Over the past few months, for many of us life has become more ‘hybrid’. Whether it’s working at home AND in the office, or a blurring of the lines between how we operate personally and professionally, our lives are less compartmentalised than they once were.
And for those of us who are now combining working from home with some time in the office, we are finding that ‘hybrid meetings’ – where some attendees are present in real life (IRL) whilst some attend virtually – are becoming more and more popular. Navigating the ‘multi-location’ reality of these meetings however, can sometimes be a bit tricky.
Here’s a guide to help you make sure your hybrid meetings are the best they can be.
Design with your attendees in mind
Before you even start booking meeting rooms or confirming facilities, spend some time putting yourself into the shoes of all the different groups of attendees.
- Consider the virtual attendees:
- how will you help them feel included?
- How can they speak up and participate?
- How can they take part in any activities you’ve got planned?
- And for those in the room:
- how will they feel connected to both their fellow attendees and their virtual colleagues?
- how will they remain focussed and not interrupted by technology or external distractions?
Extra Essential Equipment
Take some time to consider the set-up of your room, and the equipment and technology available. A good rule of thumb here is to go for ‘equipment-overkill’!
Make sure you have enough screens/computers/devices to facilitate a totally inclusive session. If the room is on one wide angle camera this can make it really difficult for virtual attendees to see who is talking and follow the conversation. Big screens, extra screens, extra cameras – especially those that can zoom in to faces like the Owl Camera – and extra microphones all add considerable value to the virtual attendee, and also ensures that wherever you’re sitting in the room you can see and hear the speaker/presentation.
Probably the biggest piece of advice that we can offer is to TEST, TEST and TEST again the technology, and make sure that everything you are expecting to happen will happen – both in the room, and virtually. As the Meeting Chair, you will go into the session feeling much more confident and in control if you know that the technology is all going to run smoothly.
Top Ten Tips
To really ensure that your hybrid meetings go well, below are our top ten tips:
- Try to have two ‘hosts’ for the meeting – one who manages the IRL experience, and one who is focussed on the virtual experience. They should be fully aligned on how the meeting will run, and should closely liaise on the day to ensure things go smoothly.
- Have clear objectives and expected outcomes for the meeting, set up a detailed agenda and running order, and communicate house-keeping rules for both virtual and IRL attendees. Send all of these out well in advance. Check-in regularly during the meeting to make sure everyone is engaged and present.
- Have a clear process for asking questions so that everyone can hear them, and all questions can be answered. Options include virtual and IRL ‘hands up’, using the chat box, or designating a set time for questions in the agenda.
- As people arrive, keep the main IRL room muted and have one person joining into the virtual chat by laptop so that the virtual attendees are kept updated with what is going on and aren’t sitting on their own in silence.
- Remember that virtual attendees can’t pick up on the same body language and hear quiet comments – if a joke is made quietly, repeat it is out loud so everyone can enjoy it!
- If tea and coffee is available in the room and people can help themselves throughout the meeting, make it clear to virtual attendees that it’s also acceptable to go and get a drink.
- If you’re going to use breakout rooms during your meeting, make space IRL for groups to get together in smaller cohorts to match the breakout rooms in the virtual environment.
- Make sure papers aren’t tabled. Even though it might feel like a possibility make it clear that it’s not acceptable.
- Keep hybrid meetings as short and focussed as possible. Being ‘on’ is tiring at the best of times, even more so when watching from a screen for long periods. “Short & Sweet”, “Less is more” and “Fewer, bigger, better” are all worth bearing in mind!
- Get feedback at the end of each meeting from both real life and virtual attendees – continual improvement is key.
Finally, don’t forget that in the old days (!), it was fine for people not to attend meetings if they had a diary clash or different priority. The same still stands – if the meeting really should be in real life and a few people can’t attend, that’s fine and you don’t need to automatically default to a hybrid meeting. Conversely, if a virtual meeting proves the most efficient solution but a few people are in the office, keeping the playing field level by having office-based attendees dial in individually works really well.
Hybrid meetings are something that we’re all getting used to and our skills, systems and solutions will improve with practice – aiming for the ‘best of both’ is not a bad place to be.
This article was written by Jenny Brown and Natalie Forkin, coaches at Love Public Speaking.