effect' in meetings, where people give more weight to one person's opinion because they are more senior or for some other reason.
“This can become emphasised when some people are in the room together and others are remote,” says Campbell. “Be aware of any unconscious bias you might have around the 'weight' a person's view will carry simply because they are there in the office. If you can give equal weight to everyone's opinions and views, you'll probably find you have better, more productive meetings, wherever you hold them.”
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