We’ve all been there: a poorly managed meeting with both in-person and virtual attendees, where neither type of attendee knows the proper protocol for how to participate. Perhaps you were an in-person attendee and noticed your colleagues in the conference room dominating the conversation without leaving space for the virtual team members. Alternatively, perhaps you were connected virtually, only able to hear every third word, and left trying to understand what was happening in a high-stakes meeting. Perhaps you had a more extreme scenario and a technical glitch left you embarrassed, by forgetting to mute or turn off your video or worse – accidentally connecting a potato filter.
As a leader, how do you prevent these mishaps as hybrid meetings become the norm and multiple modes of attendance in meetings are necessary to manage on a day-to-day basis?
First, establishing a healthy organizational culture for your team will help. Having a team that understands its mission, connects with each other, and works well together will be more adept at doing so in any modality.
Once this foundation is established, consider some best practices for hybrid meetings. The six steps below will help you develop a framework for successful hybrid meetings, to ensure that your team is able to continue moving forward no matter its geographic location.
Step One: Invest in the Right Hardware
The range of hardware available for conference rooms is wide-ranging: you can procure a fully equipped Zoom room with touch screens, virtual assistants and cameras that respond to attendees, or much simpler technology that still allows for crisp audio and video transmission to remote attendees.
Video endpoints today are much more accessible than they were in the recent past, and often can accommodate a wide range of collaboration tools, so you do not have to commit to one vendor. It is critical to select hardware that will be reliable for all of your needs (consider what kind of media you typically need to share or collaborate on during your meetings, and how the meeting “driver” needs to be able to facilitate the collaboration), and of high enough quality for your virtual guests to seamlessly participate in the meeting.
Bells and whistles beyond those essentials are just that – bells and whistles.
Step Two: Establish Personal Relationships in Advance
In an ideal world, your meeting attendees will all have some familiarity with each other in advance. Again, tying back to a strong organizational culture – having a cohesive team as a starting point will help the flow of the meeting in any modality: in person, virtual or hybrid.
For various reasons, this isn’t always possible. It could be that the meeting spans beyond your team, or that there are newer members of your team who are not yet personally familiar with the remainder of the group. In these scenarios, some up-front work is necessary to help create more amenable meeting conditions. There are a few things that can help the meeting atmosphere be a bit more comfortable:
- Send an agenda in advance that includes all of the meeting attendees, including their relation to the project or meeting topic.
- Create a group chat in your messenger system of choice and encourage pre-meeting conversation.
- Encourage pre-meeting collaboration on a specific agenda topic – think of something that could use some pre-work, and put the group to work on it. Not only will this help forge relationships, it will allow for a more productive meeting.
- If there are a few people in particular whom you know have not met, or that you think may have reason to be at odds with each other, introduce them in advance and establish some commonality between them.
Step Three: Set the Right Tone for All Attendees
Now that the group has some familiarity with each other, it is time to establish some familiarity with the expectations for the meeting.
- How will the meeting be structured?
- What are the ground rules? (See Steps Four and Five!)
- What are the key expectations?
Consider these carefully, and communicate them in advance alongside an agenda. Ensuring that your team has an idea of what the meeting will look like in advance will help them to mentally prepare for the meeting regardless of the modality in which they will attend.
Step Four: Discourage Side Conversations in the Conference Room
One important ground rule to consider for the meeting: no side conversations in the conference room. Not only is this unproductive for the meeting, it alienates the virtual attendees, who are unable to hear the side conversations, and may also then be prevented from hearing the core meeting discussion.
Ensure that this is communicated in advance and managed throughout the meeting.
Step Five: Encourage Remote Attendees to Have Cameras On
Another ground rule that should be considered wherever possible: encourage remote attendees to have their cameras on. Again, this helps to keep the remote attendees connected with the in-person group. While there are some scenarios where it may make sense to have videos off (such as if the group is actively working on something in a somewhat independent fashion), it is best to encourage video-use for as much of the meeting as possible.
What if your attendees counter with the argument of Zoom fatigue? There are many opinions on the idea of Zoom fatigue. One argument relates to the sheer quantity of meetings: a Microsoft study found that by February 2021, workers spent 2.5x as much time in meetings as they had a year prior. Your team’s “Zoom fatigue” may actually just be “meeting fatigue” – which can be prevented by scheduling higher-quality meetings, and eliminating unnecessary ones.
Additionally, you might suggest to your team that they turn off their self-view. After all, in an in-person meeting, we traditionally spent the full time-period looking at our colleagues; it is the inclusion of our own face in the mix that is different in a video conference.
Step Six: Identify an In-Person Ally to Manage the Meeting
As the meeting’s leader and facilitator, you have a lot on your plate: you will be managing the agenda, encouraging collaboration and ensuring that your objectives are accomplished. It is helpful to have a second set of hands to help manage the meeting’s participation as well as the technical components of the meeting.
Select someone you know and trust to be a second facilitator of the meeting. This person will be the manager of the “meeting tone and ground rules” as discussed in Steps 3-5. They can keep an eye on the remote attendees and the chat, and alert you if anyone appears interested in joining the conversation. They can also share documents virtually, and help manage any technical difficulties that may arise.
If a conversation gets off-topic, or the remote attendees appear to not be following the conversation of the in-person group, they can also help to bring the group back together.
If all else fails, simply remember to continue connecting with all attendees as though they were with you in person. As your hybrid meetings continue, and you become more familiar with these best practices, they will begin to feel like second nature. Technical mishaps will occur, miscommunications may happen and at times meetings may not go as planned – however, continuing to connect with your team and remaining engaged with the meeting’s purpose will ensure that you stay on track and moving forward.
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