Create a Hybrid Meeting Culture That Works

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11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Create a Hybrid Meeting Culture that WorksBy Kevin Iwamoto, GLP, GTP

Although hybrid events have been around for years, no one in the meetings industry could have imagined how quickly and fully businesses would adapt to a virtual ecosystem once the pandemic was upon us, or how critical our online experience would become. This dramatic shift has forever changed the landscape of work, as many employees choose to continue working from home at least part of the time (while, of course, many others do not have that choice).

If there’s any doubt about virtual and in-person collaboration becoming a core operational tool for businesses, consider that the number of job titles referencing “hybrid work” jumped more than 300 percent since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic (according to statistics provided by LinkedIn to Forbes). Entirely new jobs have emerged, such as “hybrid workplace flexibility lead,” “director of hybrid working,” and “flexible workspace operations manager.” Allowing hybrid work is a major recruiting advantage for businesses, as they can attract employees who prefer coming into an office as well as those who desire maximum flexibility.

But it’s critical to focus on the culture of hybrid work to ensure that it doesn’t become the worst of both worlds. Virtual meetings will never be a total replacement for in-person collaboration, but they are here to stay as a valuable option for maintaining productivity. While the ongoing pandemic continues to demand flexibility and agility from workers and businesses, meeting planners will continue to be charged with keeping remote and in- person teams connected and thriving.

11 best practices for hybrid meetings

A well-planned and managed hybrid meeting boosts efficiency and connection. Managed improperly, though, a hybrid meeting can create a sense of chaos and lead to the disengagement of whichever participant group (remote or in-person) is smaller. A mismanaged hybrid meeting also annihilates efficient decision-making. Key to avoiding hybrid fails is knowing when to use them and what conditions set participants up for success.

1. Know when hybrid worksThe goals of some events simply can’t be achieved with some attendees together and others remote. For example, a quarterly retreat must gather everyone in person. Introducing of a new work policy, on the other hand, doesn’t require anyone to be together and works better as an asynchronous online presentation that employees can view on their own schedule.

2. Get the tech rightDo employees have the right technology to fully engage in a hybrid meeting, whether they are at home or in the office? Ideally, those logging on from home have a monitor and those participating from the office are at a conference table with projection screens that function with your virtual meeting platform. Some companies have actually invested in home setups for their permanent remote workers that include internet security, monitors, ergonomic chairs, and other furnishings that boost the quality and productivity of remote work.

3. Expect participants to come prepared participantsThe best meetings happen when everyone has read the required materials, knows the agenda, and understands the meeting’s expected outcome. How to help that happen? When you send materials, warn people that everyone will be called on to contribute during the meeting. You could even offer an incentive like free meal delivery for the best idea. Consider increasing efficiency by reducing the meeting length, perhaps cutting out the usual 15-minute Q&A. Instead, let participants post questions in the chat, have a monitor (see #6!) feed the meeting leader any questions that can be answered in real time, and take care of additional questions post-meeting. Not preparing is going to result in a meandering meeting that doesn’t achieve its core objectives and leaves participants unclear about what they should be doing next. To show up unprepared is taking a big chance and hoping for the best outcome and as I always say, hope is not a strategy, and rarely does it contribute to success.

4. Use one slide deckMeetings flow better when you can combine presentations into a master deck rather than waste time switching user screens. The meeting facilitator will advance the slides on behalf of the presenters. Yes, it is annoying when you keep hearing “next slide, please,” but it’s better than waiting for someone to share, then unshare, then pass to someone else to share. A single deck also has the advantage of getting participants to prepare early, as you can give them a deadline for getting their slides to the facilitator to incorporate into the deck.

5. Share dos and don’tsI recommend that rules of engagement be shared upfront. For example, no chatting during the presentation, muting until there’s a discussion break or a Q&A segment, raising a hand rather than interrupting. This gives everyone on the call comfort in knowing how participation will be handled.

6. Designate a facilitatorAlong those lines, appoint a team member to act as facilitator, paying attention to the chat and Q&A fields, and looking for raised hands. It’s critical to have a second person be on the lookout for valid or important written comments and questions. To have the meeting leader also monitoring side chats will negatively impact the content delivery and efficacy.

7. Engage both audiencesHow will you guide discussion? Make a plan for getting the input you need from all attendees. In particular, the hybrid meeting configuration needs to be designed to accommodate the communication challenges of the remote attendees. The remote attendees don’t have the advantage of live, dynamic discussion — they are each alone. Design an agenda that is purposeful about getting input from virtual participants throughout the meeting.

8. Skip the social hourA hybrid meeting is not well suited to a social segment or time to mingle. Virtual participants often feel the shallowness of screen-based sociability, especially if others are attending in person.

9. Schedule it rightHybrid meetings shouldn’t run longer than one hour and meeting leaders should resist the urge to give latecomers “another minute” to log on. All attendees should be accustomed to meetings starting right on time. Avoid back-to-back hybrid calls that don’t allow for bio breaks for those involved in both sessions. And consider not just time zones when scheduling meetings but mealtimes for attendees in different locations. You might not be able to choose the perfect time for everyone but make it workable for the majority.10. Click the record buttonDon’t be shy about recording all internal meetings and letting attendees know upfront that they are being recorded. The advantages of this are:

• Attendees who are late or can’t make it for whatever reason can listen to it later.• The most accurate notes and action steps come directly from a recording vs. personal notetaking.• People tend to be better behaved and focused knowing that the meeting is being recorded.

The potential disadvantage of recording is that some people might get nervous and choose not to contribute during the meeting. This is where a good facilitator can read the screen and call on the silent people for their thoughts. Recording meetings with external attendees is trickier and should be avoided unless there’s a strong reason to record (e.g., your stakeholders couldn’t attend so you want to send them the meeting recording vs. pages of notes they won’t read).

11. Do you need to meet?Be serious about this question. If the information you want to deliver can be written up as a brief and distributed, consider that option first. Interruptions kill flow and wasted time kills efficiency. You never want to see “this could’ve been an email” popping up in the chat box!