Make Hybrid Meetings The Best Of Both Worlds

The whole point of a hybrid is to combine the best attributes of two good things into a single even better thing. Think Myer lemons and the Apple Watch.

Sometimes, however, they end up being the worst of both, such as the infamous Killer Bees or Chevy El Camino.

In 2021, the hybrid everyone will be talking about is the meeting where some participants are in the same room and the rest join remotely.

As organizations cautiously bring employees back to the office, they will have a multi-modal workplace. There will be the eager-to-office employees who missed the hallway camaraderie or the relative quiet of the office and were back at their desks as soon as the coast was clear. There are also those with circumstances that make it prohibitive to venture back into a shared working space, or live in regions where it’s not yet feasible to do so. And then there will be employees who choose to split their time between home and office.

Most organizations will continue to offer knowledge workers the flexibility to choose among these options. To do that successfully for the long-term, they’ll need to avoid inadvertently penalizing remote team members by avoiding the common pitfalls of hybrid meetings.

Intentional Design For Hybrid Meetings

As we enter the future of the multi-modal workplace, we’re starting with some advantages. Technology makes it possible to design effective experiences that meet the specific needs of in-person and remote employees. Over the past several months, most people have become comfortable with the technology and developed effective patterns for using it. However, without discipline and forethought, hybrid meetings can fracture, causing the remote attendees to have a perpetually bad experience.

Forethought is necessary because intentional design is a prerequisite for engagement. For example:

  • Ensure the layout of the room allows for in-room participants to sit facing one another—yet socially distanced—so they can speak to each other while still facing their individual cameras.
  • If you’re holding breakout conversations, plan for multiple conference rooms so the in-person team members can participate along with their virtual counterparts. (Avoid the temptation to make the in-person group a single breakout.)
  •  Sometimes the best solution is to hold separate forums. For example, if you’re holding a townhall, it may be better to have one for the in-person crew and one for the remote folks. This allows you to optimize for both groups, while sacrificing neither.

Discipline is needed because the in-person participants must stay perpetually conscious of the needs of remote teammates. Some best practices:

  • Avoid side conversations; any sidebars should be made in the chat section of your video communications technology so all are included.
  • Have every live participant logged into the meeting and on-camera so virtual participants can see them individually (though, obviously, you’ll want to have a single audio source).
  • Make sure structure and strong facilitation are part of every meeting owner’s toolkit. Open, unstructured discussions will favor the in-person crew, especially if the meeting has six or more participants.

Move Beyond Interim Solutions And Guild A New Organizational Capability

The school system is a living laboratory for the challenges of hybrid engagement. In environments that are offering the option of returning to school or staying at home, teachers are simultaneously trying to teach kids in the classroom as well as the Zoom room. My sister is trying to teach hybrid art to high schoolers in San Antonio. Her experience mirrors that of teachers everywhere. It’s extremely difficult to manage the energy and attention of students in both environments simultaneously.

In pre-Covid life, it was already more challenging for women, introverts, and remote workers to get their voices heard. Now that more knowledge workers will continue to work from home, poorly managed hybrid meetings present an even greater business risk.

As our world continues to change, it’s time to develop new organizational capabilities to collaborate effectively in the virtual and hybrid environment. Get started now to make sure your 2021 is more like an elegant Apple watch and less like a clunky El Camino.